Dealing with divorce is challenging across all fronts. One main concern is how to help your children deal with the divorce and maintain a healthy relationship with them when you aren’t with them every day. These are a few ideas to help your family transition and maintain a positive relationship throughout and beyond the divorce process.
Be Open with Your Child
Talk to your child openly about the divorce process and explain it together, if possible. Let your children know that Mommy and Daddy love them very much, but that changes have happened and they’ve decided to live in different houses. Explain to your children that they will get to see each parent during the week and that the other parent is just a phone call away if they ever want to reach them. It is not appropriate to discuss each other’s faults or details as to why you are getting a divorce in front of your young child.
Address Your Child’s Concerns
Once they hear about a divorce, many kids have concerns that somehow they could be at fault or may feel a sense of abandonment. Let your child know that you know this is big news to them and they can come to you any time with questions. Make it clear that this is a decision both parents made and that you will still be available as parents. Reassure them that you will still take them to sports’ practice, school plays etc. Be prepared that your child may have ongoing questions for days, weeks or months after the divorce and separation is in place. Keep yourself open to answering questions patiently and calmly.
Help Your Child Feel Comfortable in Your New Home
If you’re moving to a new place, it’s a good idea to invite your child over to be involved. Let them see their own room, add decorations or bring favorite toys. Display art work, keep a few favorite books or go together to choose some items for the new room or house. Try to make it as homey and comfortable as possible for them for when they come to stay with you. Makeup fun new family routines and traditions for the two of you, or together with your new partner.
Find Solutions for Co-Parenting
It can be a challenge to parent across two different homes. A key issue is to find a respectful way to communicate with your ex. Remind yourselves that you are looking for what’s best for your child/children. There are many ways to make communication and co-parenting easier and clearer. Start by creating a schedule that both of you are content with. There will always be compromises, of course, but remember being stubborn or disrespectful to your ex is only creating more challenges for yourself and children. Use email if verbal and direct communication with your ex is difficult. Writing things down is a clear way to avoid miscommunication and misinterpreting emotions and is often much easier than speaking or face-to-face interaction. If the situation is very challenging, consider hiring or finding a third person who is willing to mediate the conversation between the two of you. This person should be a neutral and mutually accepted party for you both, such as a professional or someone you know but both respect and trust.
By the time couples reach the decision to divorce they most likely have reached a point where they don’t get along or don’t want to be around each other. Those feelings are fine, however, make sure you are respectful to each other and about each other in front of your child. Few things are worse for a growing child than witnessing conflict between their parents. Make sure you make this clear to other family members as well who may have strong feelings about your ex or even yourself after the divorce. Make it clear that they need to maintain a respectful attitude towards both parents in front of the kids.
Parenting Differently in Two Homes
Once your children are living between two homes it’s very normal to expect that each of you will parent differently. That’s OK. Children are clever and adapt to different rules in different places. Your ex may let them stay up later or not insist on taking a bath. Pick your battles carefully as to what to insist on and what to let go of. Let your child know that in your house these are your rules and when they go over to your ex things can be different there. There is no need to compare and say one parent is doing it better or worse than the other to win your child over. With time and repetition children get used to having a different routine and rules across the two homes, just like there are different rules at school than at home.
Have Quality Time
It may sound like a good idea to make your home more fun and exciting for your child to be in and want to spend more time with you, but this may turn your parenting into a competition instead of a cooperation and add a lot of unnecessary pressure on your child to choose between you two. What children value most are time, (emotional and physical) availability and involvement. Make the time to be there for your child at events, after work and on weekends as much as possible. Be simple and have 30 minutes of special time together every night. If you aren’t living with your child most of the time, then simply schedule a call at the same time every night. These are things that will help your child feel secure and connected to both of you.
When One Parent Is Unavailable
Co-parenting doesn’t always work out easily after a separation. There are many challenges, including when one parent decides to be unavailable. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about it. As with dealing with children, you can only control your own actions and not theirs. Maintain a respectful front with your children. There is no benefit to belittling or disrespecting the other parent. Behavior like this is confusing and upsetting for young children since they naturally love both their parents. Don’t set your ex up for failure and your child up for disappointment. If you know that your ex is not reliable in handling the sports practice schedule, then you can alternate or find a different way keep them involved. If your ex is completely unavailable or absent, it can be very difficult for you and your child. Seek out help from friends and family and consider hiring professional help for chores and tasks so you have more time to invest with them. Reach out to other parents for babysitting or carpooling to events and practices to give yourself a break. Most importantly, let your child know they’re loved by you and the rest of the family and that you are always there for support.