6 Ways to Be a Better Parent After Your Divorce
Between court dates and discussions of property division and child custody, the divorce process can be stressful, time-consuming, and expensive. As difficult as these aspects of divorce may be, if you have children, you are probably more worried about how they’re coping.
All children react to divorce differently. Some kids feel angry with their parents, or sad, or even relieved. They might let their frustrations out by misbehaving at home and in school or they might withdraw into themselves, becoming quiet and closed off. Whatever the case with your children, it’s important to take the time to address their concerns and take concrete steps to move forward.
1. Make Time for Your Kids
Divorce can keep you busy, but sometimes adjusting to life after your divorce can be more challenging. Before you become overwhelmed, make a point to carve out time specifically for your children. Prioritize their needs as much as possible, making time for your kids on a daily basis. Even if you have a busy day ahead, try making time for dinner at the family table, or a little ice cream date for just you and the kids after school.
Ask your children about school, their friends, and any extracurricular activities they participate in. Most importantly, make sure they know you’re available and focused on them. Also, make sure you plan for fun events, like weekend trips to the park or a hike. Remind them that you are still a family, albeit a slightly different one, and can still have fun doing things together.
2. Open the Lines of Communication
Some children close themselves off when they go through big changes, like divorce, making it more difficult for their parents to communicate with them. Make sure you ask questions about how they’re feeling, what they’re concerned about, and what they want.
Older children might need more coaxing, but even the younger ones might want guidance when it comes to expressing their feelings about the divorce. Keeping things bottled up could make things emotionally difficult later down the road, so encourage your children to be open with you and to express their feelings. If they aren’t willing to open up to you, suggest that they talk to a family member they trust, like a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or even a counselor.
It is also important not to grill your children about your ex-spouse or make them feel uncomfortable about the relationship they have with the other parent.
3. Be Open to Co-Parenting
Handling a new parenting situation can be extremely difficult. Whether you have joint custody, full custody, or scheduled visitation, it’s important for you to find a way to cooperate (and even collaborate!) with your co-parent as best you can. Your ex may have different rules at his or her house, and you likely won’t agree on every parenting decision. As irritating as this can be, try to keep your focus on the kids and avoid dwelling on past hurts. Even if the two of you are not on good terms, being civil is the best way to make the co-parenting process easier for both you and your kids. If you must have a serious discussion with your ex-spouse, make sure your children are not present.
4. Be Consistent
After all the changes that come with divorce, it is important that you show your kids a stable environment they can depend on. If you used to hike every Saturday morning, maintain that tradition, or start a new regular ritual they can come to depend on.
Most importantly, follow through with your promises, however minor. If you say you will pick your kids up from their other parent’s house at noon, be there. If you say you will attend a dance recital, do it. Following through with these commitments will show your kids that they can still depend on you and that you are the rock they can lean on.
5. Rely on your Parenting Plan
As if parenthood wasn’t challenging enough, going through a divorce can make your responsibilities as a parent even more important. A solid parenting plan developed during your divorce can help you organize those responsibilities between both parents in a very effective and consistent way. Regular schedules, agreements on how things are paid for, like sports and tuition, and other details can be worked into your parenting plan during the divorce process to make your post-divorce parenting go more smoothly.
6. Take Care of Yourself
As important as it is to prioritize your children and put their needs first, you also need to focus on caring for yourself. You will be no help to anyone if you are not physically and mentally healthy. The divorce process can be extremely difficult, so you might feel tired and overwhelmed. Many parents focus so much of their attention on their children during this time that they completely overlook their own needs. Make sure you have a support system you can rely on and try finding an outlet you enjoy, like an art class or a new gym membership.
If you have trouble with your ex-spouse regarding parenting, child support, or visitation issues, get legal advice before you act. Your family law attorney is an important part of your support system, especially with a contentious or unreliable ex-spouse. There may be legal options available that you may not know about. Or you could make things worse by violating your parenting plan, custody, or child support court order (even if you believe you are acting in your child’s best interest) that could make things more difficult for you.Contact McKinley Irvin at our Washington office to discuss your divorce or child custody case with our attorneys.