The family home with both parents residing under one roof is central to a child’s upbringing. Divorce forever disrupts their physical world and emotional belief system.
Psychologists say many children worry that if their parents can stop loving each other, they can also stop loving them. But parents who work together to calm those fears can help children deal with the new reality of living in two separate homes.
Advice from successful co-parents
When parents go their own ways after a divorce, children can be torn between two locations where they will live. The best solution is to make them feel at home in both places. A recent New York Times article offers advice from co-parents whose children have positively adjusted to their new world order. Their tips include:
Help them prepare for the divorce
Even before informing your children of plans to separate, reassure them that divorced families are normal and there is nothing to fear. If you know people who have already gone through the process, point out that kids are still loved and spend time with both parents. Children must have some idea of what their life will look like if the same thing happens to their family.
Talk to them about divorce and listen
Many parents are so overwhelmed by divorce that they find it impossible to talk about it with anyone, especially their kids. But children have questions that require answers. One co-parent said when he and his spouse decided to divorce, he bought every children’s book he could find on families living in two homes. He says his kids wanted him to read it to them time and time again, finding comfort in the pages.
Let them build a unique space for themselves
Children can also find comfort if you allow them to create their own space in each household. The important thing to remember is that your child needs to feel at home and not like a visitor. If you don’t have a spare bedroom, let them have a corner of the living room where they can put a bookshelf, a cubby to keep their clothes and a twin bed.
Keep them involved
If one or both co-parents move to a new home, let your kids help you decorate. That gives them a sense of control and ownership in their new surroundings.
Make them carry as little as possible between homes
To help a child feel welcome in both places, keep as many belongings in each place as possible. If you can do it, have PJs, toys, books, clothes and a toothbrush in both homes, even if they only visit during vacations or holidays. Think about having the things that make the place feel like home.
Don’t go crazy over rules
Some parents may have an issue with this one. While strict rules should be in place in both households over safety issues, co-parents shouldn’t go overboard to enforce an identical set of rules over things like chores or bedtimes. Kids are adaptable, and most happily married parents aren’t always on the same page. When co-parents battle over these issues, children feel like they have to choose sides and fear being disloyal to the other parent.
Don’t forget about older children
If your kids are in college or older, don’t forget about the impact your separation or divorce will have. They will likely be confused and unsure how to handle things like holidays and family events in the future. Be sure to talk to them and listen to their concerns. Most of all, let them know that both of you understand their feelings and realize that it’s also a difficult time for them.