One of the biggest challenges your child may face after your divorce is going from one home to two. No child, whether young or older, likes the prospect of having his life and routine disrupted. Moving back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s house will likely cause some anxiety on many levels for most children. Here’s what you can do to make the transition easier for your child.
Play up the positive
Encourage your child to embrace the positive aspects of her situation: a new home means a new house or apartment, a new neighborhood to explore, and probably a new room to call her own. Help your child pick out new furnishings, new bedding, and maybe a new paint color or wall art that will personalize her new space. Even if she has to share a space with another sibling – at your house or your co-parent’s house – make sure she has a space she can call her own.
Make the new home feel familiar
Sometimes too much newness can be stressful for a child, especially for the very young. Your child will feel more comfortable in his new home when he has some familiar belongings there. Consider splitting your child’s belongings between both homes. If this isn’t possible, then provide duplicates of a few special items – a favorite toy or nightlight – for his new home. Some items that cannot be duplicated, such as a special blanket or stuffed animal that your child simply cannot do without, will have to travel between Mom’s and Dad’s house.
Have a packing plan
Even the packing and unpacking for trips between homes can be stressful for a child – and for you. To make it easier on everyone, both homes should have items basic items such as pajamas, undies, a few outfits, and toiletries on hand. Not only will this cut down on the amount of packing your child has to do for each trip, but it also lessens the chances of her not having a toothbrush or some other item she uses on a daily basis. Avoid waiting until the last minute to pack her things. Packing the day before will help both her and you avoid the stressful last-minute scrambling to get out the door; it will also help her to mentally prepare in advance that she will be going to the other parent’s house soon.
Maintain a familiar routine
Providing a predictable routine for your child helps to reduce the anxiety of moving between his parents’ two homes. In a perfect world, both parents will maintain similar schedules of meals, playtime, homework, and bedtime, and have similar rules for TV viewing, video gaming, and time spent on cell phones. But even if you and your co-parent can’t get in sync with each other, having a predictable routine in each house will go a long way in creating normalcy for your child.
A special routine during transitions between your child’s two homes will also help alleviate the anxiety he may feel. Talk positively about his trip to his other home, and discuss any misgivings he may have about it. Make a plan of how and when you will keep in touch with him while he is away (and do so in a way that is respectful of your co-parent’s time with him). Also, create a special routine for his return home to you. This should be something low-key, like sharing your favorite meal together, watching a movie, or playing a game.
Helping your child learn to live happily in two homes will take a little time and perhaps more than a little effort, but it’s worth it when the result is a happier, better-adjusted child. If you need more co-parenting resources, or if you need legal advice about child custody arrangements, contact us at Christine M. Howard Law.