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How To Raise Healthy, Happy Kids After Going Through a Divorce

How To Raise Healthy, Happy Kids After Going Through a Divorce

I have had several friends vow to never marry in life because they were so traumatized by their parent’s divorce.

Divorce can be extremely difficult on children. Many times they don’t understand why the divorce had to happen or they may blame themselves as the cause of the divorce. They can also develop a deep distain for the covenant of marriage because of their parent’s bitter divorce or because of the bad behavior of one or both parents following the divorce.

It is important that parents do certain things in order to help the children process the divorce, not blame themselves and still develop in a healthy manner mentally, socially and emotionally. You want your kids to someday have healthy, happy lives and relationships, so help them following the divorce by doing some very specific things, which I will outline below.

1. Get along for the sake of the kids

Keep your arguments away from the eyes and ears of your children. They do not need to be subject to your on-going battles following a divorce.

Some couples report that they get along better with their ex following a divorce. Unfortunately, this is not what most couples experience. You will be going through your own grieving process following the dissolution of a marriage. Do not use your children as your personal counselor and confidant. Seek professional help, so you have someone trusted to vent to who can also provide you with wise counsel.

Keep the conversations about your ex out of eyesight and earshot of your children. It can only harm them. Think of it this way, they are 50% of that other person who you now reject. They can take that rejection personally as they are half of that person. Especially if you are vocal about your disdain for your ex. Your ex is still their parent and if they are not adopted, then they are 50% of that person’s DNA makeup. They can fear your rejection and also think that there are parts of them that you don’t like just as much as you don’t like your ex.

There are situations where you may not be able to avoid your ex someday, such as parent/teacher conferences, weddings, and graduations. Learn to put on a good face and keep your conversations on the surface if interaction is required. Use simple pleasantries as though you are standing in line at the grocery store and you see a colleague from work. “How are you” and “nice weather we have been having” is enough to get through the awkward silence and still maintain a good image to your children.

You can then vent your frustrations regarding your ex to your counselor. There is a time and a place for everything. Blowing off steam to your ex in front of your children is never acceptable. Ranting to your counselor about your ex in the privacy of their office is a much better solution. It’s not that you need to bottle things in forever, it is merely holding on to things until the time is right to release those emotions in a setting that won’t harm your children.

Life is hard enough having to live in two homes, to have time away from one parent while being with the other. It was not their choice nor their preference. Make the transition easier by trying to get along with your ex when you are face to face. If that is of great difficulty then keep the interactions to a minimum. This can be something that is added at a later date into your custody agreement if needed.

Custody exchanges

Custody exchanges are typically when most parents have to see one another the most. Therefore, chose a neutral place for exchange that allows for exchange of the children from one parent to another to happen with ease and little interaction.

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Select a location where a lot of people are present, so there is less likely to be any outbursts or unneeded language by either parent. Keep in mind that there are eyes and ears watching. The most important are those of your children, so keep this in mind when you see your ex and emotions flare inside of you.

I was a stepmom to two children in a previous marriage. I was in their lives for eight years. My experience with both the mom and the dad proved to me that even intelligent, well meaning parents can come unglued at the wrong times and the wrong place when provoked by their ex. Sometimes the mere presence of the ex can be enough to push a person over the edge.

Therefore, the custody exchange, if it can’t be done face to face, can be done from one vehicle to another and the parents remain in their respective vehicles. Only the children get out of the vehicle and move into the other parent’s vehicle. This can help minimize contact and potentially negative interactions that would adversely affect the children. Of course, the children need to be old enough to move independently from one vehicle to the next.

In cases where this is not possible, there are locations associated with some social service agencies that allow for parental exchange, where one parent drops off with a caregiver at the agency and the other parents arrives 15 minutes later to pick up the child. These are sometimes called family resource centers. Check with your local social service agency if you require such a service.

2. Tell them the truth but filter for their age

Do not lie to your child and say that one parent is just moving out for a little while. If you are getting a divorce then you need to tell your children that fact.

However, they do not need to know all the specifics or details. What is usually sufficient is an explanation that although mommy and daddy are no longer going to be married, they still love the kids 100%. Kids need reassurance that it is not their fault and they need to be told they are loved. Not just once, but often, especially following a divorce when the situation can be new, challenging and different from their old life.

If you haven’t told your children that you are getting or are already divorced (yes this happens) then here is a video from Parents.com with tips on telling your children about your divorce:

3. Allow your child to grieve

Grief is the very normal process of going through stages of emotion because of an intense life change. Grief happens not only to the spouses when the marriage ends, but it also happens to the children.

The intensity of emotions varies from one child to the next. The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. These stages can be experienced in varying orders and some stages are sometimes repeated.

It is important to recognize that these feelings are a normal part of your child processing the divorce. Allow them to speak to you about their feelings openly. Getting their feelings out though spoken or written word will help them process through these stages.

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Encourage your child to use “I feel” statements and to discuss their feelings about the divorce with you. Avoid becoming defensive or trying to “fix” their feelings. Allow them to talk openly, empathize with them and let them own their feelings by speaking them aloud to you.

4. Get them some counseling

There are some kids that transition smoothly in life following a divorce. However, there are some kids that do not fare as well.

You, as the parent, must be cognoscente of your child’s behavior and any abnormal behavior that warrants professional help. Here are some behaviors to be aware of and keep an eye out for:

  • Increase in temper tantrums and outbursts
  • Difficulties at school such as grades that have dropped
  • Difficulties/ arguments with their peers have increased
  • Getting in trouble at school
  • Development of an eating disorder
  • Self-harm
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Depressed behaviors: lack of interest in life and/or feelings of hopelessness. See this article for more specific details on how to recognize depression in children: Signs of Depression in Children and How to Help Them to Overcome It
  • Use of drugs or alcohol

If your child exhibits one or more of these problems, then you need to seriously consider getting them professional help. Especially in the case of mental or emotional disorders such as depression and eating disorders, professional help is in the best interest of the child and their development.

If in doubt whether your child needs counseling, it is better to err on the side of being proactive and getting them help. You may be helping to prevent the development of a mental or emotional disorder down the road. Counseling is especially beneficial in teaching children coping skills, helping them process their thoughts and emotions and empowering them to live confidently, regardless of their parent’s marital status.

Group counseling

An option that is often overlooked is group counseling or support groups. These groups can be especially beneficial for children because it can help them feel that they are not alone. They can see and meet other children who are going through the same experience as them.

There is a an organization called DivorceCare for Kids. This organization provides leaders with training and resources to facilitate support groups for children who are going through or have gone through a parental divorce situation. Here is what their website says about this organization:

Are your children angry, hurt, and confused about your separation or divorce? A DivorceCare for Kids (DC4K) group is a safe, fun place where your children can learn skills that will help them heal. DC4K groups blend, games, music, stories, videos and discussion to help kids process the divorce and move forward. Groups meet weekly and are designed for children ages 5-12.

Here is their website, where you can type in your location and find a group near you: https://www.dc4k.org/. This weekly group meets for 13 consecutive weeks. They cover a different topic each week, including these topics along with 8 others:

  • What’s Happening to My Family?
  • I am Not Alone
  • Developing New Relationships
  • It’s Not My Fault
  • Telling My Parents How I Feel

Enrolling your child in a DivorceCare for Kids group can help them immensely during this difficult time in their lives. Even if they show no signs of emotional or mental problems following a divorce that does not mean that there aren’t any issues. Some kids will repress their emotions until a later time.

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Getting them help sooner will help them process the reality of their situation. Using a professional group like DivorceCare is helping your child, more than you can help them yourself. This is good parenting.

5. Don’t say anything bad about the other parent

Resist the temptation to say anything negative about the other parent to your child.

Even if that parent has walked out on the family and left you as a single parent, avoid the temptation to bad mouth the other parent. Why? Because that child still has love in their heart for their parent. They are also made up of 50% you and 50% the other parent. Don’t talk bad about the other parent because your child can take it very personal.

You also want your child to have healthy relationships with both parents in the long run. If one parent is bad mouthing the other parent, it becomes very confusing and emotionally taxing for the child. Use the old saying as your motto “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.

6. Maintain consistency and a routine

Kids thrive on structure and routine. They need to maintain their routines as much as possible in both household. Both parents should work together to come to a common ground on some basic routine objectives such as set bed times, homework rules, types of video games and movies allowed (ratings based decision), and basic rules of conduct for the children.

Neither parent has control over the other parent or their household, nor will things be exactly the same at both households. The goal is to set up some basic guidelines for both households so that the routines for the children can remain intact. This will help the children transition more easily from one home to the other. It will also help the children see that the parents are working together and that they are putting the children’s best interest first.

It can be highly tempting to become lax on the rules following a divorce because you feel bad that the children are subjected to this situation. However, this is when children need structure and guidance the most. They need to know that you are still their parent and their rock. Don’t go soft and allow their world to crumble by allowing behaviors that are going to come back to bite you later.

For example, if you allow your child to stay up playing video games until 9 pm every night when their bed time is actually 8 pm, you are going to have a highly overtired, sleep deprived and crabby child over time. Keeping their best interests in mind, means keeping their routine and their discipline the same, not more lax because you feel bad.

7. Get some books for kids about coping with divorce

There are a plethora of books on the market targeted for kids who are coping with divorce. They are available for all ages of children too.

A simple search on Amazon in their children’s book category will provide you with many options. Read the descriptions of the books to find what may best suite your child. Also read the reviews to find a book that other parents have found to be useful in helping their children. There are also workbooks by a variety of authors available to kids who are able to read and write.

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Just make sure you look at the age guidelines for the materials you are purchasing to ensure you are investing your money on the best options for your children.

8. Resolve parenting conflicts with the kids in mind

There are going to be parenting issues that come up over time. It is unavoidable. The key is to resolve these working as partners. You may not be partners in marriage anymore but you are still partners in raising your children.

Put the kids first. When issues arise, make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the children. This may sound so simple and easy but it will not always be easy.

For example, you may plan to remarry and want to go on a two week honeymoon. Your ex, however, does not want to change the custody schedule to accommodate your honeymoon. If you deviate from the schedule you will be in violation of your agreement, which could put your joint custody status in jeopardy.

So, rather than taking that lovely two week honeymoon, you go away for a long weekend with your new spouse so that you can be back on time for the scheduled custody exchange to maintain your joint custody and the lives of the children remain uninterrupted.

By the way, this is a true story. It happens. At the end of the day your responsibility to your children is the priority. Your previous marriage no longer exists but the children and their well being is still at stake.

When tough parenting issues come up, make decisions based on what is best for the child. It is not about winning or losing. It is not about your ex getting their way or you getting your way. The goal is to raise the children in the best possible manner for the situation that you are all in at this time.

That will require sacrifice on your part at times. Just keep reminding yourself that what you are doing is for the greater good, which is keeping the interests of the children as the priority.

Do what’s best for the kids

With over 50% of all marriages ending in divorce, there are a great deal of children growing up in divorced households. It is up to parents to help their child cope with the divorce and process their emotions.

Sometimes professional help is in the best interest of the child. Be open to the possibility that your child may be best helped with professional help such as counseling or a support group. At the end of the day you need to be doing what is best for your child.

Working with the other parent also means that you need to keep your own emotional baggage about the other parent away from the eyes and ears of your child. Work with your ex to set up routines that keep the lives of your children consistent and stable for both households.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home Why Self-Compassion Is More Important Than Self-Esteem 15 Ways to Practice Positive Self-Talk for Success How to Help Your Child to Develop the 7 Executive Functioning Skills How to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome and Be Happy Again

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Published on April 3, 2020

How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

Now is a perfect time to work on making some memories with your closest family members. When situations call for social distancing outside of our home, we need to do the opposite within home.

Now, more than ever, we need to engage with those living in our home. We may be together for a while, but look at it is way, it is a wonderful opportunity to create some good family memories and positive interactions together.

Staying home can be isolating, especially when we hole ourselves up in different rooms than our other family members. Make an effort to spend quality time together. Sitting in the same room on different electronic devices is not quality family time. Put down the elections, join together in one room, and do activities together.

Your family bonding becomes stronger when you spend time doing activities together. Below are 10 ideas you can do with your family and loved ones.

1. Create Photo Albums

If you are like most of the population, you probably have lots of photos and very few physical albums. My parents generation always had photo albums. I can go to my parents’ home in Florida and find at least 20 albums from the lives of my parents and my childhood that I can flip through and reminisce. Physical, tangible photo albums are always cherished.

Look back at the past five years of your life. Were there meaningful trips that you took as a family or major life events such as a Baptism, marriage, or birth of a child that happened in the past few years? Do you have photos of the event stored somewhere digitally such as social media, on your phone, or on a computer? If you do and you want to savor those memories for years to come, then you may want to think about creating some photo albums.

This is a great activity for family of all ages. You can approach the project in one of several ways. You can print the photos and put them in your own physical photo album (the kind our parents used and you can still buy), you can scrapbook, or you can create an online photo album.

Whichever choice you make, the family can be involved in the process. I like the tangible photos and traditional albums or basic (no frills) scrap-booking, as do my kids. We have albums in all three formats. Whichever method you decide to do you can involve the whole family in the creation process.

Scrap booking as a family can be fun too. It does not have to be over the top either. We do it with scrap booking paper (12 by 12 inches), photos, and bits of paper to write captions for the photos. The family uses photo safe glue to secure the photos to paper that each person selected and then we slide the pages into the clear page holders of the album. Albums are easy to create using this method and this method still allows for personalization of each page.

    To do a photo album project, I simply print out the photos that I want to use for the album. Many albums will ship printed photos directly to your home. For example, we did a National Park trip this past summer and visited seven of them in the United States over a three-week span.

    I printed all of the photos from the trip that I thought we could use for the album. Then I cut strips of colored paper. I use these strips to write a sentence of two. I usually put a strip with details on each page, but not every photo because that becomes more tedious.

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    Having everyone select and do a page or two and write the details about what the photos they selected makes it even more meaningful. For example, my son Charlie writing “This is Glacier National Park where we camped and Max got bit by gobs of ants at the dog run and we had to find a vet to help him” makes it memorable. His handwriting and the thing that captured his memory about that particular day are special. It adds his touch to the memories from the trip. Having every family member participate in putting the photos into the book and writing a few sentences for the photos that they are putting into the book helps to make it a shared family experience.

    It is also a wonderful time for revisiting the occasion that you are creating the album about. For example, doing an album as a family for a trip you all took together provides us with plenty to talk about as we go through the photos. My kids always get excited and say “look mom, remember when….” about a hundred times anytime we do an album together. The photo album activity is a bonding activity, as is the reminiscing over special time you spent together in the past.

    2. Indoor Camping with Sheet Forts

    What kid doesn’t love a good sheet fort? Sheet forts are the kind of memories that make a childhood great. If your kids don’t have any sheet fort memories, then now is the time to start making them!

    All you need are some sheets. The bigger, the better. Flat and fitted work just fine. Fitted sheets can be helpful to secure under legs of tables since they have elastic corners and are gathered. We like to use tables, chairs, and sometimes couch cushions too. You create a space using the furniture and then cover the furniture with sheets. You are essentially making indoor tents.

    My kids like to play inside their forts for hours once they are created. I help with the creation, to ensure that things don’t fall over and hurt anyone, but once that is done, I let them play. They will take books, little action figures, and their stuffed animals into their fort to play. Feel free to climb into their fort with them too! They will think you are the best parent ever!

      3. Bake or Cook Together

      Staying at home is a great opportunity to cook or bake together as a family. If you have special recipes that you would like to teach your children, now is a great time to do that.

      If you have grandma’s apple pie recipe that has been passed down for generations, it would be a nice time to make it with your children. You can use the time to talk about your grandparents, the heritage of your family, and perhaps the meaning of the recipe to you.

      After you make the special dessert or dish with your children, it will then have special meaning to them too. They will be able to recall the time that they made that special concoction with you and the memories you made from that day.

      Here’re also some ideas for you: 15 Easy Recipes for Kids That Don’t Require an Oven

      4. Play Board Games Together

      I come from a family that plays games together. Even as adults, we love to play Boggle, Scrabble, Rummikub, and a variety of card games.

      My kids have caught the game bug too. When we go camping or are home over the weekend, we will play Uno, Connect Four, Dominoes, and Memory. These board and card games are inexpensive and provide hours of entertainment. It is also a great way to bond as a family and create memories.

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      Some of my favorite memories from childhood are sitting at the kitchen table playing games with my siblings and parents.

      For very young children, you can start with games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. From there, you can move onto slightly more challenging games for their minds such as Uno, Monopoly Junior, Memory, War (basic card game), and Connect Four.

      My kids started playing Candy Land at the ages of three and four. From there, they have been hooked on family game time ever since. They ask often to play together and now is a great time to teach them to play even more games. The entertainment, laughs, and memories are priceless!

      5. Put on a Show or Play

      Family talent shows, putting on a play, and putting on a musical show do not require an audience. Your family can do the show and record on your phone or other electronic device. It doesn’t need an audience other than you all to make it memorable. It is the experience of collaborating, planning, and executing the show together that make it special.

      My kids began making their own hat creations out of our various art supplies. I have been helping them in the process. We have art class daily as part of our new home school curriculum (I am one of those moms who never wanted to home school, yet I am doing it because our schools are closed indefinitely).

      Art class daily has become hat making time. Once they have made enough hats for a fashion show, I said we would put on a show and record it. It has spurred on their motivation to create elaborate works of art. They are excited about each hat and the show that is to come to fruition.

      You can find free plays and scripts on Free Drama. You can act them out as a family and record just for fun. You can also use a script from the website to create a puppet show. Each family member can then play multiple roles and it opens the door to more characters.

      If you don’t have puppets, then make some! You probably have a basket of mismatched socks like we do. It is a great way to use them at this point. Go to Pinterest for ideas on how to make sock puppets. Creating the puppets together is also a great bonding activity. Once you have your characters made, then you can act it out.

      Don’t forget to video it, because I can guarantee that your kids are going to be interested in seeing their own performance. Such a great way to make family memories and it doesn’t cost much, if anything at all!

      6. Reading Aloud

      Reading a book aloud is a great way to create some bonding time and memories. It is a much better alternative than everyone isolating themselves doing their own activities. Being pulled into the same imaginative world through a book creates a shared experiences.

      I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea to my mom when we were on a car trip when I was a kid. I recall talking about the premise of the book and our opinions about it. It obviously left an impression on me, as I remember this over 25 years later.

      I have read aloud books to my kids too. The first chapter book we read aloud together was Charlotte’s Web. After we read the book together, we then watched the movie. It is sweet how my kids will still point on the book or movie if we see it somewhere in public. They will say “remember when we read the book together and watched the movie?” They say it with such sweetness and innocent pleasure, it is a good reminder that the simple things in life are sometimes the best.

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      Some other good books that we have read aloud together that my kids personally enjoyed were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Secret Garden, and Little Women. I know several friends that have read the Harry Potter series with their children who are slightly older than my six and eight year old children.

      Medium shares a list of 20 great books to read aloud with your kids. Their list is helpful because it has descriptions along with recommended ages for each book.

      If you can’t get out of the house to go to the library, you should look into the digital software that your library utilizes. Visit your local library’s website to find out what apps you will need for you to borrow from their digital library.

      Our library offers a multitude of free e-book downloads. You borrow the materials much like you would a physical book. Usually, the downloads can be kept for 2-3 weeks at a time, depending on your library rules. They also have audible books available for download from many libraries as well. For example, our local library subscribes to Cloud Library. To use it, I simply downloaded the app and entered my library card information requested from the app. I was instantly given access to thousands of audible books free!

      7. Plant a Garden

      This tip only applies if you have a yard, however there are options for creating patio gardens and indoor gardens too. Planting a garden and teaching your child how to tend to vegetables is a wonderful bonding opportunity. You are teaching them real life skills, you will have real food to eat from your own garden, and you are creating memories that will last a lifetime.

      If you ask a person if they had a garden when they were a kid, everyone knows the answer. It is not something you have to think to hard about. Why? Because gardening is an experience. Why not experience it with your family too?

      If you don’t know much about gardening, then you can learn with your child as you go through the process. Here is an article from Bonnie Plants on how to plant a garden.

      If you don’t want to leave your home, then you can order gardening supplies online like I did. Lowe’s dropped off our raised garden bed kit on my doorstep and I ordered a variety of seeds from Amazon. Just look online at the garden stores that are closest to you and see what they ship to doorstep if you don’t want to leave the house.

      8. Host Your Own Family Party

      Just because you are home and can’t have a big party with lots of friends doesn’t mean you can’t still have a party. A party with your family is fun if you decide to make it fun.

      Pick a theme to really make it an event. An 80’s themed dance party is sure to get the whole family laughing and smiling. Pull out your best 80’s looking clothing, rat your hair to get that special 80’s look, put on some 1980’s tunes, and teach your kids some dance moves from the 80’s.

      Having a dance party doesn’t require many people. A party of two is still a party! Make some memories and perhaps show your kids what things were like when you were a kid. They will certainly remember an 80’s themed dance party for many years to come.

      Weekends spent at home don’t mean that they can’t be fun. Make the weekend special even if you have to be home. For example, Friday can be family movie night or family game night. Then Saturday night can be your 80’s dance party. Let your creativity go to work and if you need a few ideas check out this blog article that has 32 Party Theme Ideas .

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      9. Learn an Instrument Together

      No time better than the present to start learning to play that instrument you have always wanted to play.

      Have you always wanted to play the guitar? Then, look online for a basic learning guitar that isn’t expensive, yet has good reviews. We did that for my daughter and purchased a decent quality ukulele from Amazon that was intended for beginners while still having a quality sound (it wasn’t some trinket from a tourist destination that wouldn’t hold a tune.)

      We found lessons online from an instructor who would conduct lessons one on one using Skype. Many instructors use this technology or other free software that allows quality video communications from their home to yours.

      The website we happened to use to find an instructor was TakeLessons.com. You can find instructors that will teach anything from drums to cello to saxophone. Prices vary too. You pick your instructor from their pool of instructors available. This website is basically a service that connects people with talent (some with really good music education too) who can teach to students who are looking to learn.

      Learning to play an instrument together and you are creating memories together! You are also learning a new skill that you can enjoy for years to come. Playing music together is good for the mind and soul!

      The TakeLessons.com website also has language lessons. You can learn a new language as a family. All from the comfort of your own home. I am sure there are many different website that offer lessons on learning another language. Do your research and compare prices before committing to anything.

      10. Plan Future Travels

      While you are learning a new language you can begin planning future vacations. You can do a family meeting and discuss where you would like to go and why.

      It would be even better to have each child research where they would like to take a trip. Each child and/or family member can present a pitch on why your family should travel to that location in the future. They can use their research to tell about the area such as its historical value, recreational features, and the learning experiences that can be had from such travels.

      This doesn’t mean you need to book any travels. It more about learning and finding hope in the future. If we can’t plan for the future, then there is no hope. Make mental plans now, as a family, for what you want to do and where you want to travel someday.

      Make Memories Today!

      There is no time better than the present to start making memories together and bonding as a family. In these times when many people are having to stay home for extended periods of time, it is a great opportunity to bond and connect as a family.

      You have a captive audience with your children at home. Don’t miss out on this time by holing up in separate rooms doing your own activities. Make it a point to chose group activities and engage your family during this time at home.

      Every day alive is a blessing. Every day having your family is blessing. Don’t take your blessings for granted. Love on them and create great memories in spite of the circumstances.

      Featured photo credit: Marisa Howenstine via unsplash.com

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