After my divorce, I often heard the phrase “get on with your life.” Most would assume this is what parents need to do after divorce. However, what children need is for parents to be stronger and more stable than they are. Unfortunately, many people journey through this transition without parenting tools and can wound kids emotionally in avoidable ways.
For kids and parents, a divorce can be an incredible experience of being abruptly displaced. A divorce can mean children have two homes, two different neighborhoods, different rules at each house, an entirely new school, new routines, and unfamiliar experiences going back and forth. But it is possible to provide stability for your kids in the midst of the transition, by giving them this.
Mom needs to put support systems in place for herself.
She needs other healthy adults to help her with any pain, anger, disappointment, and loss she may feel, who can help her build a new vision for the future. Enlisting healthy adults to talk to and come undone with will prevent hurting parents from emotionally overwhelming their children. It is not your child’s job to be your friend, companion, or counselor. Kids can end up hearing too much and become privy to details they never need to know. Part of protecting children from the pain of divorce requires parents to get stable themselves.
Seeking out counseling or small groups that discuss divorce and adjustment to loss are not only a blessing to a parent but the fruit of the blessing is for the children. If a divorced parent is handling his or her own emotions with other adults, it gives children a safety net to share their own emotions with their parents. The parents then are able to help the child process all the feelings.
Focus on routine.
Routine is helpful to everyone after divorce. It takes time to get into a new rhythm and it is common to hit bumps in the road the first year. Communication is key for everyone. Using wall calendars or digital devices (depending on the children’s ages/stages) to help kids understand their schedules is helpful. Details about school, homework, and when they will have time with each parent helps kids prepare for what is coming each week. Allowing kids to stay in their extra-curricular activities helps them adjust. If possible, it’s important to keep kids in the same school system with the same friends. Each parent will handle day-to-day routines differently but helping kids understand what’s expected of them at each house for their rooms, chores, homework, and bedtime is important. Fun routines like taco night, movie night, or game night can be helpful for kids of all ages, too.
Create loving traditions.
Research has shown that children who have mealtime at the table on a regular basis are more likely to have stable and successful emerging adult lives. In a post-divorce schedule, it can be hard for a single parent to work, shop, and then pull a meal together. However, it is better to focus on the time and conversation at the table instead of on how perfect or gourmet the food is. When I was a single mom, we always did the high/low game of sharing our high for the day and sharing our low. Although I can’t remember all the stories shared at the table, we do remember the time. I always have felt that even though there just were two of us, we were still a family, and families have meals together on a regular basis. In a digital age of distractions, it is even more important for parents and children to set all of the electronics aside and simply look each other in the eyes and connect.
Research has shown that children who have mealtime at the table on a regular basis are more likely to have stable and successful emerging adult lives.
When kids grow up and look back on childhood, we want them to remember the times around the table, the game nights of laughter and silliness, the snuggling up for movie nights, bedtime stories and prayers, and puddle jumping in the rain. Even after divorce, we can create stability, routine, and loving traditions when we determine in our hearts that we’ll slow down, be intentional, and do whatever it takes to love our kids well.
What are some family traditions your kids most enjoy?
Tammy Daughtry, MMFT is an author of the book, Co-parenting Works! Helping Your Children Thrive after Divorce as well as the creator of the DVD, One Heart, Two Homes: Co-parenting Kids of Divorce to a Positive Future.