After the Separation: Tips for Making a healthy new Family Unit
When parents split up, children are forced out of the lives they know into unknown territory. No matter the level of acrimony, this transition is difficult, and often traumatic. While each family is different, and many factors can impact how children survive and thrive this major change, parents can take some specific steps to ease the kids into a new normal.
Find Activities to do Together
It may be hard in the midst of a split to make extra time for family activities, but it is vital to give the new family unit a chance to gel. In Northern Virginia, family activities can include volunteering to clean up a local park, attending a craft fair, or enjoying an outdoor movie night. The key is to do it together. When there are multiple children, they may have different interests, so try to pick alternating activities like a Potomac Nationals game for the sports lover and a tubing excursion for the nature lover.
Make and Maintain Traditions
If picking out a Christmas tree every year was important to the kids, this is not the time to drop the tradition. Children need some continuity in their lives in order to weather the instability of this major change. However, to strengthen the new family unit, new traditions should also be created. Make them fun, and get input from the kids when planning the tradition. Incorporating food is always a good idea, so bagels on Sundays, or a pie-making party will likely be a success.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
When sharing custody, coordination becomes a major factor. Regardless of the difficult feelings between the parents, it’s important to have a means of organizing the schedules of the kids, including medical appointments, team sports, extended family visits, and other time and timing-sensitive events. Even when everyone has the best intentions, failure to communicate can lead to disappointment or disagreement that puts the kids in the middle. One critical suggestion: to avoid disappointment and acrimony, don’t let kids know about a plan until there is buy-in from the other parent.
Let Children Feel Heard
Making the change to alternating single parents, or feeling integrated into a new family structure can be hard on kids. They will have feelings, including grief for the loss of the old family unit and, often, resentment about the new arrangement. While parents need to keep boundaries and make decisions that are best for everyone, it is important to let children talk about their feelings. While this may not lead to a change in the situation, it helps to acknowledge what they have to say and respect that they may need time to adjust.
The initial separation of parents is the beginning of a process that will be hard on all involved. Being proactive and deliberate about creating a new family unit is an important way to ease the transition. If the parents cannot work together for the good of the children, being explicit and detailed in written custodial arrangements is critical. A good family law attorney will have suggestions and insights to make sure your new family is protected. If you are planning or going through a separation, contact Reese Law for a consultation on your family law needs.