They say that divorce is hardest on the children. I don’t necessarily think that’s true — I think it would be much harder on the people that once loved each other but are now saying goodbye to their marriage. But it’s hard on us kids too, especially when we have no idea what’s going on.
My parents separated two and a half years ago. When I was told my parents were getting a divorce (on a hot night when I was in the middle of doing my math homework), I was shocked and upset. Of course I was. And if I could go back, I would do some things a little bit differently. So here a few things that I think have worked well – and a few things that would have made adjusting to divorce a little bit easier, for both my parents and I.
Make a plan and stick to it. 1 of 10
For the parent that your child won't be living with, pick a day. Any day (as long as you're both free) and set that day aside — that's the day you'll be seeing each other every week, for breakfast, or lunch or dinner ... a walk in the park, shopping at the mall ... it doesn't matter what you do, or for how long. But on that day, rain or shine, you will spend time together. This consistency is important for maintaining your closeness when living apart and will give both the parent and the child a sense of comfort in knowing that they'll see each other often.
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Discuss the holidays well in advance. 2 of 10
Will your child be spending half of Thanksgiving, half of their birthday, half of Christmas with one parent and the other half with the other parent? Or will your child be spending Thanksgiving and Boxing Day with you, and Christmas and their birthday with your ex-partner? Or, will they be spending the day before each of the holidays with you, and the actual holidays with the other parent?
This year, I ate breakfast with my father on my birthday, and spent the rest of the day with my mother, then spent Christmas breakfast with my mother, and the rest of the day with my father. While it's nice to be able to spend time with them both on the holidays, there's always the feeling of being rushed — having a limited time with one parent, before you need to be with the other. Regardless of how you split it up, there should be a plan in place so that everyone is on the same page and no one gets slighted.
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Discuss your new partner with your child. 3 of 10
So you're dating again? That's great, but make sure to discuss what this means for your child, down to specifics. Will they be expected to buy gifts over the holidays for your new partner? If so, a "token" gift, like a box of chocolates, or will they be expected to put as much thought into their gift as they do for yours? What do they call them? Are they going to be spending time alone with them, or just when you're around? Are they allowed to treat them like they would you (ask them for money/a ride/to help with homework)?
This year, I found it really confusing to know what to buy my father's partner for Christmas, because I had only seen him on a handful of occasions. I didn't know what was expected of me, which made it hard to know what exactly to buy. There should be an open dialogue about even the smallest of things.
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Discuss who is responsible for what and let your child know. 4 of 10
Sort out who is responsible for what (logistically, speaking). Who will be driving your child to soccer practice each week, going to PTA meetings, parent/teacher conferences, picking your child up from sleepovers, and paying for school supplies? Let your child know what you decide, in order to eliminate confusion.
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Have one set of rules in both homes. 5 of 10
Is curfew 11pm at one house? Well, then it's 11pm at the other house as well. Having two very different sets of rules creates confusion, and also compares the two parents together. The more lax parent becoming the "fun" parent, and the other parent the "boring" one.
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Talk about your divorce. 6 of 10
Yes, it's awkward, but do it anyway. Talk about how one of you is moving out, who the child will be spending most of their time with, when they'll see the other parent, and any other arrangements which will impact upon their life.
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Don’t make your child choose. 7 of 10
Seriously, don't make your child choose whom they're going to be spending the most of their time with. That's just awkward, and a horrible position to put your child in. Decide the arrangements between yourselves, then say to your child, "are you okay if you live with (insert parent here) most of the time? (Insert other parent here) still wants to see you heaps though, so you and (insert parent here) will spend time together every (insert time frame here)".
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Give your child time to be sad. 8 of 10
Your child will be sad for an indefinite period of time, no matter how much they expected it, hated hearing you fight, or know that it's ultimately for the best. Their family is ultimately breaking up, and it's affecting their life in a big way — allow for their emotions to surface and don't expect that they'll get over this quickly.
Even though I had anticipated my parents' separation, I was still upset. I don't remember for how long, but it took a little while to get used to the fact that all three of us would no longer be living together. Whilst it's not pleasant seeing you're sad, that time will ultimately allow them to adjust to the new circumstances without having the pressure of having to "put on a happy face", when they're really still upset.
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Make sure you have answers to their questions. 9 of 10
Don't come unprepared to a conversation, because answers of "I don't know" or, "we'll sort that out later" won't suffice and will just cause them to become worried. Come prepared with answers to where the family pet will live, whether they will need to move out of their house, change schools, or whether Santa will know to visit both houses.
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Establish rules about the second home 10 of 10
For the parent who doesn't live with your child full-time, establish rules with your child ASAP. Will they be staying overnight at your new place regularly, or not at all? Can they leave stuff at your new place, or do they need to bring a bag over every time they visit? Will they have a room of their own or be sleeping on the couch? Can they expect two lots of allowance, or only from the parent they spend the most time with? Are they allowed to have birthday parties or friends over?
It's important for the child to know what the boundaries are, and whether they should think of your new residence as their "second home", or just the place where you now live and they occasionally visit.
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