The Benefits of Stability
As we’ve discussed, there are a LOT of changes that come with a separation or divorce. It is important to create stability and support for yourself and your children during the many transitions associated with parental separation. One way to do this is to maintain, to the greatest extent possible, consistent structures and routines between your children’s two homes.
Doing so may very well help to minimize separation anxiety, stress, and fear, especially in the early days and months of parental separation. You don’t have to make things rigorously structured, or have an identical set-up as your ex, but having some consistency in key areas can help both you and your other parent, and your children, during this important transitional time.
Open Up a Discussion
Hopefully, you and the other parent can discuss how to establish a consistent routine in both households. Keeping activities like bedtimes, meals, homework, use of electronics and chores consistent between both homes can minimize confusion for your children. Additionally, this will help both parents to ensure that neither home is perceived as significantly “different” (whether better or worse) than the other house.
Although it may be difficult, here are some simple ways to keep consistency:
1. Dinner Time.
Depending on the structure of your family, maybe a shared dinner around a table isn’t always possible, especially with older children who may have late sports practices or other commitments. If, before separation, your family didn’t have dinners around a table, don’t try and force it now that separation has occurred.
On the flip-side, if family dinners were a consistent activity pre-separation, do your best to maintain them. Don’t stress yourself out over home-cooked meals every night, or go broke getting take-out all the time, but keep to the routine you’ve had established around dinner. Not only the setting, but the time-frame, is helpful to keep consistent as well.
2. Create a night routine.
Maybe your spouse oversaw baths, while the other did dishes, or one of you would unwind at night while the other put the kids to bed? Now you’ll have to balance those tasks. Ask your kids to help and make it fun. Make a game out of taking showers, brushing and flossing teeth, and whatever else your family does to get ready for bed.
Obviously, it’s no big deal if teeth brushing comes before baths some nights, and gets switched around on others, but aiming for consistency and reliable expectations of how everyone will wind down for the evening can assuage some of the anxiety and stress.
3. Bed Times.
Along with a night routine, maintaining consistent bed times will help. Consistent bed times are always helpful for growing children, as well as for adults, because sleep is so beneficial for reducing stress, decreasing anxiety, rejuvenating the body, and regulating hormones. Besides the physical benefits, there are plenty of psychological benefits, too.
More Rest for Less Stress
Appropriate bed times improve children’s learning throughout their lives, and promotes other healthy habits. Well-rested children and parents are better equipped to cope with stress, and cognitive challenges like school and work tasks. Plus, a consistent bed time is comforting and helps in limiting screen time at night.
Don’t try to compensate for the stress of separation by letting children stay up past their bedtimes watching T.V. or playing video games. While you may want to be the “fun” parent for the moment, it’s harmful to everyone in the grand scheme.
4. Event Participation.
Maybe you are responsible for music lessons or pickups, while your spouse is responsible for sports events and birthday parties? Try to participate in the same ways as before, allowing each other to come to events unless the situation is absolutely critical. If a child is used to having both parents at a football game, keep going to games, just go separately.
If you’re unable to maintain a polite distance in these situations, then don’t worry about it, but maintaining attendance and participation in school fundraisers, extracurricular activities, and social events is highly desirable.
5. Let Your Kids Go (Play).
A while ago, sending your kids onto playdates and to social gatherings with classmates, teammates, or friends might have sounded like a well-deserved break. A little free time for yourself is wonderful when you’re spending all your time with your kids.
Switching from letting children play with friends to keeping them all to yourself during “your” time is unfair. Children shouldn’t lose out on valuable social time to develop friendships and connections because you feel territorial about your scheduled time. Don’t take it personally that your son or daughter would rather have time away from you. It’s completely normal.
Accepting their Social Neds
There are already enough changes for kids to deal with after a separation or divorce, don’t push them to spend more time with you just because you have less time with them. It will only drive them farther away, making them resent the time they do have with you. If you had a strict curfew about them being home by 10pm on weekends, keep enforcing that, but don’t disallow them from going out at all. Just because you want to maximize “your time” with them, doesn’t mean you can completely change their schedules to accommodate yours. Especially don’t guilt them for wanting to do the very typical things kids want to do: hang out with their friends, not their parents.
Can you think of other ways to create stability and consistency for kids without becoming rigid and strict? Comment below your thoughts on consistency, stability, and whether you believe it’s beneficial.