Helping your children cope with changes during divorce – Part Three: A new school



So the move is complete and now it’s time to prepare the kids for a new school.

Changing schools can be easy for some and very difficult for others. Try to reassure your children that it’s ok to be sad and nervous. If you have older kids, ensure that they have the opportunity to stay connected to their friends at the old school. When it comes to new schools, it can be an opportunity to make new friends and experience new environments. Children are usually very resilient and adapt quickly to new situations. The key is that you frame the change in a positive way.

One way to help kids adjust to a new school is to talk them through that first day. Discuss with them what to expect and remind them that the ‘newness’ of it won’t last forever. Usually teachers assign a buddy to a new student so it might not be as scary as they think. If your child is nervous about what to tell people about why they moved, help them by preparing a bit of a script. “My mom got a new job so we moved to be closer to it” or “my parents are living in different houses and our old house was too big” are both safe ways to explain, without having to share all the details.

Be sure to tell the teacher a little bit about your circumstance so he/she can keep an extra close eye on your child.

Even though inside you may be stressing about how they will do on that first day, don’t let that angst show. Give them empathy but then keep them focused on the positive: “I know this isn’t easy but remember when you went to camp and you were really nervous? By the end of the week, you didn’t want to come home.” Remind your child of a time they dealt with a new challenge or situation. That will give them more confidence to face a new school. The bottom line is that when parents demonstrate confidence in their children, children often model or ‘rise up’ to that very behaviour.

Is moving schools easy? No.

But at the end of the day, life is always changing and you can help your kids grow and develop by fostering and modeling a positive outlook. When you tell your children that you believe in them, that’s a life lesson they’ll keep with them forever.


Helping your children cope with changes during divorce – Part Two: Downsizing can be difficult


When facing a downsize of living arrangements or a reduction in income, remember that kids will role model our attitudes about money and things. A friend of mine once said: “are you a stuff person or an experience person?”

From 20 yrs in the classroom, my experience is that although kids may seem to be attached to material things, what they really love and crave is your time. And that doesn’t cost anything. Sure you may not be able to offer all the newest toys and gadgets; and dinners out might be few and far between during this transition phase; but believe me, your children will remember the time you spend with them and the things you do with them more than any new iToy. You only have to reflect on your own childhood to know that it’s the special connection time you had with family that you remember most, not the Christmas gift when you were 12.

How can you prepare children for ‘two homes’? You can help your children sort out their things, so they can decide what will go to each parent’s home. Try not to make them feel guilty if they want a certain item at the other parent’s house. Remember these toys, decorations, teddy bears belong to the ‘children’- not you. A general rule is that if it was given by grandpa on dad’s side, it might be best to take it to dad’s house. But remember nobody wants a gift that comes with strings.

When the move happens – help your children through the transition by giving them the confidence that you believe they will be ok. This is not to say that the financial adjustments that often accompany the early days of divorce are easy, but with the right frame of mind and positive outcome, it doesn’t have to have a long-term emotional impact on your kids. A new home can be an opportunity for a fresh start.

Teaching our children to be resilient and to be able to adapt to life’s changing situations – that’s a life lesson they’ll keep with them forever.


You can’t cut 7 in half without fracturing our children’s lives


The thing about divorce is that for most people, it shakes them to the core. Everything they thought their life was going to be has suddenly changed. It feels as if the carpet has been pulled out from under them and, as a result, everyone feels a real loss of control – about their entire life! Your financial future has uncertainty, you might be facing a move, a change in jobs or re-entering the work force after years of being home caring for children. It’s no wonder people grasp to regain ‘control’.

Children and parenting are areas where control tends to become a huge issue. It’s natural to be afraid of losing connection with your children. Transitioning from naturally being a part of their everyday lives – to having to schedule time spent with them and sharing that time with your former spouse can feel like an extreme loss of control. However, the mistake often made, is looking at the schedule as ‘fair must mean equal’ and ‘equal means exact sharing of time’. The problem is this: THERE ARE SEVEN DAYS IN A WEEK! Which means sharing doesn’t and can’t always be exactly 50-50.

It’s easy to make the children’s schedule into another fight for control. Perhaps you’ve found yourself angrily thinking; “They are my children too, I have the right to half time with them”, or fearfully worrying, “I won’t stay connected to them if I don’t have them 50/50. I want shared custody”.

Ok – let’s demystify this explosive and destructive word ‘custody’. Custody doesn’t mean possession – it means decision-making, as in care, safe keeping, guardianship. Period. It doesn’t have anything to do with who sleeps where, when. That’s what a schedule is for. Custody is about how the parents see working together to make decisions about schooling, medical care, childcare, extra-curricular activities – all of those decisions that parents make when raising children.

When I ask parents “what’s most important to you?”, they almost universally answer with something like: “I want to be a part of my child’s life. I don’t want to lose the connection I have with them”. So let me ask you this: think back to your own childhood – what percentage of your childhood did you spend with your father vs your mother? Was it 70-30, 60-40, 50-50?

If you think back to what percentage of time you spent with your mother vs the time spent with your father when you were growing up, you likely can’t answer that accurately. Why? Because as humans, we measure time by the experiences we’ve had, or the memories we recall – not by the calendar or the clock. Children retell: “remember when dad would…’ or ‘remember when we went with mom to…”

This doesn’t mean that some families aren’t able to work out a plan that shares time fairly equally. Studies have clearly shown that parents should work hard to ensure children have the opportunity to spend lots of quality time with both parents. But what it does mean is that measuring success as equal 50/50 time split will likely set up the battlegrounds of a difficult transition. You are measuring the wrong thing. Quality time is what’s important – not quantity.

Let’s remember – you are getting a divorce from your spouse, you are not divorcing your children. So working out a schedule really can be as individual as each family’s circumstances and needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, nor ‘one way’ to do it. What’s key is that parents work together to figure out what’s best for the children in order to minimize the impact of divorce on their children. There is no greater way to shake your children’s sense of security than putting them in the middle of your tug-for-control.

Forget about 50/50. Rather, look at it through the eyes of your children. Also, consider what is reasonable and doable from your work schedules as well. If you set up a schedule that doesn’t make for the best you, how can you be at your best for your children? Look for the opportunity to spend time with your children in a way that has the minimum disruption for them and that allows you the maximum quality time together.

And unfortunately, there are some parents who have the misconception that if they can have the children half the time, they won’t be required to pay as much in child support. Maybe so, maybe not. It really depends on several factors, including your spouse’s situation, the standard of living in each home, incomes etc. So if you set the stage of shared parenting based solely around money – you could be disappointed at the outcome.

So when entering into discussion about parenting and your children’s schedules, remember that if it isn’t doable to have exactly shared time (and if someone could figure out how to cut seven in half without fracturing up our children’s lives, please let me know) – that’s not going to make or break your relationship with your children. They will remember the things you did together, the experiences you’ve shared; not the number of nights they slept at your house. Spend your energy creating quality, not fighting over quantity. Focus on ‘whole’ solutions, not the fractions.