There are things you can do to help your children adjust to separation & divorce.
1. Be on time
Being late is inconsiderate to the other parent and the child. Being late can interfere with the other parent’s plans and hurt the feelings of the child who is waiting for you. It can also disrupt the child’s routine.
2. Stay out of conflict with the other parent
Parents do not have to be friends after divorce — being considerate and business-like is more realistic. There are ways to effectively communicate about parenting issues after separation or divorce.
3. If you don’t get on, have only necessary discussions about the children
- Begin by asking yourself — how important is it to have this discussion?
- Then ask the other parent when it would be an acceptable time to talk. Changeover times are not a good time to discuss parenting issues which may cause conflict. Make sure you can have the other parent’s (and give your own) undivided attention for a sufficient amount of time to have a useful discussion.
- Avoid making statements which can be interpreted as blaming or attacking the other parent. Make a statement to encourage co-operation, such as “We have a problem; I need your help”.
- Calmly describe the situation and how it is a problem for you or the child.
- Avoid interrupting. Sometimes the need to interrupt can be helped by taking notes while the other parent is talking. You want to learn to respond, not react.
- Before responding with your perspective, ask questions of the other parent and listen to their answers. You want to really understand the problem from the other parent’s perspective. After both parents have shared perspectives, it’s much easier to find solutions that will work for both of you and the child.
- Remember you are trying to win co-operation from the other parent to solve the problem in your child’s best interests. If you blame and attack, you will alienate and invite counterattack.
- Also remember you are having a respectful conversation because you love your children and value a co-operative co-parenting relationship.
- If you become uncomfortable, feel defensive, or find yourself wanting to blame or attack the other parent, walk away before an argument begins. Make a statement such as “I need to think about this. I’ll call you back tomorrow”.
- When calm, continue discussions and work together to find a solution acceptable to both of you.
- Create a back-up plan for addressing the problem; this is when it is advisable to use a mediator to help resolve impasses.
4. Never allocate the other parent’s resources (emotional, physical, and financial) without their permission.
This means not signing a child up for an extracurricular activity (like soccer or paper round) when it is the other parent’s time with the child without talking it over with the other parent first. When a child is invited to a birthday party, and he or she is supposed to be with the other parent that day, have the child call the other parent and make the arrangements with that parent. It is so easy to get involved in these situations, try to remember this is their business not yours.
5. Avoid put downs about the other parent when the children are present
Children love both of their parents. Very often, children need “permission” from one parent to have a good relationship with the other parent. Encourage the children to have contact with the other parent. If a child complains about the other parent or the other parent’s household, encourage them to discuss it with the other parent and let them know you are confident in their ability to work it out with the other parent. “Mum really loves you. I think you need to let her know this is bothering you. I’m confident that you two can work this out together”.
6. Help a child understand that Mummy and Daddy are getting a divorce, not Daddy or Mummy and the child
Parenthood lasts a lifetime. Avoid language like “She left us”.
Act responsibly so children are secure in knowing a responsible adult is taking care of them
For example, responsible adults with a business-like relationship do not engage in name calling, yelling, and other emotional outbursts. Another thing to remember is not to give children the responsibilities which belong to the parent. An example of this is leaving the determination of the time sharing schedule to a child. This puts the child in an awkward position. For one thing, it is too much responsibility for a child. And a child should never be asked to choose between his or her parents.
7. Do not ask a child to relay a message to the other parent
This puts the child in the middle of the parent’s relationship. It also places more responsibility on a child than is appropriate. Suppose the child forgets, or loses the letter? Suppose the other parent gets angry when they get the message? Who then suffers?
8. Do not ask a child what is going on in the other parent’s life or household
Don’t grill children about how they spent their time when they come back from the other parent’s home. The children can end up feeling like it wasn’t okay that they had a good time. Remember, except in abusive situations, you cannot control what the other parent does with the child when they are having their time together. If you have concerns, express them to the other parent. If the child has concerns, encourage him or her to bring them up with the other parent.
9. Let each household have its own rules
If your children tell you the other parent lets them stay up very late, eat donuts for dinner, and therefore you should too, tell your children that they will follow your rules when with you and that you cannot tell the other parent what to do in their house. It may also be the case that your child is exploiting the situation, a phone call to verify what you have been told can often resolve issues without fuss.
10. Do not depend on a child for emotional support
This is more responsibility than a child should have and also puts the child in a loyalty bind.
Do not ask a child to keep a secret from the other parent Do not agree with your child to keep a secret from the other parent. This undermines that parent’s parenting role and cuts the parent out of significant events in the child’s life. Do not discuss the financial or emotional details of the divorce (or problems with child support) with the children. If they ask questions, ask them what their concerns are and then tell them that Mum and Dad will discuss them. Children need to know that their parents are working responsibly to resolve all the issues and that they don’t need to worry.
11. Try to create as much stability and continuity between households as possible
Following the same basic routine around bedtimes, meal times and having similar expectations around discipline, training, homework, chores, hygiene and diet will help children transition between households more easily. However, this is not always possible. If it cannot be achieved, it is important that each parent support the other in his/her routine.
12. Give your children your time and attention
It is normal to feel like you have to entertain your child when you have time with them after divorce, but you don’t have to disrupt your life or spend a lot of money on them to make up for lost time. Be yourself and just have a good time together whether you’re doing laundry or playing a game.
13. When you cannot see your child regularly, be creative and stay in contact
Telephone, write, e-mail, send postcards and pictures, face-time or Skype, and show them your home, your work, and your friends. Arrange to read the same book, watch the same movie or television show and then talk about it together. When the other parent is far away, record a child’s sport or activity and send it to the other parent. Send the other parent copies of school projects, and funny things they said that week. Stay involved with your children, your relationship will benefit in the long run.
14. Think of the other parent as an asset for your child and yourself
Call the other parent when you need child care, a break, or when you think the child needs the other parent. Avoid trigger words like: “I let you have the kids…” “My son…” Think and speak in terms of “sharing our kids”.
15. Understand that sometimes a child will share exaggerated or fabricated information with the parents they are currently with
This is a natural event and usually an effort to please that parent. The child may be motivated out of loyalty, concern for the parent’s hurt feelings or wanting to gain favour with the parent. The child is not lying but rather is attempting to survive, feel secure, diminish fears of abandonment, and create a positive relationship with the parent with whom s/he is sharing time.
16. Put the access schedule where the child can see it
Children can follow along with a colour-coded time sharing schedule where days with one parent are red days with the other parent blue, for example. They can even help “check off’ the days as they go by and therefore know they are in time and when they will see the other parent again.
17. Be cautious about over-interpreting a child’s reluctance at change over
Before becoming distressed at your child’s seeming reluctance to transition to the other parent, take note as to whether the child is reluctant because he or she is seeking to avoid being with the other parent, wanting to have some control, demonstrating loyalty to you or, as may be the case, is the child having a fun time and just isn’t ready to stop doing what they are doing and go?
18. Focus on your future
Separated spouses do not permit themselves to get through the divorce transition when they are focused on the other parent and/or refuse to let go. Your children will benefit from you moving on with your life and learning to co-parent with your ex. Remember you are still your child’s family, you are just not an intact family.
(Source: Kathleen O’Connell -Corcoran PhD)