After a divorce or separation, children need time and understanding if they are to cope with moving between two homes.
It is a difficult time and a huge adjustment for them.
Children are very resilient but also need stability, therefore they will need your support if they are to adjust well.
Here are a few thing that you can do to assist them when planning the new living arrangements:
- Ask your children for input when planning the new living arrangements.
- Ensure your children that your will consider their ideas (except of course that mum and dad won’t be living together which will usually be their first request!)
- Involve your children in discussions about living arrangements if you think they are old enough to cope.
- Make sure that you do not put your child in a position where they feel they have to choose. They may feel that pleasing one of you will hurt the other.
- Reassure your children that you are only asking for their opinion and that the decision is not up to them.
- Reassure your children that the new living arrangements are not about who loves them the most!
- Make ‘practical lists’ with your children and list things like:
- Which parent is home the most?
- Which parent lives closest to the school?
- Who can get your children to after-school activities?
- Who lives closest to friends?
Now some tips to help you are ready to set up your new living arrangements:
- Make sure your children know who will be taking them to school and who will be picking them up.
- Ensure they know which nights they will sleep at each house and how often they will see each of you.
- Keep basic clothing and personal items such as underwear, toiletries, pyjamas and shoes in each home. This way your child doesn’t have to remember to move everything between homes.
- If your child has a special toy, make sure your child has it when they leave you. This will help them to feel more secure.
- Make a list of things that need to be packed. Older children may need help when planning what school books ad homework to take.
- A shared online calendar or app can be a good way to stay organised and communicate with your former partner.
Two homes, two routines
Children can cope well with different routines in different houses, as long as the rules are clear and you keep things as predictable as possible. You might need to say something like, ‘When you’re here, we’ll do it this way’.
A ‘place for me’
Children need a place they can call their own and a space to store their things in both homes. Find a way to give your child some ‘me space’, even if she doesn’t have her own bedroom. This space could be a cupboard for her toys, or a wall where she can put up her favourite pictures.
If your child is confused or anxious about moving between two homes, listen to what’s bothering him. You might need to talk to your former partner about the arrangements if they need changing to suit your child’s needs. If talking to your former partner isn’t possible, a counsellor or other professional might be able to help.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015). Family characteristics and transitions, Australia, 2012-13 [Cat. no. 4442.0]. Canberra: ABS. Retrieved 2 December 2015 from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4442.0.
Beausang, J., Farrell, A., & Walsh, K. (2012). Young people whose parents are separated or divorced: A case for researching their experiences at the intersection of home and school. Educational Research, 54(3), 343-356.
Bergstrom, M., Modin, B., Fransson, E., Rajmil, L., Berlin, M., Gustafsson, P.A., & Hjern, A. (2013). Living in two homes: A Swedish national survey of wellbeing in 12 and 15 year olds with joint physical custody. BMC Public Health, 13, 868.
Fletcher, R. (2008). Father-inclusive practice and associated professional competencies [AFRC Briefing No. 9]. Melbourne: Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse, Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved 3 December 2015 from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/father-inclusive-practice-and-associated-professional-compet.
McIntosh, J., Burke, S., Dour, N., & Gridley, H. (2009). Parenting after separation: A position statement prepared for the Australian Psychological Society. Melbourne: Australian Psychological Society.
Smyth, B. (2009). A 5-year retrospective of post-separation shared care research in Australia. Journal of Family Studies, 15(1), 36-59.