Divorce is a major challenge in many ways. There’s a good reason why it’s always on the top ten list of life’s biggest stressors. When children are present, everything kicks up a few notches emotionally too.
You’re trying to figure out a new life and so are your kids. Never underestimate how challenging this is for them.
There will be some new words in your life, e.g. custody and visitation. Learning to navigate this new normal will take time. But it always begins with respect. Regardless of how acrimonious the split, nobody wins if that rancor is dragged into your post-divorce lives.
Be Sure to Learn Everything About Custody & Visitation
This is not some kind of casual plan. Custody and visitation are agreed upon in court and involve strict guidelines. Familiarize yourself with that arrangement. Ask questions. Commit to following the rules for the good of everyone involved.
Also, set one very important non-legal guideline: custody and visitation are about the kids. The divorce was primarily about you and your ex. Custody and visitation are centered around the well-being of your children. Never forget that.
Healthy Strategies to Navigate Custody & Visitation
- Visitation and custody are now a regular part of your life. Treat them as such.
- Go out of your way to be as flexible as possible with your schedule. Prioritize your children.
- If possible, set up a dedicated space in your home just for the children’s visits.
- Keep certain clothes, toys, etc. available for the kids during visits.
- Consider including grandparents and other extended family members.
- Periodically agree to meet to discuss the arrangements. Make changes if everyone agrees they benefit the children.
Mutual Respect Between Former Spouses
- Always keep the lines of communication open.
- Create in advance some firm guidelines in terms of discipline and rules. Be consistent with the kids. Don’t try to be their “favorite.”
- Never fight with your ex during pick-up and drop-off times.
- If your ex starts dating someone, resist commenting on their new partner to them or to the kids.
- Never use your kids as messengers between you and your former spouse.
- Deal directly with your ex when it comes to plans, etc. Do not dump this responsibility on the children.
- Set up a system to let each other know about changes in schedule, vacation plans, etc.
For the Kids
- Respect your children’s plans and life. They may have scheduling conflicts, too.
- When the kids visit, see if they want to meet with similarly-aged children in your new neighborhood. Or allow them to sometimes bring a friend along on visitations.
- If your ex calls during a visit, never withhold a call from the children.
- Remember: Children are not spies. Do not ask them for personal information about your ex’s behaviors.
- Find ways for your children to feel safe and comfortable in your home. Develop routines. Give them time to themselves. It’s not necessary to fill up every minute of the visit with plans.
- If you have more than one child, be sure to get some one-on-one with each of them.
- Never, ever give your kids a loyalty test. Do not ask them who they love more or would rather spend time with.
Easier Said Than Done
All of the above makes sense. All of it is easier said than done. No one should be expected to adjust and adapt to such major changes without some help. Therapy or divorce counseling sessions are an ideal setting for navigating all that’s new in your life. You get to vent, process, and plan. Your sessions will not only benefit you. Your kids will also reap rewards from your commitment to cooperation.