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9 Ways to Help Children Adjust to Two Homes

If they work together, divorced parents can help their children adjust to differences between homes.
By Ron L. Deal


1. Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household. Do not demean the other’s living circumstances, activities, dates, or decisions and give up the need to control your ex’s parenting style. If you have concerns, speak directly to the other parent; don’t use your child as a go-between.

2. Schedule a monthly (perhaps more often) “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters. You can address schedules, academic reports, behavioral training, and spiritual development. Do not discuss your personal life (or your ex’s); that part of your relationship is no longer appropriate. If the conversation turns away from the children, simply redirect the topic or politely end the meeting. If you cannot talk with your ex face to face due to conflict, use email or speak to the answering machine. Do what you can to make your meetings productive for the children.

3. Never ask your children to be spies or tattletales on the other home. This places them in a loyalty bind that brings great emotional distress. In fact, be happy when they enjoy the people in their new home (“I’m glad you enjoy fishing with your step-dad”). If children offer information about life in the other home, listen and stay neutral in your judgment.

4. Children should have everything they need in each home. Don’t make them bring basic necessities back and forth. Special items, like clothes, school supplies, or a comforting teddy bear, can move back and forth as needed.

5. Try to release your hostility toward the other parent so that the children can’t take advantage of your hard feelings. It’s much easier for them to manipulate you if you don’t cooperate with your ex.

6. Do not disappoint your children with broken promises. Do what you say, keep your visitation schedule as agreed, and stay active in their life.

7. Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement. Update the ex when changes need to be made to the visitation schedule. Also, inform the other parent of any change in job, living arrangements, etc. which may require an adjustment by the children.

8. Do special things with differing combinations of children.  Sometimes it is tempting to only do “special activities” when all of the children are with you. That may leave some children feeling that they aren’t as special as others. So, plan some special things to do with different combinations of the kids (it’s all right if someone feels disappointed he or she wasn’t able to go). Let the lives of those living with you remain unaltered, as much as possible, when other children come for visitation. Keep toys and possessions in a private spot where they are not to be touched or borrowed unless the owner gives permission (even while they are in the other home).

9. If you and the other home cannot resolve a problem, agree to problem solving through mediation rather than litigation. The legal system tends to exacerbate between-home hostilities. Use only as a last resort.

 

© 2012 by Ron L. Deal.  All rights reserved.

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Meet the Author: Ron L. Deal

Ron Deal

Ron Deal is a marriage and family author, conference speaker, and therapist. He is founder and president of Smart Stepfamilies™ and director of FamilyLife Blended™, the ministry initiative of FamilyLife® to stepfamilies (for more visit www.RonDeal.org and www.FamilyLife.com). 

Ron is author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family (and DVD series), The Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent, The Smart Stepmom (with Laura Petherbridge), and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family (with Dr. David Olson). A highly sought-after, recognized expert in marriage and blended families, Ron is a member of the Stepfamily Expert Council for the National Stepfamily Resource Center, and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor with over 25 years experience in local church ministry and family ministry consulting. He is a featured expert on the video curriculum Single and Parenting (2011, Church Initiative) and his material is widely distributed by a variety of family education initiatives

Ron served as a member of the Couple Checkup Research Team (headed by Dr. David Olson, PREPARE-ENRICH) which conducted the two largest studies of marital strength ever accomplished. They surveyed over 100,000 marriages and remarriages (over 200,000 people) and examined the qualitative differences between highly satisfied marriages and low-quality marriages. The results of their groundbreaking research for couples are published in the books The Couple Checkup (Olson, Larson, & Olson-Sigg, 2008) and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage (Deal & Olson, 2015), and are featured in Ron’s newest seminar for dating, engaged, married, and remarried couples, the Couple Checkup Conference.

Ron is a popular conference speaker and has appeared in dozens of national radio and TV broadcasts both in the U.S. and Canada. His daily 60-second radio feature, FamilyLife Blended, is heard by thousands each week around the country and online. He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, ABC’s Nightline, WGN-News, The Mike Huckabee Show, FamilyLife Today, Focus on the Family, HomeWord with Jim Burns, Celebration, and The 700 Club, and his work has been referenced online (e.g., ABCNews.com, Today.com), in magazines (e.g., Essence), and in newspapers throughout the world (e.g., USA Today, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, and Minnesota Star Tribune). The May 2012 issue of Ladies' Home Journal featured Ron's therapy work with a blended family couple in their popular feature column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Ron has written feature family articles addressing a variety of family matters for a variety of publications and online magazines including Focus on the Family magazine, ParentLife, The Family Room, Gospel Today, Christianity Today, and HomeLife magazine. On a regular basis Ron trains therapists, marriage educators, and ministry professionals at conferences around the country and has spoken at the National Stepfamily Conference, and the Utah and Arkansas Governors' conferences on the family.

Ron and his wife, Nan, have three boys. Their middle son, Connor, died unexpectedly in February 2009 at the age of 12. In his memory, the Deal's have partnered with Touch a Life Foundation to rescue and rehabilitate children in Ghana, West Africa, from trafficking. They would be honored if you would help them sing Connor's song. Visit Connor's Song to learn more about this ministry and to hear Connor sing.

In addition to FamilyLife sponsored events Ron is available to present his Couple Checkup Conference or Building A Successful Stepfamily conference in your church or community. Learn more here.

 

 

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