Nothing about divorce, especially with kids, is easy. It helped when I could find the inner resources to roll up my mental sleeves and look just three feet ahead of me, rather than allowing my mind to roam around the whole big picture and all that needed to be done.
Make clear to the kids that the divorce is not about them.
All kinds of things go through kids' minds. Some think, If only I had been better-behaved, mom and dad would still be together, especially if they have ever heard you arguing about them. Look each of your children in the eye and let them know they could not have caused the divorce, nor could they have prevented it.
Let the kids know that you are not divorcing them.
Don't badmouth your ex.
I soon learned that even if I were to have said something like, "Your father raped a whole cheerleading squad," they would have responded, "Don't say anything bad about my dad."
Let the kids know you want them to have a good relationship with both parents.
Fortunately, I divorced someone who cared about the kids as much as I did. If he really had raped a whole cheerleading squad, it might have been a different story.
Let the kids know there is a zero possibility of your getting back together with the ex.
When my kids want something I don't agree with, they know I mean business when I say, "There is a zero possibility that we are going bunjee-jumping." All three of my daughters are now in their twenties, and all have told me that they never had the "Parent Trap" fantasy that their dad and I would get back together. It helped that I knew for sure in my deepest core that we would never again be a couple.
Encourage children to express their feelings about the divorce.
Let the kids know it's natural to feel sad. You can set the example by not trying to force 24/7 cheer. On the other hand, your expression of sorrow to them should be appropriate both for their ages and for a parent-child relationship. Save your intimate confessions for your therapist or friends.
All that said, it wouldn't hurt to have a merry vase of daisies on the breakfast table.
Establish fun, new rituals.
How about French toast for dinner? How about dinner in the bathtub? How about French toast for dinner in the bathtub?
To compensate for the time lost with my children when they moved to their dad's home for nine days each month, I found new ways to spend time together. Instead of sleeping in and expecting them to fetch their own bowls of Wheaties, I would get up early, cut fresh fruit, set the breakfast table with pretty placemats and make things like pancakes, bacon and hot chocolate, as though we had gone to bed at home and awakened at the Four Seasons.
After a waiting period, a new pet can add love and joy to your home.
Four months after the separation, we got a puppy. This was a great way for our reconfigured family to bond.
Beforehand, I had read that parents may experience disappointment if they expect their children to take care of a new dog. Ours was a low-maintenance guy, whom I was happy to feed twice a day and take outside 3 times a day. Whenever I asked the kids for help, I generally received it.
Give each child the chance to talk to a therapist.
Try to find a good therapist, who is experienced with children. If that is beyond your financial means, perhaps you can enlist a trusted adult friend or relative.
Strive for win-win-win results.
My ex and I agreed to celebrate the children's birthdays together. Four years after we separated, we began taking an annual beach vacation with the kids, which they all love.
As when flying, first save yourself.
Exercise or yoga can help you feel good about your body and soul. I joined a gym and also did yoga. If you can't block out that kind of time, try to find opportunities like walking up and down stairs rather than taking elevators and/or using an exercise DVD even if only for 5 minutes at a time.
If you have a new love interest, everyone benefits when you put the children's interests first.
At some point the kids will need to understand everyone's place in the family. However, children are more likely to take a shine to the new amour if you make them feel as though they come first. That way, everyone wins (I don't mean to suggest that this is as simple and as uncomplicated as it sounds).
Consult a good book, such as Vicky Lansky's Divorce Book for Parents: Helping Your Children Cope With Divorce and its Aftermath.
I underlined and dog-eared this concise, user-friendly advice book. An Amazon review does a good job of describing the premise: "[Lansky's book is] based on the belief that children are affected less by divorce itself than by the way a family is restructured and the way feelings are handled afterward."
What additional tips do you have for helping children deal with divorce? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!
Check out my articles on NBC's new Website Home Goes Strong and on my personal blog Confessions of a Worrywart.