The Value of Talking… and Listening
Whether your kids are in preschool or high school, talk to them. Observe any alterations in behavior. Listen attentively. Patience and reassurance are essential.
Keep as much of the routine the same as you can. If it isn’t possible, remind your kids that you’re all getting used to a new routine, and you will.
If you have a schedule of pickups at school – you some of the time, your ex some of the time, a third party some of the time – it’s crucial to explain and document these arrangements.
Stress the positive – but acknowledge what they may be feeling. You may have to field a few questions like:
- “Mom, how do I tell my friends?”
- “Mom, how do I explain why we can’t afford for me to play tennis anymore?”
- “Mom… What happens on Parents Night? Will you both come?”
- “Can Dad come meet my teachers any time he pleases?”
Ideally – work out as much of this as you can ahead of time. I know that’s not always possible. But think about it, and even if you don’t know the answer to everyone question, isn’t love and reassurance a good message to lead with?
Something like: “You know we both love you. I can’t promise. But we’ll do whatever we can to be there.”
When Conflict Rules: More Talk, More Listening, Do the Best You Can
In a contentious divorce, in a drawn-out aftermath, when the ex has moved in with or married the other woman, everything I’ve said about working with the other parent to do what’s best for the children will be a challenge. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. But it does acknowledge that try as you might, it may not be possible.
Again, talk to your child – fairly. Do not trash the other parent.
Talk to your child’s teacher or if appropriate, counselor.
Set expectations to the extent that you can.
Even if your kids are teenagers, they’re hurting (and wondering) how things will pan out, how the changes will affect their activities and their future education. You cannot treat a teen as you would a 10-year old. Use your judgment as to whether or not you say anything at the school – and to whom – and do everything you can to keep lines of communication open with your child.
Talk to your child in age-appropriate ways. What do you do if your kid won’t talk – like one of mine? Observe even more closely, and if he or she is artistic or musical – pay attention to the drawings and the music. They’ll offer clues as to emotional state, and hopefully a way in to his or her state of mind.
More Resources – Any Time of Year
Talk to experts and specialists when you feel the need or if teachers suggest it. Use your judgment, but we may be a little defensive in the first year or two after divorcing. Stay open-minded to what others observe in your children.
Talk to your child’s siblings if you have particular concerns, but be delicate about it. It’s okay to ask one child how his brother or sister is doing at school, or in general. They needn’t betray confidences.
Teens are tricky to handle. If they perceive you’re going around them or if you inadvertently embarrass them, you’re in for trouble. Talk to other parents – but only if you know they don’t gossip!
Encourage your kids to talk to other parents whom you trust to offer good advice.
The Fall semester will bring issues of PSATs and SATs, SAT prep and driver’s ed, college information sessions and college application prep. This can be overwhelming if you find yourself handling everything on your own! Do make an appointment with your child’s guidance counselor. Explain your divorce situation objectively, and ask for advice with the workload coming up.
Remember that just because your child has friends whose parents are divorced and the stigma is less than it once was, that doesn’t mean it’s any less difficult on him or her.
Pay attention. Love your kids. Do what feels right.