When a family system is moved into two homes after divorce or separation, it becomes more important for parents to focus a stable routine for the children.
Even though you and your ex-spouse are no longer living together, your primary job as parents is to provide your children with the stability they crave. Divorce can disrupt the lives of the entire family; however, with careful planning and co-parenting efforts, you and your former spouse can make the transition smooth for your children.
As children adjust to the emotional changes within your family, it’s important to maintain consistency with structure and routine in the household. It’s especially crucial that parents keep structure and routine the same in both homes, says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child.” Maintain the same bedtime, mealtimes, wake-up time, homework schedule and extra-curricular activities. “The more stable your child’s life and routine is," says Walfish, "the less separation anxiety he will suffer."
Children may experience a range of mixed feelings initially to their parent's separation, including shock, sadness, anger, or even relief if they notice reduced tensions between their parents. This is understandably difficult, as parents are under enormous stress themselves. Divorce can be associated with a longer-term range of academic, behavioral, social, and emotional problems in children. However, the vast majority of children experience short-term painful feelings and then bounce back within 2 years of the separation. How children react certainly depends on their age and development but also on their parent's ability to remain sensitive to their needs, despite what is certainly a great deal of stress and transition in the parents' own lives.
Research teaches us how we can support children to do well after their parents separate or divorce:
- A child's optimistic versus catastrophic thinking style can be a determining factor in how he gets past the divorce. Parents can have a great deal of influence in helping children realistically assess situations and avoid catastrophic thinking patterns that assume the worst of situations.
- Children also prove to be more resilient and less stressed when there is less conflict between their parents and when the divorce removes them from high conflict households. Therefore, it is critical that you shield your child from fighting as much as possible.
- Children also do better if both parents continue to be positively involved in their lives (assuming both parents are safe, capable caregivers) and, in particular, if the nonresident parent maintains a close and supportive relationship with the child. Both parents should continue to listen to their children about their problems, provide emotional support, help with everyday issues like homework, and maintain rules and expectations for behavior.
- Children who experience parenting that promotes warmth and boundaries thrive. A stable and consistent approach to parenting during divorce is particularly protective for children. Children do better when their parents collaborate, communicate regularly, and offer consistent rules across homes. In particular, consistent parental discipline has been shown to be important because it ensures clear boundaries that don't vary widely between homes.
- It is critical that parents support, rather than undermine, the other's parenting authority.
- During times of change, even turmoil, it is important that children maintain as many routines as possible.
- Finally, children who are better able to seek out and obtain support from others are better able to adapt to the changes associated with divorce. Encourage your children to talk to you or a trusted friend or adult about what they are going through; show them how you reach out to others for support. Demonstrate that you genuinely believe reaching out to others is an act of strength.
If you are struggling emotionally and finding it hard or impossible to co-parent with your ex, please contact us for assistance. Your children deserve a stable environment and you are not alone.
Posted by CoParenting