Divorce is a time of great change. You and your child go through a lot of adjustments as your marriage ends. When you’re going through the divorce you’re focused on surviving it and helping your child survive it. What you may not expect is that the year after the divorce is also usually a time of huge changes.
Once your divorce is final, you likely will feel that you have an opportunity to reshape your life. This is a period of time when most divorced people make new friends, take up new hobbies, move, change jobs, begin dating new people, and reorganize their entire lives. It’s a wonderful chance for you to discover things about yourself and make serious changes to the way you live your life.
What you may not realize is that these changes impact your child. Let me be clear: this does not mean you shouldn’t make these changes. It does mean you need to be aware of how your child responds and look for ways to help ease the transitions. Follow these tips:
- Keep changes to yourself until you’re sure about them. If you’re considering moving, switching jobs, replacing all your furniture with pillows on the floor, etc., don’t tell your child about it until you’re certain. It’s great to consider change, but too much uncertainty can make your child uneasy.
- Introduce new friends slowly. Date, make new friends, go new places, and have fun, but don’t introduce your child to anyone until you’re sure it’s a meaningful friendship or relationship. Then introduce the new person slowly and casually. Your child needs time to get to know him or her.
- Maintain a routine. Maybe you’ve added yoga, pole dancing class, or flower arranging class to your schedule. Perhaps you now get up at 6 a.m. instead of your previous 8 a.m. And maybe you’ve decided to just not eat lunch anymore. These are all great things for you, but try to keep your child on the same schedule he or she had before your changes as much as possible. If your Bible study group meets at 8 p.m. and you need a sitter to put your child to bed one night a week, it’s okay. What you want to avoid is completely turning your child’s schedule on its head so there is nothing familiar.
- Talk through the big changes. Moves, job changes, changes in the church you attend together and so on are big things you’ll want to talk to your child about. You don’t have to give reasons for the changes (it’s enough to say you’ve decided it’s best), but you do want to help your child grow comfortable with the idea and have the chance to ask questions. Talk through exactly what’s going to happen when and what exactly it means for your child.
- Introduce changes in household rules gradually. Many people find themselves reevaluating just about everything in their lives after divorce and this may mean you decide to change some of your household rules. You might institute a family game night, decide cell phones aren’t allowed at the table, create a chore list for everyone, schedule family dinners one night a week, or make changes in the amount of TV time that’s allowed. Whatever you decide to institute, do it slowly, one thing at a time, so that it doesn’t feel like a sea change all at once.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest (Sourcebooks) and No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill). Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.