In a perfect world, co-parenting wouldn’t look like our own special screening of The Shining. Instead, we’d all sign the divorce papers, stick to our commitments and rationally organise who would carpool to soccer on the weekend.
Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.
Helping your children live happily between two homes can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Keeping things predictable, staying organised and communicating can help turn the worst of co-parenting situations into a positive new beginning.
HELPING YOUR CHILDREN LIVE HAPPILY BETWEEN TWO HOMES
Keep things predictable
Children love surprising us; my personal favourite is when they stand over you at 5am on a Sunday morning and yell “I’m hungry!” – oh, the joys! You’d think that from their choice of entertainment they too would love the unpredictability that comes with most situations. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Children feel more comfortable in places where they have familiar surroundings. Helping a child feel secure in a new house can be achieved with the help of a few favourite personal items (Mr Boo-Boo and the Unicorn princess night-light will suffice), and a special area dedicated to all things ‘kids’. Not only will this give your child a sense of belonging, but also allow you to keep all the Lego confined to one area – win/win!
Set a firm routine
Listen to any Supernanny episode and you’ll hear the word ‘routine’ spoken so many times that you’ll begin to contemplate making it a drinking game. Children don’t like admitting it, but they absolutely thrive when they have a stable, predictable routine. Sit down with your former partner and agree on some key guidelines that you can apply to both houses. Regular meal times, homework and bedtimes might not sound as exciting as 5am wake-up calls, but are easy things you can both do to reinforce expectations and minimise behavioural issues. Finally, a calendar outlining when your child will be home (or away) can help them anticipate transitions and lessen any anxiety they might have about the situation. Parenting plans can definitely help to create and maintain routines that work.
Pick the changeover time carefully
When children are living in two homes, the inevitable changeover time can be emotional. Happy to see one parent, yet sad to leave another. It’s a lot for a little person to take on board. By strategically picking a good changeover time, you can alleviate a lot of stress. Evenings are not great as children get tired and emotional, as do we. A good option (age dependent) is picking a school day for changeover, then one parent drops off and the other picks up. This way there’s no a physical handover which can pull at the heartstrings.
Give lots of reassurance
We all need to feel loved and secure, but for children going through big transitions, this is especially important. Get in the habit of asking your children if there’s anything they’d like to talk about. Having family meetings once a week can be a great opportunity to sort out any unresolved issues and ensure that you’re all on the same page. And if you notice any signs of anxiety or upset, consider the use of memory jar, which is a fabulous tool to keep children focused on the happiest elements of their world.
School mornings are already hard enough, but attempting them when uniforms are still at dad’s house can be an absolute disaster. Try putting a list somewhere visible so your children can get into the habit of packing their own things without your constant supervision. Another option is to minimise the number of items your child takes. A few sets of clothes, toiletries and some toys in both households not only makes transitions less stressful but enhances their sense of belonging in an unfamiliar place.
Older children often require more flexibility due to their growing number of commitments. This can make living between two homes more challenging. Extracurricular activities, a part-time job and friends all require time commitments that could fall on the days they are in your care. As difficult as this might be, avoid giving your children the impression that time with friends isn’t as important as spending time with you. To spend more time together, you could always consider planning activities that allow for their friends to be included.
Communicating with your former partner can be one of the most stressful parts of helping your children live happily between two homes, but it doesn’t have to be. If your co-parenting strategy seems to lack verbal communication, consider using technology instead. Co-parenting apps make it possible to generate shared calendars and reminders. Consider using them to keep track of extracurricular activities, special events, and other commitments, so you’re both on the same page at all times. Whenever you meet in person, especially when being viewed by mini eyes, be respectful and polite. Remember your own values and stick to them, even if you ex is less than friendly. Hopefully you can slowly begin to close the gap of tension and model positive behaviour for your children.