How Not To Divorce the Kids

  • Will I go to the same school?
  • Will I get to see my friends?
  • Who’s going to feed “Trixie” when I’m not here?

Divorce is messy. It is complicated and stressful and heartbreaking. None of this happened on Definitely, Maybe or Crazy, Stupid, Love, or any of the other Hollywood films in recent memory. But in addition to what adults have to contend with, there’s also the difficulty of finding a way to talk to your child about divorce and the changes to come. Most importantly, keep in mind that you’re not divorcing the kids.

Successful parenting during and after divorce and how to make transitioning between households as easy as possible are among the topics to be discussed at a free program on March 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cadenza Center, located on 450 N. Park Road, Suite 400, Hollywood, Florida 33021. Parking is easy and free. 

Since the initial discussion may be one of the most difficult moments in the process, let’s review some scenarios for discussions with your children. First of all, make sure to have a strategy in mind. During the planning period, you’ll need to figure out logistics before involving the kids. Then, share your plans at an appropriate developmental level.

While it is important to be honest, it’s even more critical to select an appropriate timeframe, as kids don’t need to know six months beforehand. If they’re ten, the kids don’t need a review of the college pre-paid plan. They need to know who’s driving them to baseball practice this weekend.

Ideally, the whole family should initially sit together after guidance from a trained therapist. Providing clear information the first time will smooth the process. Try to have an idea ahead of time of what the kids will want and need to know, and be prepared for many types of questions.

  • Who is moving?
  • What days will I be at mom’s house?
  • Are you going to be lonely when we’re with dad?

Everyone, parents and children, will be experiencing a new lifestyle and that type of transition can churn up emotions and instability. Be aware of how your child expresses stress; some kids are likely to become extra clingy, whiney, or irritable. How will you manage that?

Likewise, as a parent you will have to let go of an unrealistic expectation that you will know everything going on with your kids at every moment. Setting up a contact schedule, such as nightly phone calls, might be helpful although the calls will likely last only a few minutes.

But make sure you’re not putting the onus on the kids to call and report. It’s critical not to add pressure or stress, and to keep things somewhat flexible. Rigid call times are not realistic but you can set a consistent timeframe, like just before bedtime.

An agreed-upon calendar will help minimize the anxiety from timesharing; it is helpful to post it in the homes of both parents. Kids, especially those that plan and dislike instability (which is most kids), want to know where they will be and who they can rely on. A child-sharing calendar will allow them to envision their own schedule and plan some projects accordingly. As many have learned, some school projects don’t travel well. Planning ahead is critical for all, but especially the children, who are likely the least able to express the insecurity.

  • Will I get to see my friends?
  • Who is “Trixie” going to live with?
  • Can I take my bed?

The flow of belongings and storage has been dramatically altered, and it might take a while for all concerned to get organized again. It’s imperative to detach from the “I need these items back” mindset but engage your kids when they are packing and help them plan ahead.

For example, if the kids have a habit of not bringing their favorite sneakers home, should they take them for a weekend visit? Or, if you need to make a tie-dye t-shirt for the school play, make sure all the supplies are ready in one place and there’s a plan or schedule to make it happen.

In getting accustomed to these changes, avoid control issues and work to manage or let go of your own anger and anxiety. It is crucial to maintain a healthy relationship with your children, and to model resilience and flexibility to your kids during the transition and afterward.

For more information and a chance to ask questions, join us at our program on March 25th at 6:30 p.m. at the Cadenza Center, located in the Regions Bank building, 450 N. Park Road, Suite 400, Hollywood, Florida 33021. The program and parking are free. Please let us know you’re coming by calling 954-925-3191.

And oh yeah, make sure the kids know you’ll feed their hamster if “Trixie” isn’t going along to visit the other parent.

Dr. Michelle Hintz, Psy.D.

At the Cadenza Center for Psychotherapy and the Arts, a dedicated roster of therapists, educational and behavioral consultants treat the developmental, emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral needs of both adults and children. Founded in 2001 by Michelle Hintz, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and board-certified music therapist, the Cadenza Center provides general services including individual and family therapy incorporating active treatment strategies such as sensory integration, DIR/Floortime, and social pragmatics.