Helping Your Children Adjust to Two Homes
Divorce is a transition into new territory. Life has suddenly taken some major turns. This is especially true for children who now find themselves living in two different households.
How can you make the adjustment easier on your kids?
The most important thing to remember is that even though you and your ex are no longer a couple; you are still co-parents. The more you work together the easier this will be on your children. Put aside your own animosity and try to remain a team where your children are concerned.
Here are a few ideas to incorporate.
Keep a set schedule as much as possible. Staying up an extra hour on the weekends might not hurt. But if a child is used to going to bed at 9 o’clock on weeknights and is allowed to stay up until midnight on weekends; then they’re going to have a hard time on Monday mornings.
Have a routine for packing for the weekends. If you use the same backpack it will be easier to remember to put in the same important items each time. This is especially important for young children who sleep with a particular toy or blanket.
Try to have duplicates of things like toothbrushes and pajamas and some extra clothes so they don’t have to be packed each time. When your child comes home in clothes from your ex’s house (and vice versa) give them back. These clothes are your children’s clothes, not yours or your ex’s. No one else owns them, so don’t think of them that way.
Start a white board or a calendar where you mark visitation days as well as school events and homework assignments. This way no one is surprised by last minute science projects or the need to bake a dozen cupcakes. It helps if the other parent keeps a calendar, as well. The child can then easily remember when they’re going to dad’s or when they’re going back to mom’s. Your child’s school may be able to send out duplicate calenders and schedules to your ex as well.
Let your ex know about award ceremonies or special school events. Don’t leave them out just for spite and don’t count on young children to remember to pass along information. Your children need to see and feel the support of both parents.
Don’t try to compete. Your child may talk about their “new” room. But don’t feel you need to redo their old room. They need the stability of the familiar while they learn to adapt to the new. Teenagers actually need this stimulation to grow, so look at it as an opportunity to help them move into adulthood!
Let them enjoy their visits and don’t make them feel guilty about spending time with the other parent. It’s not just your words; they can read your reactions and attitude. Use this time to do something for yourself.
Your children and your ex need to understand that if the child gets behind on an assignment they will have to finish on the weekend. Your ex won’t be happy when this happens, but they’ll need to understand that sometimes homework will have to be done on weekends. Don’t make this happen on purpose.
The child should have his own room or at least his own space for his stuff in both homes.
Don’t try to hinder your child’s connection to the other parent. If they want to call them to talk about the good/bad day they had, let them do so.
Everything is based on the age of your child. A teenager with a cell phone can call or text your ex whenever they want, but you’ll need to help your preschooler have access to the other parent.
Getting your ex on board with these ideas may be hard at first. Try and help them understand you’re thinking of the well-being of the children. Again, an objective counselor can go a long way in helping get this point across. If you say anything that implies your ex is a “bad parent” you’re not going to help the situation.
If your ex moves out of town it all becomes more difficult. It’s always better if you can stay close geographically, but sometimes this is not possible due to job requirements or other issues. In that case; you’re going to have to learn to live with putting your child on a plane or possibly taking road trips to meet the other parent half-way.
Let them Skype or call the out of town parent when they want to talk.
Follow the court-ordered parenting plan as much as possible to avoid conflict and confusion. But sometimes adjustments are necessary to accommodate school or sports events. Try to work together to come up with a compromise.
Never cancel visitations as a punishment for your children. Find some other form of punishment such as not watching television or no computer time. If they’re a teenager take away their cell phone for a few days.
Don’t quiz your child endlessly about “is daddy dating anyone”? “Does daddy seem happy?” “Did daddy mention me?” Your children are not visiting their parent for the sake of being your spy.
Save confrontations for the lawyer’s office or private meetings between parents. Do not use pickup times to discuss volatile issues or make snarky comments at your ex.
Remember: it’s about helping your children adjust. It is NOT about you trying to get back at the other parent.
Family counseling can go a long way in helping your family settle into your new roles.