Here is a list of nine things you can do to help your children adjust to living in two homes after the divorce.
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.