Parenting is hard but great parenting on the heels of a stressful divorce probably feels completely unattainable.
Why is that? Because divorce was an emotional roller coaster for you. You’re completely wiped out and you feel like you have nothing left to give.
Chances are that your kids also felt like the divorce was an emotional roller coaster and, they, too, are wiped out.
Just about every emotion imaginable can be displayed by kids-
Sadness- the home environment they were used to is gone;
Relief- hoping that the stress, arguing, and even fighting might be over;
Confusion- especially for younger children who don’t fully understand what is going on;
Anger- directed at you, your ex-spouse, or both of you for causing or allowing this to happen;
Abandonment- wondering why Mom or Dad left them;
Guilt- feeling that they were somehow responsible for the break-up of the family; and/or
Anxiety- over what will happen next.
If you’re recently divorced and know your kids are feeling some-or even all – of the above feelings, now is your opportunity to re-establish stability for them. Great parenting in your post-divorce life can and will look different for every family but start with some small steps, figure out what you and the children need and start moving forward.
Hopefully, there is enough civility between you and your ex-spouse that you can agree to put your personal feelings towards each other aside when it comes to doing what is best for the children. Can you agree not to bad-mouth each other when you are with the children? Can you agree not to argue in front of them or on the phone when they might hear? Can you agree to cooperate with each other when it comes to visitations, child activities, and so on?
Even if you have a mean or unreliable ex-spouse, rise above it.
There is no single path to great parenting in your post-divorce world. There is no set formula. We just offer some suggestions for your consideration. Hopefully, you will find some ideas here that will help you.
- Accept this time as an opportunity to start fresh. The divorce is over. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t second guess yourself. What is done is done, the past is the past. It’s time to move forward. (How is that for a bunch of clichés?) But it’s true. Here is an opportunity for you and your kids to create an even better relationship.
- Create stability, which is another way to say create security for your kids. Create a home environment they can depend on. Establish a routine. The school year calendar certainly helps. The Court’s Custody and Visitation Order will also assist you because, as its title implies, visitations are scheduled events. Stay on the schedule. That means be on time and be reliable (not for the benefit of your ex-spouse, but for your kids). Prove to them that they can depend on you. Keep your promises, always.
- Set limits. Kids need to know the boundaries. And while they may never admit it, they really do want boundaries. It does give them a sense of security. You can not compensate for the divorce by letting kids have free reign to do whatever they want. Rules need to be made and followed or consequences will result. Discipline is still part of the program. At the same time, know that your kids are going to have bad days just like you. They get to be sad, mourn the loss of what they knew, be scared about the future and – yep- they even get to fall apart. Healing is a process- a messy process, but you are going to be there for your kids as they repair and grow. If you are telling yourself right now that you have no idea how to help your kid through this season of your lives, don’t feel bad because most of us don’t. You may want to go interview some counselors who can help your family rebuild, grow and thrive.
- Make time for your kids. Take time each day to focus on them. That means TV and cell phone off- no email, no texting. Schedule it. Talk to them about school. Share your day with them as a way to get them to talk about theirs. Making it a habit to eat at least one meal together is a great time for this to happen. Make one topic off-limits for you- don’t grill them about your ex-spouse. No prompting from you about home life or visitation time with the other parent. But by far, the biggest “do” is to love your kids. Tell them, yes, but show them, too. Hugs and kisses are mandatory. Teens will never admit it, and they may hate it if done in public, but they know that there is nothing quite like a hug from Mom or Dad with an “I love you” attached.
- Open the lines of communication. Encourage your kids to share their feelings with you. Let them know that you are there to listen. Older kids, especially teenagers, may have to be coaxed. Be patient while being accessible and open. If they will not open up to you, encourage them to talk to another family member. Again, if you sense continuing hostility, moodiness, or other prolonged troubling behavior, a professional counselor might be your best option.
- Start new traditions. Holidays can be especially tough for the kids. Memories of Christmases past can overshadow the joy of Christmas present. Since you can not recreate the past, create a new future. There is nothing wrong with keeping old traditions when possible, but add something new and different. Usually open gifts on Christmas morning? Open some of them on Christmas Eve instead. Go around town looking at Christmas lights followed by hot chocolate and cookies. Check the local newspaper for special events appropriate for your children’s’ ages. Go to a holiday movie. Take holiday treats to a retirement home. Does your church have a family caroling group? Join in even if your singing talent is suspect. Participate in a holiday food or toy drive. Volunteer at the distribution. Find something you can do together and continue year after year. Outside of the holidays, plan new activities for the kids. Every town has soccer, baseball, basketball, swimming or other activities after school or during the summer. Get them enrolled, get them active. And by all means, make your attendance a priority- even if it is just a practice. Again, scheduled activities create stability and security and so does your attendance. But don’t ignore opportunities for activities you can do with your kids. Go bowling (who cares if you don’t know how- learn together). Plan time in the park, at a playground, or at the pool. Go on a hike or picnic. Shoot some hoops. Take a day trip together. It doesn’t have to be unique or expensive, just time alone with Mom or Dad.
- Take care of yourself. The divorce has been draining on you, too. Things you do just for you will better equip you to do things for your kids. If you are the custodial parent, the Custody and Visitation Order is a good start. Your ex-spouse will have the kids at certain times. Look at it this way, the judge has ordered you to have time to yourself. Take advantage of that. Do something just for you. There is a long list for both mothers and fathers including get a pedicure, spend time at the library, get more involved in your church, join a fitness center, fish, play golf, learn to knit or sew, go swimming, take an art or computer class, take scuba lessons, take up archery, learn to dance, take flying lessons, sky dive. Who cares? Just do something you want to do.
- You will also want to build a support network. Parents, friends, teachers, counselors and others can be a great resource. Don’t forget to include your attorney on this list. If your ex-spouse becomes (or remains) uncooperative, contentious, or unreliable, consult with your attorney before you do anything on your own. Never violate a court order even if you think it to be in the best interest of the children. In an extreme case, where you believe your child may be in immediate danger, call the police rather than attempting your own solution.
The end of a divorce is a new beginning- for yourself and your kids. Take full advantage of it and best wishes as you strive to move forward – for you and the kids!
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