For the third post in this series, I’m sharing fifteen tips for how to handle the period after the divorce, when you, your ex, and your kids are adjusting to a new normal. During this stage, even if your marriage is not yet legally over, you and your partner have separated and are now transitioning from partners to co-parents. Remember that this is a difficult time of change and loss for not only you, but your kids as well. Their world is changing, and depending on your situation, they may be losing a parent, their house, friends, activities, and more. They need your help to adjust to these changes in the healthiest way possible.
1. Don’t ever argue with your ex-partner while your child is listening, and don’t talk to your child about any conflict with your ex. I can’t stress enough how important this is. If you can’t talk to
your ex without fighting, then communicate only by email or text, or consider getting professional help. If you talk to your child about problems with your ex, they will feel caught in the middle. They may feel they should hate the other parent in order to keep you happy. Keep all conflict with your ex away from your child’s eyes and ears.
2. Continue to never criticize your ex-spouse in front of your child. Remember that your ex is still your child’s parent. This can be hardest when your ex says negative things about you to your kids. It’s still not worth it! Your kids will grow up to respect you more if you maintain a respectful attitude toward their other parent.
3. Be available to listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings regarding the divorce and all the changes that are now occurring as a result of it. They will need to grieve the loss of their family and other losses for quite a while.
4. Recognize that your child’s behavior may be more immature for a while during and after the divorce. Divorce can feel traumatic for kids,
which can cause them to feel unsafe and revert to earlier childhood behaviors. For example, elementary school aged kids may revert to sucking their thumb or wetting the bed. Try to give them comfort and affection rather than punishing them for these behaviors – they aren’t doing this to rebel or make you mad.
5. Help your child feel comfortable with the visitation schedule. Make a calendar for the child to look at so they can always see where they will be on what day. For young kids, you might want to choose a color for mom’s house, and another color for dad’s house, and color in the calendar depending on where they will be. Knowing where they’ll be every day gives them a sense of safety and security.
6. Minimize change for your child as much as possible. Try to keep your child in the same school and extra-curricular activities. Keep their rules and schedule the same as well. Ideally, you and the other parent will have the same set of rules and schedule in both houses, but if this isn’t possibly, consistency at your house will still be helpful.
7. Maintain regular contact with your child no matter what. Even if you live far away, or you’re extremely busy at work, or you’re not sure
if they want to talk to you, this is important. Short calls, texts, emails, or sending a postcard are all quick and easy ways to do this. Make a routine of Skyping before bed or texting first thing in the morning.
8. Don’t provide special gifts or outings every time you see your child. The best way to make your time with your child the most special and memorable is to spend time with them, talking, listening, playing, and enjoying normal family time together.
9. When you do talk about your ex with your child, be supportive of their relationship.
10. Don’t use your child as a messenger to deliver information to the other parent. Email or text if you don’t want to talk, but your child shouldn’t have this role.
11. Don’t use your child as a spy to find out what the other parent is doing. It’s understandable that you’re curious, but children can tell when they’re being used for information.
12. Don’t introduce your child to someone you’re dating for at least several months after the divorce, and even then, don’t do it unless you are in a serious committed relationship.
13. Continue to notice your child’s good behavior and praise them often. Sometimes parents are distracted by the divorce and forget to notice these things.
14. Spend at least twenty minutes a day with your attention fully focused on your child. Your child needs you now more than ever. Divorces are often full of negative emotions, but your children don’t need to bear the brunt of them.
15. Continue to prioritize taking care of yourself. The better you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of your child.
Stay tuned for the fourth and final post in this series, which will focus specifically on divorce and teens.