This time of year can be especially exciting for children, as they go back to school, as well as their parents. But as an article in Divorce Magazine points out, it can also be stressful, for good reason. Even those kids who haven’t graduated or moved into brand new schools will have new classes, new teachers, and all the change that comes with that.
And when children are facing disruptive changes in their lives due to divorce, the normal stress of going back to school can be compounded by the tumult they’re experiencing at home.
The Divorce Magazine article has good, practical advice for the emotional care of children – something that divorcing parents are hopefully already attuned to as their children are adjusting to the reality of their new lives. Simply put, parents become what we call co-parents: Not living in one household, but still working together to provide as much support and stability as possible.
It’s important, for example, to make sure that your kids know what they’re going to say to their friends, and to reassure them that they’ll still be able to hang out with their friends like they did before the divorce. A lot of the anxiety around divorce comes from kids not knowing what to say about a situation they’re still getting used to.
Sitting down and talking through it with them can go a lot way to removing that uncertainty. It’s best to be honest, age-appropriate, and to not talk badly about the other parent. It’s vital that each parent come into these conversations mindful that their children still love both parents.
It’s also helpful, as a divorcing couple moves into co-parenting roles, to let teachers know what’s happening. Emotions can overwhelm everyone going through the divorce process at unexpected times – and children can be particularly susceptible to this. If your child’s teacher knows that your child might be acting out or withdrawn because of feelings brought on in the divorce, he or she can better help your child through that rough patch.
Though the article does a great job walking through the emotions that children feel and how parents should help with those, it doesn’t quite emphasize how important it is for parents to make things as stable as possible.
In the run-up to a final divorce decree and a parenting plan, the divorcing parents should come to agreement on what schedule works best for the child in the interim, and do their best to stick to it. While divorcing parents are juggling a lot, it’s crucial that children are central to how they plan their schedules, in order to give their children as much stability there as possible.
Communication is also key – not just during the divorce, but after. We provided some pointers in an earlier article we published on how to keep schedules straight, including using online tools to update as needed. The school year can bring with it activities and events that require some changes to the plans you’ve made – each parent should make sure the other is aware of those changes as they come, and try to be flexible in accommodating those.
This communication also requires a good deal of compartmentalization! You may be mad at your soon-to-be-ex-spouse about a financial matter, but if you let that spill over into negotiating a schedule change, it could adversely punish your children. Remember to keep the focus on your children, as hard as the person you’re divorcing might make that, and you’ll do much better by them.
Finally, think about the long-term stability of your children as you prepare your decree. What parenting schedule you set, and even where you decide to live, should try to factor in your children’s needs as they go through all school levels and get to 18.
While decree modifications can be made as you and your children’s lives change, they’re not always easy, and they can be expensive. If you can keep lines of communication open and agree to changes without involving the courts, that’s less complicated in the long run. The decree is there to fall back on if you can’t agree – and you might determine your circumstances warrant making it official – but a great number of co-parents work out needed changes between themselves without ever involving the courts.
Whatever decisions you make, think about how they impact your children – that mindset will be the best gift you can give them as you all adjust to what can be and often are healthy, happy post-divorce lives.