So now the dust has settled and you and your partner are living separate lives and sharing the kids. You begin to relax a bit, the worst is over, and it should all be plain sailing from now on, right? Well, hopefully, but there are still a lot of pitfalls and you need to stay focused on your new life with your children and the changes that that will bring to all of you, including the absent partner.
Becoming a part-time parent can feel very strange indeed.
You have been used to living with your children every day and having them around you constantly. Now, though, especially if you do not have day to day care of your children, and see them only at weekends and holidays, that has changed. It will take some adjusting to.
The new partner and the children will need to get used to each other
You may now be with a new partner and their feelings have to be taken into account too. You may be desperate to see your children every moment that you can, but your new partner may not be so keen. With luck your new partner will be understanding and welcoming to your children, and although your children should be the centre of your life, having a new partner can shift the balance somewhat. Bounding into the house with the news that the kids are coming to stay unexpectedly will not always be greeted with delight. Tread carefully and for everyone’s sake make arrangements and wherever you can, stick to them. You all need to have a schedule so that the children and all the adults know what is happening and when.
The urge to spoil the children, when they are with you, can be almost overwhelming.
But resist this at all costs. Buying their acceptance of your new life and their new circumstances is not a good strategy. You do not want to send the message that mummy and daddy’s split is a ker-ching moment! Try to keep things level, instead of filling their new rooms with the very best Toys R Us has to offer, get them to bring a few things they would like from home. They will need new furniture for their bedrooms and they can have fun choosing that. The odd new duplicate item will not hurt but this is not the time to shower them with gifts.
Children are smart and if they see you going over the top they will put two and two together and recognise that your guilt equals treats. Keep to the same rules you had before the divorce as far as toys and treats are concerned, and concentrate more on activities you can do together that cost nothing. The children should want to come to be with you not to find out what your guilt has produced in the way of a new toy this week.
Respect their wishes.
Especially as they get older children have their own social lives. If you are used to having the children every weekend that means that they cannot accept invitations from friends for sleepovers, camping trips or sports events that might clash. If they are due to come to you and get an offer they can’t refuse be flexible, and try to grin and bear it. Never try to guilt trip your children into seeing you, let them set the timetable where possible. The last thing you want is a sulky child sitting on your settee for the weekend sighing heavily and looking at their watch every five minutes. Your love for them should mean you want what is best for them and what will make them happy. If a sleep over with the coolest girl in class is what she wants to do, but means she won’t be coming to you, then let her. She will love you even more for it!
This is going to become more of an issue the older your child gets just at it would have been if you were living at home still. They would have been ships that passed in the night and as they spread their wings you can expect them to want to spend less and less time with you. Don’t panic, this does not mean they don’t love you; it just means they are starting to grow up and spread their wings. Try to find out what interests them and arrange to take them to a music gig with their friends. You know the old saying,
“If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must come to the mountain?” well as the children get older that’s how it works. Try and go and watch them play football, or ice skate or any activity where you can show support and enjoy some time with them. Be prepared to alter arrangements to suit an older child’s busy social schedule and above all enjoy the time you do have together, and never, ever resort to recriminations or accusations that they do not spend enough time with you.
The ability of the adults to sabotage the situation is potentially endless.
While children adapt with relative ease, adults have a seemingly limitless ability to mess things up. Don’t be one of them! If you have a new partner, let your children come round to him or her in their own time. Never call them their ‘new daddy or mummy’. As a part time parent you have plenty of time to be together when the kids are not there so avoid smooching on the couch or other blatant physical signs of your enjoyment of each other.
Bright and breezy and full of fun are what your children need. They do not need to be in all weekend sitting in front of the TV wishing you and your new partner would ‘get a room’! Go out and enjoy the park or a bike ride, a walk around the mall or the pictures, but keep it light and keep it going.
And if it does not all fall into place immediately, don’t panic. Time, experience and patience will help you get the right balance. Some people surprise themselves by growing to love having some space to themselves (see Somer Sherwood’s article).
Dr Isabelle Hung is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and clinical psychologist. Having got through her own divorce just three years ago, she is now remarried and happy to report that divorce really is an opportunity for growth and positive change.