After a divorce, parents have a huge project ahead of them: ensuring that the children understand that the divorce won’t change their individual relationships with their parents. Divorces, especially contested and highly litigious ones, can make that project seem impossible. Even when parents do their best to speak about the other spouse in neutral terms to their kids, children are perceptive—they can tell when there’s hidden tension.
Family experts note that children often respond to “unspoken tension” with anxiety—even young children, who may not understand what’s going on or why. Fortunately, as a parent, you’re in a position to help your children heal and move on from the divorce in as healthy a way as possible.
One of the best things you can do is recognize the importance of routine.
The Benefit of Normalcy
Your child’s primary need after a divorce is to understand that they are still loved—that all your household changes have not changed the fact that you are their parent and they are still safe and secure. Routine brings a level of regularity and “normalcy” to your new household, whether you’re the one who kept the family home or not.
They need to understand that “home” now means you and your household—even if it’s unfamiliar at first.
If you need help finding ideas for routines for you and your kids, our firm has some advice for picking the “right” routine. Ultimately, whatever you pick needs to suit the family, but counselors recommend these guidelines.
Your routine needs to be:
- Sustainable or Easy: Can you see yourself doing this once-a-week consistently?
- Mutually enjoyable: It shouldn’t be a chore for you—kids can tell.
- Authentic: New routines always feel forced at first, but it shouldn’t be out-of-character for you.
- Already in Place: Don’t choose now to start a new fitness routine with your kid or learn how to cook. Try to pick something that’s at least a little familiar to you.
If it’s appropriate, you could continue a routine from before the divorce. One family used to have a pizza-and-movie night every Friday, regardless of who would be home. Their mom would make three homemade pizzas and they’d all crowd the couch. After the divorce, the mom kept pizza night going—which was a comfort to her boys.
Whatever you choose, it’s important that you understand the stakes. Even if they don’t show it (or they show it in unusual ways), your child is more unsure of their place than they’ve ever been. They’re afraid that they’ve lost a parent—it’s up to you to assure them that they have two parents and two homes. A consistent routine helps them understand that they are home. An inconsistent routine, on the other hand, could make them feel even worse.
Potential Routine Ideas
For young children, bedtime routines are some of the best things you could do:
- Bedtime story
- A “getting-tucked-in” routine
- A song or pre-bed prayer
For older children, find ways to connect with them in simple ways without making it an “event”:
- Video games (if you like them)
- Keeping a consistent pick-up or drop-off schedule
- Movie nights or dinners together
- Shopping together
- Weekly homework help sessions
In the end, a routine is a marker of time—it bridges children from their old life to the new one. The stronger and more clearly you can mark their time with you, the more secure they’ll find it.