Divorce can often lead to a change in the relationship between you and your children. The less time you spend together and the fact that you live separately can cause you to drift apart if you don't make an effort to stay in touch.
The following are some ways that you can stay connected to your children after a divorce:
1. Stay engaged with your children.
Regardless of how much parenting time you are given, parents should remain active and engaged with their children after divorce.
Don't hesitate to ask them about their school and everyday lives. If they are experiencing emotional turmoil as a result of your divorce, encourage them to discuss their concerns and what stresses them. Find out when school has big events and sports so you can attend and support them.
What if distance is an issue? Schedule regular phone calls or FaceTime with your children at the same time every day or week. Predictability is important for both households and your children.
If you received a child custody arrangement that you didn't like or your ex moved to another state, you might be frustrated. However, this does not justify checking out of your child’s life. It is more important than ever that your child has an active and engaged parent in their life.
2. Find a new hobby or interest with your child.
Spending quality time with your children is really important when you are only spending limited time with them. It would be a good idea to find a shared interest or hobby that you can enjoy doing together if you do not already have one. Perhaps you've always wanted to take your child fishing, or maybe you could cook creative meals or take a photography class together.
Choosing an activity you both enjoy will allow you to spend one-on-one time together and develop a stronger bond. A shared activity can allow your child’s voice to be heard in a constructive way.
3. Allow your kids to plan your time together.
Your children are likely to come up with some creative ideas when you suggest they plan the next activity.
There are two options: You can suggest something more realistic or you can let them take the lead and let their imagination guide them. Talk about what might not work, what strategies could work, and what challenges might arise.
Using a little imagination and structure, you can turn your kids' dreams into reality. Kids are not only full of inspirational and out-of-the-box ideas, but they also get really excited about specific details.
4. Enjoy quiet time together.
Having a "date" is an opportunity to spend time together. It is possible for families to have dates as well.
It doesn't have to be a day at the amusement park for you and the kids to enjoy time together. You can enjoy some quiet time too. Make sure your smartphone is turned off. Focusing completely on the children is the goal.
You can find 100 ideas for a date with your children in Raising Lifelong Learners. Listed below are ten ideas:
Go out for ice cream
Check out a museum together
Head to a movie
Go for a hike
Walk along the beach
Play mini golf
Try out a new restaurant
Go to the library and check out some fun books and movies to share.
Attend a concert or sporting event
Take an art class
5. Manage your schedule to decrease other time commitments when you have your kids.
For example, plan time with friends and co-workers when your children are not with you. That means if you’re invited out to dinner with a group of friends on a night that your child is with you, you have to rain check.
Remember, when your child deserves 100% of your attention and focus when they’re with you.
6. Practice age-appropriate principles.
Toddlers should have frequent, short visits.
In order for a toddler to feel safe, they need to form a secure attachment with one parent. Young children can spend time with each parent, and given their age the visits should be frequent and predictable. This helps develop healthy, positive relationships between parents and children and provides young children with a sense of normalcy.
School-aged children can visit both parent’s homes.
Having regular, multi-night stays with both parents for elementary school-age children is beneficial. For children who are in school, schedule visits that last several consecutive days to avoid constant transitions between homes.
A flexible schedule for teenagers.
Consider teenagers' social, school, and sports schedules when planning parental visits to accommodate their natural desire for independence. Allow the teen to spend longer periods with each parent and make sure that transportation to and from events is provided so that his or her commitments are not disrupted. When arranging visits with teenage children, keep flexibility and your child's best interests in mind. If parents are too rigid about a teenager’s schedule expect a pushback. It’s important to work with teenagers to give them a sense of autonomy.
7. Have a fresh start.
For instance, create a new photo album for yourself and your kids. Keep a record of what you did and where you were when it’s your time together. Another idea would be to start a new routine, like when they’re with you on Saturdays you go to the local bagel shop.
Make it a point to start new traditions rather than re-creating the same ones. Adapt your new holiday schedule to the values you held in previous celebrations.
Make a decision early on about how you will celebrate the holidays with your children. Be sure to document and schedule your new plans as far in advance as possible to avoid getting caught up in issues later.
8. Be respectful of your ex.
While divorce can be stressful, saying negative things about your ex to your children will make things worse for them if the divorce ended acrimoniously. In short, don’t waste your valuable time together talking negatively about your ex when you are with your children. Keeping your children from knowing details that could possibly hurt or confuse them is important to them.
Even though seeing your children may be difficult because of your ex, you should not react in front of them. Rather than fighting, try to reach a compromise through a mediator or a family member. The advice of a family divorce lawyer may be necessary if you are still struggling to agree on child visitation arrangements.
9. Establish a consistent parenting plan.
Maintain consistency in your parents' rules and routines, such as bedtimes, screen time, curfews, and any other routines your children are accustomed to. Different sets of rules between parents can be confusing and can be the source of arguments and sometimes behavioral problems. It is important for parents to work together in setting rules for their child's welfare, even if they live in separate houses.
Sometimes children try to persuade one parent to allow them to stay up later, or give them more pocket money, or give them the freedom to choose their own meals, etc. You should try to communicate regularly about decisions about your children's routine, even if you have a bad relationship with your ex.
10. Focus on quality, not quantity.
After a split, you all feel disoriented - so kids are in need of stability now more than ever.
“All children – including those who’ve experienced divorce – need limits,” says Steven Meyers, a Roosevelt University professor of psychology who specializes in children and family relationships. However, they also need time with their families to have fun. “Be planful, playful, and active during your time with your children after the split.”
“It may seem easier at times to allow your child to spend time on the computer or playing video games rather than do something together that requires effort,” adds Meyers. “But children will often fare better when both parents remain active and involved in their lives in supportive and loving ways. This requires planning and maybe even exploring new ground for some parents, but it is very worthwhile.”