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arental separation can be hard on kids who are old enough to understand what's going on. Naturally, it affects very young children in different ways. If you're considering splitting up with your spouse, or you're already divorced with a baby, you may need some guidance on how to move smoothly through this big change.
I've been in your shoes — and I'm here to reassure you that things can work out well for your family if you carefully consider a few important elements of the divorce process, and how you will co-parent to accommodate your little one's needs.
In this article, we'll cover the do's and don'ts of:
While a baby may not understand what's happening between their parents, they may feel that something has changed. Above the age of six months, a baby may experience fear and anxiety around someone unfamiliar — which may be a parent that they are suddenly seeing less often. But perhaps the most significant shift they'll notice is in their daily routine.
You can maintain consistency and minimize the effects of new stressors on your little one by aligning with the following do's and don'ts.
Babies grow rapidly and reach new growth and behavioral milestones often. However, some divorced parents might notice their infants regressing.
For example, while your baby may have been making good progress in learning to crawl before your divorce, and they may now be resistant to trying. Or they used to play independently and now they want to be held constantly. Relax. Regressions in infant behavior happen for many reasons and are normally nothing to worry about.
Try to be patient as your child grows accustomed to changes like seeing one parent at a time, and don't forget to celebrate the leaps they do make — however small they seem.
If you've had help with child care until now, it can be helpful to stick with the same babysitter or daycare after your divorce. Seeing the people they're used to can provide your baby with a critical sense of normalcy.
When financial circumstances or a move make it impossible to keep your paid caregiver, another option is to reach out to family members your baby already knows. Spending a few hours with grandparents or aunts and uncles once a week can give your baby some consistency (and it might offer you a break!).
As you know, keeping a baby happy and healthy is largely about paying close attention to their feeding, bathing, and sleeping schedules.
When you're newly divorced, your routine could change out of necessity — especially if you're single parenting with no help. But as much as possible, try to stick to age-appropriate bedtimes and keep up with your baby's daily schedule.
That could mean scheduling pick-ups and drop-offs around meal and nap times and planning ahead if you need someone to help out with child care.
If possible, request to establish how you and your baby's other parent will communicate in your court-arranged parenting plan. You could even propose that the two of you use a co-parenting app to facilitate smooth communication from the get-go. Stick to it on your end no matter what.
Using the agreed-upon method of communication, inform your ex-partner about anything new your baby might be going through, shifting dietary preferences, or upcoming schedule changes. This will help them feel they're equally involved and preempt potential confusion.
Parenting a young child is a notoriously stressful time, and being divorced with a baby can be an even more concentrated version of this life stage.
While it's essential to take good care of your infant, your own needs should be at the top of your list too.
It's tempting to do nothing but work or take care of other responsibilities when your co-parent has your child. Free time can feel strange when you're used to being needed 24/7.
However, taking steps to prioritize your physical and mental health now will help you take on other parenting challenges with patience and grace down the road.
Start with some basics:
What your child needs most is for you to take care of yourself so you show up as the most centered version of you when they're home.
Juggling parenting responsibilities along with navigating the effects of divorce is no small feat. At some point, it will feel like too much.
Ideally, before it gets to that point, you'll be able to arrange for help. Maybe that looks like calling a friend to stay with your baby while you go grab a coffee, but it could also look like hiring a housekeeper or signing up for a food or diaper subscription.
Help comes in many forms, but the hardest part is admitting we need it.
A lot of people will tell you to find time for fun self-care, but that could make you feel like you have one more thing on your plate.
If you don't honestly have a spare second to watch a TV show or get a manicure, it's OK. You can practice mindfulness for now while your life is busy. Try to slow down during the small moments of your everyday routine — e.g., baby's bath time. See if you can leave distractions and worries aside and enjoy bonding with your child.
There will come a time when you have more bandwidth for the lavish types of self-care.
Studies show that our mental health suffers when we're alone. That's because humans are social creatures. Yet, when you're divorced with a baby, you can find a million reasons not to reach out to others.
If you're up for it, try attending a parents' meet-up in your area. You might be surprised at how many other parents you meet who are divorced or going through similar things.
Even if you don't have time to hang out with friends like you used to, try to squeeze in a FaceTime call with your sister or chat with a neighbor. Those few minutes here and there can bring some comfort to your long days.
When you're still getting used to single parenthood, you could feel overwhelmed by the requirements of your parenting plan. But it's important to do everything you can to facilitate a positive co-parenting relationship.
Custody exchanges could be difficult for a baby, but there are some things you can do to make it easier on them:
Pro tip: Consider getting two identical car seats so you and your co-parent can have compatible bases and strollers. If your child happens to be napping when you meet up, you could easily send the whole car seat with them or vice versa.
If there's anything you've probably figured out from being a parent, it's that having kids is costly. And there can be a lot of expenses that child support doesn't cover — especially for babies.
That's precisely why you need the Onward App. The next time one of you has to pay for clothing, or settle up for a sitter, you can send a proposal to the other parent and quickly take care of your share right there on the app.
Children grow and change quickly, so it's not always easy to predict what will work with child custody in the long term when you get divorced with a baby. Still, it's important to stay compliant with your state's family laws and your unique custody arrangement.
You may not be happy with a particular facet of what's in place now, but it's a good idea to set a precedent of following your agreement to a T while your child is young. Keep solid records at this age in case you ever decide to go back to court to make adjustments.
Court paperwork isn't the only thing that might change — so could your child's needs.
A parent's circumstances could shift unexpectedly. Consider the COVID-19 pandemic. Many courts were shut down and co-parents were forced to rearrange their schedules to accommodate things like homeschooling. There might be forces outside your control that make it necessary to be flexible and compromise.
It's also possible that your child could need more time with you or your ex-spouse at certain stages of their childhood.
No matter the reason for the change, a perfectly organized schedule is not always fit for real life. Stay flexible while your child is a baby and you'll be ready for anything that's thrown at you later.
The first few years of a child's life are crucial, but it's also true that kids are resilient and have a lot of years to fumble and recover under their parents’ watch. One of the many positive effects of divorce could rub off on them in these early stages.
Before you know it, your baby will be a preschooler, then a teenager, in the blink of an eye. Look for joy in little moments with your baby as you navigate your new life together.
Chelsea is a twice-divorced mom of two boys. She is happily single parenting and doing her best to balance two simultaneous co-parenting relationships. Despite the complications, Chelsea can see the beauty in her story and believes healing is possible for the whole family.