Establish Post-Divorce Traditions
Children enduring their parents’ divorce are going to struggle with a deep sense of loss because of what the split represents. In no uncertain terms, divorce signals the loss of family, and all of the symbolic meaning and emotional significance that comes along with it. One way to partially make up for this loss and to help kids cope with the changes that are taking place is to start all new post-divorce family traditions - by yourself if necessary, but preferably with each other whenever possible. This provides kids with something positive to focus on amidst all the change that is taking place. It also helps them maintain a sense that they still belong to a family, which can diminish a lot of the emotional turmoil.
Post-divorce traditions you engage in as a family
The best type of routines are those you participate in with your former spouse, because they lend credence to the idea that “family is changing, not ending.” You can tell the kids this all you want, but it won’t feel genuine if you say this while severing all former ties to the family relationship. So if you and your former partner plan on being partners in parenting and acting civil towards one another, you should begin to establish some post-divorce family routines as soon as possible. Maintaining these new routines throughout the divorce will help soften the blow and make kids feel better about what is happening in their lives. Below are some ideas, we would suggest you try and implement as many of them as possible.
1. Institute a "family day"
Set aside one Saturday or Sunday a month as "family day." Have the kids take turns deciding where they, you, and your ex will go together on a special outing. Then let them dictate the tempo of the day, while you and your ex go along for the ride while exhibiting your best behavior.
2. Schedule a regular family night at a restaurant
Many families eat out on a consistent basis. There’s no reason you can’t transform some of these occasions into a new post-divorce routine. Get together once a week or every other week for "family night" at a restaurant that you and the kids take turns picking. Irrespective of who has custody, designate Sunday night or Wednesday night as a time when you’ll get together with your ex and take the kids out to eat, and perhaps even do something fun afterwards like go bowling or go to the park.
3. Come together around birthday routines
The two of you should come together for important occasions such as the child’s birthday anyhow. But you can make it more special by letting the child plan some family time for this occasion. Just as kids usually get to pick whether they want a dinosaur or Barbie party, let them plan a family occasion to do whatever they want (within reason) during the week or weekend of their birthday, with the presumption that both of you will come together for the sake of the child. You can even make it like a Hanukah type deal where each day during the week of the child’s birthday, you do something special as a family: Maybe go out to eat one night, rent a movie the next. In the same way that kids start talking about and imagining their next birthday well in advance, simply being able to think ahead and plan for some family time around their birthday can give a child something positive to focus on and look forward to whenever coping with the divorce gets difficult.
4. Create routines around custody exchanges
Custody exchanges are one time where you and your ex are going to be in the same place at the same time anyway. Rather than having these be coarse, brief exchanges where you pass the kids along like a baton in a marathon, it would mean a lot to them if you instead spend a little more time on these transitions and use them to create a little shared family time.
For example, you might get together at a restaurant and share a family meal before the other partner takes the kids. You could schedule exchanges around a picnic at a park, or simply hang out for an hour or two and play a board game or have a movie night at the other parent's house. There are endless possibilities for creating family time around parenting exchanges, and doing so will go a long way towards helping kids cope with the divorce. The best part about these is that they can be flexible. Custody exchanges occur quite often, so even doing this only half the time and whenever it's convenient for both of you will add a sense that family hasn't been completely lost.
5. Plan family vacations
Just as you might book a cruise with some mutual friends or get together with family during reunions, you can make it a point to come together and schedule family vacations once a year. Even as each of you get new girlfriends or spouses, you can unify the families once a year and come together for a special event for the sake of your children.
6. Come together around church routines
If you both share a religion or attend the same church, then continue these routines as a family. Even if one person switches congregations, you might alter back and forth between one and the other, and then do something special together afterwards.