February 4, 2022
Making the transition from living in one home to two can be difficult for kids. Here are five tips that can help make the process smoother for them. By being understanding and supportive, you can help your children adjust to living in two different homes.
TALK OPENLY AND HONESTLY WITH YOUR CHILDREN:
I am a huge advocate for being a big communicator with children. I do believe there is a fine line between alleviating anxiety through open communication and creating anxiety with open communication. So, I would first suggest talking out your approach with a family therapist. At the end of the day, you know your children and know what they can handle.
But, talk to them!
Here are some suggestions from one mom to another (or one mom to one dad) on what to touch on and what to avoid when talking to your children about living in two different homes:
- TALK TO THEM FAR IN ADVANCE
- If kids are told in advance, they will have time to regulate their emotions. My worst fear would be to spring a change like that on a child of any age. Oh hey, your dad/mom moved out while you were in school and you will be staying at their house on the weekends. That is not fair.
- Let children adjust to one change at a time. The break up of their family unit will be hard enough. The end of your relationship is about you and your ex-partner, even though they–the children– share in the consequence. But, a move of residence is about them, directly. That is a consequence that effects them, personally.
- Do put any burdens on your children by asking their opinions when talking to them about a change that they cannot alter. An example would be: Mom/dad is moving out. Are you going to be okay with that? Would you like him/her to live close by? Of course they are not going to be okay with it! Do not ask them any questions that make them feel like they share in any responsibilities concerning this change. Reason being, when everyone starts to feel the pain of this transition, they will take that responsibility, too, and think that some of it was their fault.
- Give facts, support and time. They deserve to know the immediate facts (not what precipitated the move) around the two different homes. Let them know that you are there for them if they have more questions. Then, give them time to process before their routines are wrecked.
GIVE THEM THEIR OWN SPACE (and “stuff”)IN EACH HOME
Imagine having to live out of a suitcase every weekend. Would you feel at ease? At home? Comfortable? Imagine the last time that you stayed a extended amount of time in a hotel; remember that feeling that you had of wanting to be at your home and sleeping in your bed; now, realize that your children experience this every single time that they have to switch back and forth between parents homes.
And, honestly, I think this is one reason why children prefer to stay with their mothers more so than with their fathers. I think that Mothers have an innate desire to make a house a home. So, we naturally start to “nest” when we experience changes and want to make our children comfortable.
Another take on that, in defense of Dad’s, is that the Mothers oftentimes maintain the family home (in the beginning at least) and the children associate mom with home, while Dad is thrust into a new and foreign environment.
My personal experience (not one with all Dad’s) is that my ex and current husband didn’t care to create a happy environment for the kids. The kids were just slapped into their new lives where ever they could stick them, out of the way.
My husband and I had an agreement before we married that even if we married, he would not move into my home until his children had a space that they could call their own. I had a full basement where we had agreed we would build rooms for them.
But, wedding came and went and the rooms were still not built. And, he decided that he no longer agreed with the original arrangement. So, they all moved into my home, despite not having anywhere for the children to sleep.
So, on Dad’s weekend, they slept on couches or we made beds on the floor for them. And, it didn’t take long for the children to rebel and choose to no longer come to our home. They didn’t feel like they belonged at our home. Not to mention that his ex-wife and ex-mother in law were not happy about the situation…rightfully so! This opened the door for the kids to be told that we preferred my children over them, and so on.
It was just a horrible situation.
Kids should have rooms with beds and their own personal belongings so that something in your home feels like “theirs” and is a consistent familiarity.
STICK TO REGULAR ROUTINES AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
I am a woman and a mother. So, I want to preface this with: I am talking about “Dad” only because my ex was a male–a Dad. Moms can be bad in this area, too, but I do not have experience with that.
With that said, this is one thing that really troubled me when I shared parenting time. The Ex was always canceling and rescheduling his parenting time; and, he always wanted his rescheduled time to take place last minute during my time, too. He would be, like, hey…I can get the kids tomorrow to make up my missed day last week. So, I will pick up the kids right after school. Never: hey…I am available tomorrow to make up a missed day, do you have plans with the kids for tomorrow or do the kids have plans for tomorrow? can I squeeze some time in?
I tried so hard to keep a very reliable schedule for the children so that it gave them some stability. I only planned events for me and the children during my time and never encroached on his parenting time–ever.
But, despite all of my efforts, I just could not maintain any routine or schedule for myself or the children when Dad was always canceling.
I, honestly, think that the court system should take this bad behavior more seriously. They expect both parents to be really flexible with one another–and, I get that. But, when you have one parent abusing the schedule, I think that there should be some type of consequence and intervention for that.
And, constantly canceling your parenting time 1.) tells your child that you are not a priority and 2.) creates a lot of instability and anxiety in the children.
It is so very important that the children are able to expect some regularity in their lives. And, a schedule around when they are at each parents home gives them regularity, stability and expectation.
My kids never knew if they could have friends over at either home because Dad was going to inevitably change things on them at the last minute. And, not honoring the schedule creates friction between the parents that can be felt by the children no matter how well you try to hide it.
In the end, the children will become exasperated and choose to end going to the other parents home with time.
SPEND TIME WITH EACH CHILD, INDIVIDUALLY, SO THAT YOU KEEP “CHECK IN’S” CONSISTENT
This is such an important time for you to check in with each individual child. You can even address the children as a group, but make sure to set aside time for each one, on their own.
The children need to see that while the world around them is shaky and confusing, they are anchored to their parent; that their parent still sees them; that their feelings matter during this time.
Ask each child what can be done in your home to make them feel more grounded and connected and welcomed. You cannot control what is happening in the other parents home, but you can make changes in your own home to give your child as much stability as you can.
Your children will need regular assurance that both of their parents will always love them unconditionally.
MAINTAIN LUGGAGE THAT GOES BETWEEN HOMES WITH ESSENTIALS
This is an area where I see a lot of parents get really, really petty.
I follow a lot of stepmom blogs and social media sites on step parenting. And, I read moms and stepmoms talk about not being willing to send the appropriate amount of stuff with kids because they hate the ex, the ex isn’t paying them enough child support…or, the dad pays child support so the stepmom doesn’t think the ex should get anything from their home.
If you aren’t new to this, you know exactly what I mean.
And, then, there was my situation.
My ex paid child support. So, he didn’t think that he should have to buy anything at his home. So, if I sent my kids with four outfits, I would only get one outfit back. If I sent the kids with toys, none of them came back.
It was absolutely exhausting to police. Again, this is something that I think the court system should take more seriously. One parent should not carry the burden of buying clothes to only have them “stolen” and be forced to continually replace them. I even had one situation when Dad had the kids where he returned them home without their shoes! Can you believe that?
I went to the court asking for some intervention and support to only be scolded and told that I was to keep the peace for the children and to just buy more clothes.
That is a ridiculous response and one that just reinforces that behavior.
This is what I would suggest for parent/child exchanges:
- Sizeable duffle bag or small suitcase
- A list of contents (not precise). Example:
- three shirts
- three pants
- phone charger
- All homework or a copy of communication from school to parent
One of the most difficult parts about divorce is how it impacts children. It can be hard for them to adjust to having two separate homes, especially if they are very young and don’t understand why mommy or daddy isn’t living with them anymore. The key is making sure that both parents do their best to make time with the child their first priority when possible. That means not neglecting your other responsibilities like work, but also remembering that you need some “you time” too! Keep these five tips in mind as you help your children transition into this new family dynamic.
In the midst of a life altering experience, we as adults do not always know how to find hope, stability and grounding for ourselves, let alone provide it for their children; children who define their stability and understanding of the world through their parents. But, as their parents, we have to find so much strength deep within to do the impossible sometimes. I hope that any of the advice that I provided can help in any way possible!
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