What steps can you take to make sure your divorce doesn’t cause permanent damage to your child’s development? Psychologist and divorce expert Dr. Lisa Herrick joins us to discuss what we can learn from the latest research on the impact of divorce on children of all ages, including how to identify “risk factors” and implement “protective strategies” — so that your divorce can remain a sad memory rather than a bad developmental turning point.
For most divorcing parents, breaking the news to their kids is one the most upsetting parts of the experience. What, when and how to tell them? How to ease their pain? What if you and your future ex can’t agree on a message? Take a breath, relax. You need some guidance and a plan. In this episode of her podcast, Kate offers “10 Tips for Doing a Good Job with the Scariest Conversation of Your Life”. Listen to it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or under the “Podcasts” tab on this site.
It’s right up there with telling your children about the split — another anxiety-producing, watershed moment in your life as a divorcing parent.The day one of you moves out.
Whether you’re staying or going, you’re worried about your kids. Even if you know lots of divorced families, it’s hard to imagine how your children will cope with the transition to living in two homes.
You’re looking for ways to ease the pain. Here are some tips:
(Note: Tips 2-9 are geared to the moving-out parent, but are relevant for both of you as you co-parent through this phase)
1. Minimize surprises
Your kids’ first questions will be basic: They’ll want to know who’ll live where, when they’ll see you, and if they’ll have to give up anything important — friends, school, activities. Offer them a roadmap of what to expect — including a move out date. Give enough advance warning that your kids will feel prepared, but not so much that they’ll be tortured by anticipation. There’s no magic number — two weeks is usually about right.
2. Real estate is for adults
Many well-intentioned parents think that by including them in the search for new digs they can give their kids a sense of agency and replace sadness with excitement. Actually, divorce-related house shopping scares children (“What if I make a bad choice?”), confuses them (“Am I the other grown-up now?”), and sets them up for disappointment (“What do you mean we lost the apartment?”). Make this decision on your own. Later you’ll all have fun making kid-appropriate choices, like bedroom décor and video game consoles.
3. Be thoughtful about “stuff”
Children are sensitive to change and develop quirky attachments to objects. So give your kids a heads up before removing visible items from the marital home. If you take something big (a couch, a coffee table), work with your spouse to replace or rearrange things so the house doesn’t look decimated.
Especially if you’re moving into temporary space, you may not want to divide your belongings right away. But do take enough meaningful things (some family photos, a few toys) to create a sense of familiarity.
If a child has an emotional tie to an important item (a security blanket, a stuffed animal), encourage them to carry it back and forth. But don’t expect them to track it during transitions — that’s your job.
Do not pack boxes or move things out of the house while the kids are there, even if they’re asleep!
4. Set the scene
Before you bring your kids to your new place, procure the basics. If time or money is tight, focus on one comfortable hangout space (a couch, a t.v.), an eating area (table, chairs), and the bedrooms (beds, dressers). Stock the fridge and lay in bathroom supplies, some clothing staples, and a few favorite playtime activities.
5. Plan a gradual transition
Your kids will fare best if you don’t push for too much too fast. Consider a few daytime stints before graduating to overnights. There’s no set formula for the ramp-up. Factor in your children’s ages and temperaments, and remain open to slowing down or speeding up if they seem to need it. If you and your ex disagree on pacing, get input from a mental health professional with the right expertise.
6. Let them show off
If tensions aren’t too high, encourage your kids to give their other parent a tour of the new place. Feeling they have both of your blessings will help them settle in.
7. Be patient
It’ll take a while for your kids to feel they have two equally important residences, so resist the urge to correct them when they reflexively refer to the marital house as “home.” A comment like “Hey, this is your home too,” may shame or irritate. Instead, lead by example. Replace “I’m gonna take you home now” with “It’s time to go back to Brentwood Street.” Give it time: Your kids’ language will naturally shift as they adjust to their new normal.
8. Maintain continuity
School age kids will resist time with you if it disrupts their social lives. Regardless of the schlep, make sure they get to soccer practice, playdates, birthday parties. And extend invitations — nothing says “home” like a sleepover pizza party.
9. You can’t have too many friends
Helping your kids to sustain old relationships shouldn’t stop you from helping them to form new ones in your neck of the woods.
10. Maintain consistency
You won’t get perfect symmetry, but aim to coordinate with your ex on fundamentals like mealtimes, bedtimes, and (if your kids are older) homework, chores, and discipline. Even if they grumble, your children will feel safer if their parents are in synch.
11. Be compassionate
It’s natural for your kids to have moments of missing their other parent. Try not to get angry (“You saw Dad two hours ago!”), defensive (“What am I, chopped liver?”), or reactionary (“Fine, get your coat!”). Calm statements like “I know you miss Mommy. It stinks that you can’t be with both of us at the same time,” or “You’ve had to deal with lots of changes; it’ll take time for this to feel like home” will reassure your kids that you understand and accept their feelings.
12. Soft-pedal “goodbye”
Separations needn’t be agonizing. Let your kids know that you’ll have them in mind but won’t pine away in their absence. A tearful “I’ll miss you, call me whenever you want,” will heighten anxiety. A breezy “Have fun this weekend, I’ll see you Monday” will give your kids a solid launch.
13. It’s not a contest
If you’re moving out, you might worry that your ex has the home field advantage. If you’re staying, you might worry that the new place has more allure. Relax: Condo or mansion — if yours is a warm, nurturing environment in which their practical and emotional needs are met, your kids will want to be there.
After all, your house is not your children’s emotional home. You are.
Divorcing parents want to support their kids and minimize pain. But being a good parent sometimes means taking unpopular positions. And what if you don’t have a cooperative co-parent who supports your philosophy? In this episode of their podcast, Kate and Jane offer practical and empathic advice for handling even the most complex and emotionally fraught divorce discipline challenges.
“Now that we’re splitting up, should I be softer on the kids or keep doing things the old way?” “Should my ex and I try to have the same rules?” “What if my ex undermines me with the kids?” Deciding how and when to discipline our kids during the emotional maelstrom of divorce is tough. But you can learn to navigate even the thorniest challenges if you start with a solid understanding of what constitutes effective discipline for kids of various ages- divorcing parents or no. In this episode, Kate and Jane discuss their ideas about how best to think about and implement discipline. They explore the difference between punishment and consequence (and why it matters), and offer a list of “11 Things to Keep in Mind When Imposing Consequences.”
Divorce changes everything, including how we spend our favorite holidays with our kids and extended families. Especially in the first year post-split, you may worry that disruption to long-held, beloved traditions will cause further pain to your already reeling family. Facing the first Christmas morning in 15 years when you won’t see your kids open their presents? That’s a jagged pill to swallow. Missing your in-laws’ annual family ski trip for the first winter in decades? That smarts.
But the truth is that, especially in divorce when so much is already in flux, we tend to idealize holidays. It’s no wonder these celebrations often become conflictual hot buttons in custody negotiations. Because, now more then ever, we crave “ordinariness and “sameness,” we imbue these (albeit special) days with intense significance. We worry that any break in the old way of doing things will be a slippery slope into chaos (“If we don’t go to midnight mass ‘as a family’ like we always have, we’ll lose our co-parenting good will and our divorce will become acrimonious. That will ruin our kids’ lives!”). In reality, holidays are days. The sun rises, it sets; they come and go pretty quickly. If the first round of winter holidays is lousy, don’t take it as a sign that Hanukkah has permanently shifted from holy miracle to holy hell. Lick your wounds, get on with life. By this time next year you’ll have experienced lots of tough “firsts.” You’ll have come a long way toward adjusting to your new normal. You’ll have more perspective and less worry. You’ll be ready to start reviving and reworking your holiday traditions.
In the meantime, remember: Tradition is continuity, not stasis. Here’s a lovely short article that reminds us why everything will be ok: Because you, not your house or apartment or ski chalet, are your kids’ emotional home. Forever, unalterably. And really, that is all the tradition they need.