When it comes to ending your marriage, divorce ranks right up there with getting your wisdom teeth pulled out. As author Mary Kay Blakely once said, “Divorce is the psychological equivalent of a triple coronary bypass.”
If children are involved, you may be in store for a lengthy adjustment period. Divorce and children are difficult to navigate. Learning to keep the peace would do wonders for both sides. Of course, that is easier said than done. Nonetheless, here are 10 tips for recently divorced couples who have children together:
1) Come up with a schedule, and stick to it
Remember, children thrive on routine and consistency. Your custody arrangement should take into account your children’s ages, the activities they’re involved in, and your work and personal schedule. Of course, there are times when life gets in the way, and you need to change things up a bit, which leads to the second tip.
2) When comes to divorce and children learn to say “yes!”
Does your ex-spouse need to tweak the schedule occasionally? Do they want to take the kids to see their parents during what is supposed to be your Christmas? If the other household’s requests are not unreasonable, then accommodating them could go a long way toward building up goodwill between the two families. In a perfect world, your ex will be just as accommodating and reasonable when you need some help. Whether that happens when the time comes is not the point, which is to create a happier, healthier environment for your children.
3) Worry about your household, not the other
You think your 14-year-old is too young for Instagram, but then you find out your ex just OK’d it. During these ultra-aggravating moments, you have to realize that you can only control what happens under your roof. If you want your little one in bed earlier and your older one to cut back on the video games, you could declare “your house, your rules.” However, unless your children are somehow in danger at the other home, complaining to your former spouse about their rules won’t accomplish anything.
4) Don’t be late
You bought movie tickets and had a big night planned out. Then your ex shows up an hour late with the little ones. Being habitually late is irritating enough; it can be infuriating when you’re dealing with an ex-spouse. Treat pick-up and delivery of the kids like a work meeting; i.e., prepare for things like traffic jams, bad weather, anything that could delay your arrival.
5) With Divorce and Children what happens in your house does NOT stay in your house
There’s a pretty good chance that your children won’t tell your ex about the fantastic meal you made, or the trip to the library, or all the homework help you provided. But you can bet your next paycheck that your little one will mention to your spouse the time you uttered a four-letter word while in traffic, or that you let them watch an R-rated movie. Here’s a good rule to follow: don’t do or say anything around the children that could come back to haunt you.
6) Give your kids a voice
Remember, this is a difficult time for your children, no matter how old they are. Let them express their feelings. Doing so is not only cathartic, but it also makes them feel like they have a voice. Likewise, allow your child to have age-appropriate input over simple matters. Does your 5-year-old want to bring her favorite stuffed animal to mom’s house? Does your 17-year-old want to change up the schedule for football practice? Accommodating your children on relatively simple matters gives them a sense of control during difficult times.
7) Keep the complaints about the ex to a minimum
This tip goes hand-in-hand with No. 5: if you badmouth your ex around your children, then you can almost guarantee that it will get back to the other house. However, you should also try to limit the negativity from the children about the other household (unless they are complaining about something illegal or dangerous going on). Kids want to please the other parent, so sometimes they’ll say things they think the other parent wants to hear. Translation: You’re probably not getting the full story. Besides, encouraging negativity will only make things more difficult when dealing with your ex.
8) Offer to help the other household
You know your ex is going to have her hand’s full the next day with the kids. Is there anything you can do to help? Whether you propose to take the kids to and from somewhere or offer up leftovers from the night before so that your ex won’t have to pick up fast food, your former spouse will appreciate these gestures (even if he or she declines). Remember, it’s hard to get mad at someone who’s trying to help. Furthermore, you’re setting an excellent example for your children.
9) Be there for your kids; even on your “off” days
See if this sounds familiar: You had private lessons on Thursday, soccer practice on Friday, games on Saturday, and church and religious education on Sunday, followed by after-school tutoring on Mondays. As soon as you drop them off at school on Tuesday, you’re kid-free, and your job is over, right? Not so fast. If you can make it to your child’s band concert or basketball game, or go to the parent-teacher conference on your days off, your former spouse will see how serious you are about raising the children. Plus, your kids will be thrilled to see you there, even if they don’t show it.
10) You’ve heard this one before
You’ve probably heard this saying many times and find it annoying, but like it or not, the adage is spot-on: It’s not about you. Frankly, your kids don’t care about your relationship issues, nor should they. Does your ex-mother-in-law want to take the kids to the zoo? Does your kid want to go fishing one weekend with your spouse’s new husband? When it comes to raising your kids through a divorce, it’s important to remember that what is best for your kid doesn’t always align with what you want to do.
In the end, it’s all about keeping your kids happy and healthy during the divorce. It’s a traumatic event at any age, so anything you can do to ease the transition will go a long way toward keeping the peace between the two households. If you have any questions about divorce and children, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free initial consultation.