Just about every other marriage these days ends in divorce. No matter the cause, it can be breathtakingly painful. And when kids are involved, it can be difficult to put aside the grown-up problems in order to work together to put the kids first. This can be especially challenging if you are struggling to rebuild trust as parents after an infidelity or other betrayal. Trust me; I know. Been there and doing that. It is hard work.
Ultimately, I don't think any of us wants to raise broken children from broken homes. Research shows that the kids who thrive after a divorce are the kids with two involved parents who each love their kids very much and are able to co-parent in a cooperative manner. Here's how to get started.
Take Care of Yourself
- Take time for you.
- Find a healthy outlet for your emotions.
- Let yourself grieve.
- Give yourself plenty of time to heal.
- Seek out your support system.
- Talk to someone you trust.
- Listen to your intuitions and needs.
- Don't take on other people's anger.
- Try to eat right and sleep well.
- Don't expect too much from yourself during this time.
Take Care of Your Kids
- Acknowledge your children's feelings.
- Tell the truth, but not the whole truth until they are old enough to handle it.
- Avoid unkind words.
- Stick to your routines.
- Create new family rituals.
- Continue to encourage healthy eating, tooth brushing and regular bedtimes.
- Read bedtime stories.
- Create a safe personal space for each child at each home.
- Make time for quality time with each parent.
- Avoid any unnecessary, additional upheaval.
New Family Rituals: Create Magical Moments
• Picnic at the park after church.
• Jump on the bed to Motown tunes after dinner.
• Camp out in the living room for a Friday night movie.
• Take a Christmas cruise.
• Go to the farmer's market as a family.
• Cook Saturday-morning blueberry pancakes.
• Stomp in puddles after a big rain.
• Get ice cream after school on Mondays.
• Volunteer to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving.
• Spend a week at the beach with friends and their kids.
• Host a weekly board game competition.
• Grow a family vegetable garden.
• Take silly family photos on your cell phone.
• Go to story time at the public library.
• Spend some evenings at the ballpark.
• Pick fresh, seasonal fruits.
How to Pamper Yourself
• Read a great book.
• Get a massage.
• Take a hot bath.
• Go out with friends.
• Treat yourself to a movie.
• Sip a glass of nice wine.
• Head to the gym.
• Get a haircut.
• Take a walk.
• Give yourself the permission to do something you've always wanted to do.
• Give yourself the permission to live one day at a time.
If Nothing Else ...
- Be Consistent. If at all possible, put your differences aside to agree on a general parenting philosophy or a specific parenting reference book. Find a time when the kids are not around to brainstorm a few basic house rules and routines that both homes will enforce.
- Be Kind. You don't have to like your ex-spouse, but bad-mouthing each other in front of or to the kids is harmful to a child's self-esteem and emotional development. Save the spiteful words for the therapist's office or when you're having a drink with your best friend.
DIY: Shortly after my ex husband and I signed our divorce papers, I crafted a custom Shutterfly photo book for my son. It has photos from his life at my house and from his dad's house. I wrote simple text with upbeat language to reaffirm that my son is safe with and loved by both his parents—no matter what. I printed a copy for each house, and it is a bedtime favorite.
Kelly Bryan Smith
Kids and Divorce Bookshelf
Great Reads for Grown-ups
• "Mom's House, Dad's House: Making Two Homes for Your Child" by Isolina Ricci (Fireside, 1997, $16)
• "Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way" by M. Gary Neuman and Patricia Romanowski (Random House, 1999, $20)
• "Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce" by JoAnne Pedro-Carroll (Avery, 2010, $16)
• "Coming Apart: Why Relationships End and How to Live Through the Ending of Yours" by Daphne Kingma (Conari Press, 2012, $16.95)
Best Books for Kids
• "Two Homes" by Claire Masurel and Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick, 2003, $6.99)
• "Standing on My Own Two Feet: An Affirmation of Love in the Midst of Divorce" by Tamara Schmitz (Price Stern Sloan, 2008, $12.99)
• "Was it the Chocolate Pudding?: A Story for Little Kids About Divorce" by Sandra Levins and Bryan Langdo (Magination, 2005, $14.95)
• "Dinosaurs Divorce" by Marc Brown and Laurie Krasny Brown (Little, Brown, 1988, $7.99)