As the parent of a child whose biological parents don’t live together, and the child of parents that also resided apart this post aims to make moving between environment easier for those children in the same position. It’s a guide to getting rid of barriers that can cause children and young people anxiety, and contains ideas to help them feel both wanted and relaxed in both of their homes.
A Space To Call Their Own
Having a space in both homes to call their own is vital. No one wants to go and stay somewhere they feel they don’t belong and having an area that is ours is part of what defines being home. Whether it’s a special interest related duvet cover, photographs or posters of things they enjoy on the walls or somewhere to store toys and games – personal items instil that sense of belonging.
For children who share with siblings at one of their homes it’s crucial to give them somewhere they can put their things whilst they are with the other parent where their things will be safe. Not knowing what is happening to their belongings whilst they are not there can otherwise become a huge source of anxiety for them.
A Loose Schedule Of Events
If a child spends the majority of time at one parent’s house it can often be difficult for them to predict what they will be doing when they go to visit the other parent. A loose schedule of activities given to them in advance can be really helpful. This is particularly helpful if the plan is to do something different to the norm – e.g. spending the night at a grandparent’s house or having visitors staying over at the same time as them. Being able to prepare for events in advance will not only ensure that they cope with them more easily, but also that they worry less about something unexpected being sprung on them.
Freedom To Contact The Other Parent
One of the biggest difficulties for children and young people who live between two homes is being able to contact the other parent when they want to. Ensuring your child has a way they can get in touch, be it by email, telephone, Skype or text message without feeling as though they will upset the parent they are with is crucial. That doesn’t have to mean unlimited access, for instance I would probably refuse a request after bedtime for the Bear to talk to her dad about a point of grammar (a love they share), but would honour a request for a call to check on a relative that was ill if she was worrying.
Equality With Siblings
Feeling as though they are treated equally to Siblings who live with a parent full time is particularly critical. Especially for children with autism who often scrutinise the detail. Ensuring things like presents from family members are of equal value, children are invited to participate in family holidays and that Christmas cards are written by the same parent in the same way can make all the difference in the world in a child’s eyes. Whether it’s expectations, rules or the general way children are treated within the family fairness needs to be absolutely overt to avoid resentment brewing.
Whilst even parents who live together often differ on aspects of child rearing (just ask my Other Half) when parents live apart it’s even more important that they look to their child as though they are on the same page. Having similar rules, expectations and values at each of their homes makes life much less confusing and avoids the child wondering whether they are going to be in trouble for something that one parent allows and the other doesn’t. Sitting calmly with both families and the child to decide on these tules saves countless arguments and Meltdowns over the longer term.
If there is one thing that my parents got right through my childhood, it’s that they didn’t criticise each other in front of us. Given the fact that my dad left home in the middle of the night to live with his new family, only calling my mum once he arrived, it’s something that as an adult has given me the upmost respect for her. She could so easily of attempted to lay blame and criticise, but instead she did all she could to foster good relationships for our sakes. It’s not easy when things have gone wrong to remain neutral, but it makes so much difference to the children involved if you can.