For the past few days, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan have been sharing with you our thoughts on an important subject- that of visitation with your child after a divorce. Attorneys and clients spend so much time during the divorce trying to win as much time with the kids as possible that we can lose sight of what to do when the opportunities for visitation actually come after the divorce has been finalized. You’ve got all this time with your kids! Now, what are you going to do with it.
I’m here today to argue that you cannot fully take advantage of the time with your kids unless you work with your ex-spouse on making sure that the visitation sessions go smoothly. Again, I will tell you that I am using the term “visitation” loosely here to refer to any time that you are able to visit with your kids. You could be the primary custodian of your children and they may be living with you during the school year. Or, you could be the parent who is the noncustodial parent who pays child support and has the literal visitation rights under the final decree of divorce. Whichever category of divorced parent you find yourself under this blog will have helpful information for you.
Keep everything as consistent and stable as possible
If you thought that your divorce was topsy-turvy for you, imagine how your child feels. He or she saw the two most important people in their lives, their mom and dad, go through the process of splitting up from one another, getting angry with one another, acting strange and distracted for a period of a couple months, move out of the house and perhaps even move to another city. All for some reasons that they may know nothing about or at the very most understand little about.
So, if you are asking your kids to take on new habits and conform to a new schedule, the least you and your ex-spouse can do is to help the kids adjust to their new normal by keeping things as consistent and stable as possible. Disruptions to their routines should be kept to a minimum. You can start by making sure that pick up and drop off times associated with visitation occur on time. Your kids could be playing or doing schoolwork and instead they are sitting by the door waiting for you to come and get them for the weekend. Little things like this are what adds up to a serious disruption in their daily lives.
The other part of consistency and stability that I wanted to talk with you about today is consistent rules across the homes where your child will be living. This means that you and your spouse need to communicate with one another about what is going on in each other’s homes. For example, if your child is having problems following instructions at your house and is grounded as a result, you need to tell this to your ex-spouse. He should apply the discipline that you already have and continue with the grounding at his home.
Consider what would happen if he decided that he would not continue the grounding at his home. You just spent a few days disciplining your child. That was difficult enough. Your child is probably not very happy with you. He or she may have already lashed out in anger towards you and your attempts to discipline him. If you do not work to coordinate consistent forms of discipline with your ex-spouse then your child is going to perceive that there are things that he or she can get away with at one house or the other. Don’t think for a second that your child won’t use this knowledge to his or her advantage.
One thing that I will mention to you about this subject is that you absolutely need to work on co-parenting with your ex-spouse in order to get it right. Very few and far between are the parents who get divorced who are on the same page with one another about discipline and parenting in general. Odds are good that if you and your ex-spouse were on the same page when it came to these subjects that you wouldn’t have gotten divorced in the first place. It takes effort to do these things. Unless you understand ahead of time that it takes effort and commitment then you are unlikely to put forth either in sufficient enough numbers to have an impact on your child.
Communication is the most important thing when it comes to your post-divorce life
While we are on the subject, I wanted to point out that if you do nothing else in relation to your ex-spouse other than communicate with him or her then you will be in good shape. You could have the best intentions in the world but if you can’t communicate those intentions to your ex-spouse then you haven’t achieved anything. Do not attempt to use your children to communicate updates or questions to your ex-spouse. Reach out to him or her directly to do so.
If you and your ex-spouse do not do well communicating with one another in person or over the phone, I would suggest that you utilize technology to your advantage. That could mean email or any of the various co-parenting websites. Whatever method works best for you and your ex-spouse is the one you should take advantage of. Do not surprise the other person with updates. Do not let issues go until the last minute and expect your ex-spouse to solve them over a quick email. If you can think ahead and then communicate problems to your ex-spouse you are more likely to get those problems solved and at the very least you are less likely to create a hostile and unstable situation for your children.
Don’t force your child be to loyal to you
We all want our kids to love us. If that isn’t a natural feeling then I don’t know what is. However, in regard to a divorce that feeling can go into overdrive when our children are forced into a situation where they have two home lives. There is a home life with you and one with your ex-spouse. Your child has to manage living in both homes. You and your ex-spouse will think a great deal about how your child is doing when he or she is not with you. It is natural to start to compare how your child acts in your home with how you think he or she acts at your ex-spouse’s home.
I have seen many parents who put their child in this situation and then on top of that force the child into acts of loyalty towards him or her. For example, if you have two children then you have likely attended the sporting event or performance of one child since your divorce. What happens with the child who Is not performing that day? Do you allow that child to sit with the other parent if he chooses or do you make it plain to see that the child must remain with you? This puts your child in a difficult position where he is forced to choose sides, hurt one parent and possibly harm his own psyche in doing so.
While we are all human this is not a justification for forcing your child to “pick a side” or to play favorites. If your child wants to spend an extra day during a vacation period with your ex-spouse that does not mean he doesn’t love you or that he is mad at you. It also doesn’t mean that he likes spending time with your ex-spouse more than you. What it could mean is that his cousin is visiting from out of state and your child wants to spend more time with the cousin. A child’s wants and desires (especially the older he gets) typically has little to do you or your ex-spouse.
In the end, forcing your child into a position where he has to pick a side or show loyalty can actually drive him away. Kids know when you are putting them into an uncomfortable position. The whole living arrangement of having two houses is likely pretty odd to your child to begin with. Now you are adding another layer of oddity to that? Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by having your child go through a show of loyalty to you. Allow your child to lead their life in his or her present circumstances. Be confident in your ability to parent your child effectively and in your child’s ability to love you no matter what.
Work in the extended family when possible
Don’t forget that your extended family can be a big part of your child’s life. As a child, so much of your identity is tied up in your family. Yes, you can have friends as a child, but those relationships exist as satellites of your relationship to your family. If you want your child to feel grounded and like his relationship with his family matters, then your best bet is to show him that his extended family loves and cares for him a great deal.
If your child had a strong relationship with his grandparents before your divorce then you need to do what it takes to make sure they are still a part of his life. Allow your child to be exposed to your extended family when and where you believe that is appropriate. There is no telling just how much of a positive impact these people can have on your child. You may find that many of the lessons that you have had difficulty teaching or impressing upon your child come through in conversations and interactions that your family has with your child.
Being busy with extended family can allow your child to take their mind off the difficulties associated with the divorce. Many times your child will struggle temporarily in school and other activities due to concern regarding your divorce. The more exposure that your child has to extended family has the double effect of taking your child’s mind off their troubles and also reinforcing that he has a support system that is here for him when needed. It is not enough to tell your child about these things, however. You need to be able to show your child that his extended family is here for him.
Provide your child with their own space in the home
If you are living in the family home after your divorce then you should continue to allow your child to have their space in the home. Don’t immediately start to rearrange the house to suit your wants or needs. Your child is seeking stability in the house now that your ex-spouse has moved out. Allow him or her some time to adjust to their new life ,
However, if you are the parent who is having to find a new place to live it is essential that you find a home that your child can be comfortable in. This does not equate to find the biggest and nicest place you can afford. It means that you need to make the living space available to you somewhere that your child can feel safe and comfortable while being in your care. This has a lot more to do with your effort to make your child’s room their own rather than spending too much money in rent or a mortgage thinking that will substitute for a place he or she feels safe and loved.
Talk to your child about what he wants in a living area. If there are aspects to their bedroom at home that you can incorporate into your new residence then you should do so. However, you can do unique things that don’t have to cost a lot of money in relation to the house that help your child to feel like it is his house, too, not just a place where he goes to sleep a handful of nights during the month.
Questions about today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we shared with you today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations per day. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your specific circumstances.