As a family lawyer I’ve seen lots of families work to adjust to a new life with two households. It’s hard for everyone but kids really need help to adjust to their new reality.
Do take care of yourself! This is my most important tip for you. Divorce is hard and at times you may not feel even remotely good, so make yourself eat well, try to get enough sleep, and call a friend to schedule something really fun to do. Better yet, call three friends and schedule three fun things to do. Try to feel yummy again.
Do encourage your kids to love their father and encourage their relationship with him, no matter how difficult that is. Kids want contact and love from both of their parents. Prompt them to call him. Let them have a decent amount of time with him, including precious holiday time so they can see their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins from his side of the family.
Do reassure your kids that they are not to blame. Sometimes kids feel responsible for the family breakdown. Also explain that while adult love may die, your love for them will not die.
Do live close to your ex if at all possible. You may wish he would move to Timbuktu so that you’d never see him again, but the exact opposite is what’s best for your kids. If they forget their homework or their skates or their favourite sweater at dad’s, this can be a big problem if you live far apart or even across town. But if you live a couple of blocks apart, it’s easy for them (or you) to pop over and pick up the forgotten item. It also means that if the kids want to come say hi to you when they are with their dad, it’s no big deal. They can just ride their bike over for a few minutes. It’s hard to overstate how good it is for kids to have ease of movement between their homes.
Do maintain basic communication with your ex-spouse. It teaches your kids a lot about being civil even in difficult circumstances and it will make your life easier. Some basic examples:
• It makes organizing access and coordinating schedule changes much easier if you can email or phone each other
• It helps you coordinate gift-giving. If you’re not talking to your ex, odds are pretty high you’ll both give one of the kids the same gift at Christmas or on a birthday
• It prevents the kids from playing the two of you off against each other
• It makes it easier to ask for a favour when you need it. And you will need them when you’re sick, have a family emergency, need to travel for business, want to go to your high school reunion or - here’s hoping Yummy Mummies - want to go on a romantic get-away with a new love.
Do spend special time alone with each child. Creating these happy moments and memories is especially precious to them when their family is breaking up. Make it fun and special for you too.
Don’t let your kids hear you criticizing their father. They will feel conflicted and, eventually, very resentful if you criticize someone they love. If you need to vent, take it to your adult friends when the kids can’t hear.
Don’t press your kids for information about what goes on when they are with your ex. That is their time with him. If they want to tell you about it they will but otherwise let them enjoy their relationship with him without feeling like you are scrutinizing it.
Don’t use your kids as confidants and don’t let your kids become your caregiver. Divorce is hard; ask for help when you need it but ask the adults in your life. Remember – most people like to help.
Don’t ask your children how they want to divide their holidays, how much they want to see their father or any other question that forces them to choose between their parents.
And finally, don’t over-indulge your kids. This may be tempting because of guilt about the separation or because an unhealthy competition develops with your ex-spouse about who has the best toys or who takes the kids on the best trips. Don’t fall into this trap. Kids need limits.
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