Divorce takes up a lot of time – preparation, getting records together, and the proceedings itself. It can be easier to buy X-Box games or toys to keep your children occupied while you focus on your divorce. Buying expensive stuff is a way to assuage your guilt, but is not what kids need in this chaotic period.
Their world is changing and what they require is your extra attention. Take time to stop what you are doing and make eye contact to be fully present with them. Give them undivided attention daily, even if in short bursts. Ask them open-ended questions to facilitate communication and encourage the little ones to express their feelings.
There is an ongoing debate about quality vs. quantity of time spent with your youngsters. Various studies suggest quality is more important, while many parenting experts disagree and claim it is quantity that matters in the long run. Hang out with your kids even if doing separate activities, as the close proximity is beneficial. I tend to be in the middle where we have special family activities, but also do our own thing nearby each other. Doing errands and chores together counts as spending time with your sons and daughters.
Consider having a routine where you have scheduled events. It may be a picnic in the park every Thursday in the summer, or excursions to the ice cream shop. My sons and I enjoyed pizza while watching DVDs one night a week year-round. When my sons reminisce about our new lives post-divorce, it is not about any gadgets, but rather our family togetherness. Children understand more than we give them credit for – and can come up with low-cost fun. Like other families we knew, my boys and I also enjoyed playing board games. Finances are stretched with divorce, so instead of spending money which you do not have, spend time that you do have available.
There was a day care in the building where I used to work, which had a thought-provoking poster. It was a parent holding the hand of a toddler along with a great caption. It said: "In a hundred years, it will make no difference how much money you made or the car you drove, but rather how much time you spent with your child." Something to think about when you are tempted to open your wallet instead of your schedule.
Keeping the children’s usual daily routines during divorce helps them feel more grounded. Make sure you are part of theses routines and give them extra affection.
When children lack parental attention, they will get it one way or another. This is where attention-seeking behavior occurs, such as acting out. The kids will accept negative attention (yelling, scolding) over no attention. Older teens may get into drugs or alcohol. In the school setting, I see kids develop eating disorders and other medical issues when their parents’ divorces are horrendous. It is their cry for help. It takes less energy to be proactive and spend time with kids than to fix problems later when they feel neglected.
Vacations, no matter how short, are a way to bond with kids without the day-to-day distractions. There is more time to talk on a deeper level without interruptions. My boys expressed their concerns and what was going on in their heads during long walks in foreign locales. We temporarily escaped our problems by having a blast at Disneyland. Have some fun with your children to ensure there is light-heartedness in your lives. Going away can be done on the cheap, such as a weekend camping trip. Getting out of one’s environment helps families gain a sense of perspective, instead of seeing only the negatives in their situation.