Mommy and Daddy Don’t Live Together Anymore

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Dealing with parents who live separately is stressful for children
I often ask clients what they think their children understand about why they are living separately. What the parents say to the children may be far different from what the children actually hear and understand.

The Child’s View of Divorce

Imagine that your child is talking to his/her best friend about the divorce. What would you hear?

Often it is something like: “My Mom and Dad don’t live together anymore because they fought all the time. They say everything will be OK, but it sure feels awful now.”

The Disruption of Having Two Homes Instead of One

Helping your children through the transition of living separately takes planning. It may take what feels like an Academy Award-winning performance by the parents to discuss plans with the kids. This is when you have to put your pain, grief, and mourning behind your children and not in front of them. You want to make sure that your words are coming through a filter of resiliency, not a filter of pain.

Many of my clients have found the following strategies helpful.

Gratitude for the Parent Leaving the House

This is an essential and often overlooked part of separating. In order to live separately (which is now a shared goal no matter what the back story is), some one has to leave the house.

Let’s imagine it’s Dad who moved out. It is very important to explain that Dad is leaving the house because you BOTH decided it would be the best way to live separately. You want to show gratefulness and to have the kids appreciate how hard it is for him to leave.

Repeat, repeat, repeat this message over the next weeks and months, especially when the kids miss Dad. This avoids Dad feeling marginalized and teaches compassion and empathy to the children. It is a very important learning opportunity about hard decisions and courage.

A Parenting Plan for Older Children (13-Plus)

For kids this age, parents often say “We’ll let the kids choose the plan.” What parents do not realize is that the kids DO NOT want to choose. The inner conflict they feel calibrating whether they are hurting Mom or Dad by their choice(s) is too heavy a burden.

Example of a Good Plan for Older Children
Together decide how often the kids will be with each of you in a 2-week period. Perhaps 5 overnights are with Dad, and at least 2 of those are weekend nights. Together, the parents determine days that will work for one or the other of you or the kids. Within each two-week period, everyone knows the schedule, and no one is wondering or “chasing” a child.

Now you have created a “container.” And with this structure, the older children can choose their own nights.

When the schedule is set, it is set. The kids value the flexibility, and the parents value knowing what’s happening every night.

Avoid Porch Parents

A porch parent is a parent who is not allowed in the other parent’s home. Forcing your spouse to be a porch parent (or choosing to be one yourself) sends a very difficult message to the kids. This behavior is a constant signal to your kids of conflict, dislike, and lack of respect for the porch parent, which it hurts the kids too.

Leave Logistics for Offline

Avoid discussing logistics when bringing the children to the other parent’s residence (called “transitioning”). It often ends up being a longer conversation about parenting. If it becomes an argument, then the kids hear you fighting (again) and using their names during the disagreement, which they may interpret as your anger towards them instead.

Warm, Fuzzy Transitions

When transitioning the kids to the other parent’s home, be kind, gentle and friendly with the other parent. Yes, it may be the last thing you feel like doing, but it matters to the kids.

The best exchange includes something wonderful about the kids. “Adam’s teacher said he was a real big help today.” “Lizzy’s coach said she was really doing well.” Now, the kids have a good feeling, they see you both loving them, and, of course, all parents like to hear positive stuff about their kids.

Focus on the Children

There are many more ideas for handling transitions in ways that leave the children with a strong feeling of being loved, supported, and cared for by both parents. And oddly enough, each parent is also more likely to feel respected. It’s a win-win.

Photo Credit: ©iStockPhoto

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