Navigating your children through divorce is a challenge. It is quite possibly one of the hardest times you and them will ever go through. Emotions are high, the stakes are higher, and you’re trying to do what’s best for them…but what is best?
You may have it in your head that you automatically should “get” the kids because you’re the bread winner, or you’re their mother, or you have the house. Or maybe you feel the other parent should “have” the kids because of those reasons, or maybe they’re more equipped. Maybe you grew up with divorced parents and you want to protect your kids from going through what you went through. Whatever your thought process may be, I understand you’re just trying to do what’s best for your child and give them the happiness life possible despite the circumstances.
I have talked in a previous post about why 50/50 shared parenting time is ideal, but sometimes that’s just not possible due to geographic constraints or either parent’s work schedule cannot support it.
Let me introduce to you the “two-home” concept. Even though your child may spend a lot more time at one home, it doesn’t mean one home is more important than the other. Even though the marriage is over, your family is still a family, it’s just that the dynamic has changed. But the needs of your kids haven’t changed. They still need their mom AND dad. Neither parent should be called a primary or the visitor.
It’s not about equal parenting time necessarily, but more so a sense that each home holds equal value to the child. Each home fosters a positive relationship with the parent…and doesn’t make the child feel like a visitor in that parent’s home.
If you can adopt this idea of two “homes,” you will positively influence your child’s sense of belonging, self-esteem, values, structure, sense of identity, discipline, security, morals and love. THAT, is what’s best for them.
So, now that you have an idea of what it is, how do you achieve this between two homes?
Here are some actionable things you can start doing right away with your child to ensure you’re doing as much as you can to help them adjust to their new family dynamic. I’ve included some “Co-Parent Bonus” options if you have a decent relationship with the other parent.
Give your child their own space, where they know where their things are and can feel a sense of security.
Do you have pictures of your family and friends on your desk at work? Do you have decals on your car that showcase your interests? Is your house decorated the way you like it?
How do you give yourself a sense of security where you spend most of your time? Where is your “personal space” for YOU time?
Now, imagine not having that. Imagine going to a motel room, away from everything that’s “yours” during your work week vs. going home to your comfortable living room. Imagine having to pack up and unpack your things every single week. Would you ever label that motel room a home? I mean, you spend time there, you had your stuff with you while you were there…
What makes somewhere a home vs. a place to live?
You may have read some things about how it’s not a good idea to pack your child a suitcase every time they go to the other parent’s house, well that’s why. It doesn’t allow your child to feel a sense of belonging.
So, when your child is as your house…even if it’s only for a day or two, make sure they have a space of their own. It doesn’t even have to be their own room. It’s understandable that divorce takes a huge financial toll on families, so maybe you have to share a room with your child for a while, and that’s okay.
They don’t need much. It could be just a corner in the living room, a shelf with some of their favorite things, a makeshift tent. Just somewhere they can call their personal space. Have them help you decorate it the way they like, it will make it that much more meaningful to them.
Co-Parent Bonus: Place a picture of your child with the other parent in their personal space.
Establish a set quality time routine right after pick-up, to help them adjust and give them structure.
If you’re constantly dealing with a hyper or moody child right after pick-up, a set routine could help drastically.
Set 20-30 minutes aside just for your child right after pick-up. This routine could be something as simple as reading a book together, playing catch, basketball, soccer, fishing, cooking, going to your favorite restaurant, playing a video game together, or even a game of chess.
The point is to do something they are interested in that also provides some time for you to feel connected to each other again. It will help balance out the craziness of flip-flopping houses and give them some predictability and something to look forward to. You can change up the routine as they get older, just stick to things that THEY want to do. This time you set aside is for THEM to help adjust, not you.
Co-Parent Bonus: Do a joint parent (family) routine during the day of the exchange.
Be positive/neutral when speaking about the other parent to them. Allow them to have pictures of the other parent, to help secure their sense of identity and self-esteem.
This one can be a toughie for the parents that hold a lot of resentment and hostility towards one another. I want to help give you some perspective on this point for a second.
Imagine at work, you have two bosses. Every time you have a meeting with one boss, they trash the other. You don’t say anything because you feel awkward and don’t want it to get back to the other boss if you open your mouth, so you just sit there and stare at the floor. Each boss is constantly undermining the other and pressuring you to tell them if the other is backstabbing them in some way or not following the rules of the office. You’re constantly getting placed in the middle. You love your job because of the work that you do, but you are regularly stressed out because of the predicament you get placed in on a daily basis. It’s starting to make you resent and question both of your bosses, and you consider moving jobs.
Wouldn’t you have felt more comfortable if the bosses just kept you out of it and just let you do your job? Now imagine those bosses are you and the other parent and your child is the employee getting thrown into the middle, pressured to take sides. All your child wants to do is “their job,” and you two are making it incredibly painful to even want to go to work.
Just because you may not like the other parent, doesn’t mean you have to voice that to your child. You hate them? Fine. But just know that your child is half of that parent and whatever you say about them, they will question their own identity. If they hear that their mom or dad is an alcoholic, narcissist, drug addict, jerk, moron, bitch, slut, untrustworthy, etc…they will always have that perception that they too may have the trait to be the same and could actually make them more likely to become the same way when they’re at their worst if they feel the odds are against them.
If you can’t speak highly of the other parent, at least remain neutral. Let your child come up with their own conclusions of that parent. Your job is to help BUILD their confidence, not break it down. Think about the positive things the other parent has going for them. At some point in time, you actually had an intimate relationship with this person, so tap into those traits to tell your kids about.
The more positive things they know about you and the other parent, the more likely they are to have a great amount of self-confidence and a positive sense of identity.
Co-Parent Bonus: Share stories about some of the great times you and the other parent had, especially if they are teenagers. It will help them understand that they born into a place of love.
Remind them of the rules in your home so there’s no confusion, to maintain discipline.
Each home will likely have different sets of rules, and that’s okay. Both parents are different. But to a child, it can be really confusing at times to remember all those rules, or they could feel they are walking on egg shells at each house.
It doesn’t hurt to remind them of the rules while under your roof. Communicate those rules to the other parent for reference. You aren’t necessarily sharing that information to the other parent for their permission, but more for them to mimic similar rules at their home if they would like.
It’s actually not necessarily a bad thing to have a different set of rules in each house. Your child will get to see two different sets of values. One parent may place high value on structure, cleanliness and timeliness, while the other focuses on living in the moment and being creative. When they are older, they will be more mature and well-rounded vs. children that were raised only witnessing one household’s values and traditions.
Co-Parent Bonus: Ask the other parent what rules they have in their home. Try to come together to make similar sets of rules that you’re both comfortable with to make transitions easier.
Even if the other parent doesn’t cooperate, you can still set the example and encourage these things in your home.
Sometimes, it’s not possible for you to share the two-home concept with the other parent. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Give it some time. It can take YEARS for the other parent to come around. As long as you are doing your part, that’s all you can do for now.
Don’t try to control things you have no control over, like the other parent’s attitude. You will do more damage to your child than good if you do try to control the other parent. They will push back, and they will push back hard if they aren’t ready.
One stable, positive household is better than none. You hold the power in your house to make a positive impact on your child. I believe in you! Take it one step at a time, things will definitely get better.