Back to School after Divorce: Best Practices to Return to a Family Routine
Divorce can affect children in many ways, especially if they’re going back and forth between parents frequently. When the school year begins after a divorce, children can have difficulty returning to their normal routines.
During the summer, regular schedules often are put on hold if a child spends the summer at camp or goes on a long vacation with a parent or relatives. Day-to-day routines will vary, but the start of school should signal a return of consistency from the time children wake up until they settle down at bedtime.
Here are some tips for parents to keep in mind to ease the transition process for their children:
Prepare a back-to-school routine. The beginning of the school year is always a hectic time. It can be tricky for kids to remember to bring their personal items back and forth between households. The school year adds more complications, such as backpacks, school materials and homework.
Parents need to be mindful of helping children focus on their schedule and changes to it so they can avoid surprises.
For younger children, parents should be especially attentive to helping them manage the transition between households and not get upset if something is missing in the process. Parents should anticipate that things will be forgotten and that they might need to communicate with the other parent.
Resuming a routine prevents children from being bombarded by lots of changes at once. Many joint custody agreements specify that the children go back to the primary parent and resume a regular routine about one to two weeks before school starts.
Establish consistency. A helpful approach for parents is to establish basic house rules that are shared at each parent’s household. These may include strict bedtimes or not allowing cell phones at the dinner table. Consistency can help children adjust more easily in different environments.
Children also may find comfort by adopting rituals during the transition such as going straight to dinner once they get to the other parent, having the same parent pick them up from school each time or having plans to watch a certain show together.
A parent should be open to his or her children having a good relationship with the other parent and support the other parent in the transition. Even if the child doesn’t want to go to the other parent, encourage regular visitation.
Avoid communicating through the children. It’s important not to put pressure on children by burdening them with adult issues. Sometimes parents don’t communicate at all; in other cases they get along great and are able to talk and text as needed. Whether parents communicate by email, text or through counsel, the most important thing is to keep the children out of it. It can lead the child to think that a parent’s reaction is their fault even if they’re just the messenger.
Most importantly, parents must realize that the children should be the focus during the transition to a new routine.
Amid the emotions of a divorce, parents may not always remember to be sympathetic to the stress of changes in children’s routines.
Parents should pay close attention to their children’s behavior during the transition. If children are constantly forgetting things or having a hard time, parents need to take the time to genuinely listen to their concerns. Staying in touch with the other parent and teachers to get the full picture is also imporant.
Divorce is disruptive, and parenting is difficult. At Boyd Collar Nolen & Tuggle, we approach our cases from a place of compassion. You want a family law attorney who can understand your situation. We provide counsel in custody cases before, during and after the divorce process.