Transitioning to 2 Houses can be Hard for Kids | Two HappyHomes Inc.

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Transitioning to 2 Houses can be Hard for Kids

Going from one home to two homes is no small feat. Oftentimes one parent, typically the primary caretaker, stays in the home where the family had been residing while the other one moves out and begins a new home. To make matters more challenging, it can also be common for children to feel some anxiety about being away from their primary caretaker and in a new home... even though their own parent is in that new home.

If this happens to you, please be patient and know that things can get better. Adjustment takes time. Below I outline a few ways to ease this adjustment so that you and your children can build a new home that feels good to you.

  1. Time to transition.
    Transitions can take a little while. If you sense that your children are struggling in light of all of the changes taking place and you can work out the logistics, it can be helpful to gradually transition from the children’s current living arrangement to the parenting plan that you and their other parent have developed. For example, instead of going straight to overnights in your new home it may be helpful to have some time together during the day first. Or rather than starting with a full weekend, perhaps it would make more sense to do part of the weekend first. This may take some trial and error to figure out. Again, adjustment can take some time so being flexible about how you move from one home with two parents to two homes with a parent in each can be hugely helpful.

  2. Managing anxiety.
    Recognize that some anxiety about this new arrangement is perfectly normal. If, as the parent in the new home, you find yourself taking it personally and feeling rejected, pause and know that in your own time and in your own way you and your children will build this home together.

    Verbalize your understanding to your child. "You seem a little worried about being away from mommy/daddy and in a new place. I get it. That makes sense to me.” Oftentimes, parents want to make it better right away, which is understandable. Taking the time to have your child feel understood and allowed to feel what they are feeling can be more important than having you try to fix things in these moments, however. It releases them from the guilt they may feel about having reservations about this new arrangement and trepidation about being away from their other parent. Feeling understood also opens up a door to safely connect with you rather than worry about your disapproval, sadness, frustration, or anger.

    Follow up that understanding with some reassurance. “We have a lot to figure out, but I have every confidence that we’re going to be okay.”

  3. Support your children’s relationship with their other parent.
    When children know that you are okay with their ongoing relationship with their other parent, it can do wonders for releasing them from a potential loyalty bind. It also demonstrates your acceptance of your children in full, for they come from you and their other parent. You are each a part of them.

    There are some concrete things you can do to show your support, as well as ease their anxiety about being away from their other parent. Transitional objects are things that remind us of someone or something in a good and comforting way. Some children like to have a “piece of home” with them. Photos of their other parent, an item of clothing that belongs to the other parent, or a stuffed animal that was given to them by the other parent are some ideas.

  4. Allow your children to create their own space in your home.
    In order for your children to feel that your home is their home, too, they need to have a hand in creating a life in it. Let them have a say in how their room is set up, for instance. Deciding where the bed and the dresser will go may seem like small potatoes to a parent trying to organize a new space, but it shows a child that they are important members of the household and have a say in it. I am going to repeat something here because it simply bears repeating. I encourage parents to allow their children to keep photos of their other parent at your home, at least in their bedroom or wherever their personal space is set up. It really shows them that you respect and support their relationship with their other parent and understand its importance.

  5. Routines and rituals.
    We hear the word “structure” used a lot by parenting experts. They don’t always say what that means, but we gather that it’s important. Structure is a way to organize life so it has some predictability to it. There is so much that is out of our control that having some things be routine in life can be very soothing. This is especially so for children, and definitely so for children going through big transitions. Having dinner at their regular time, doing the same bedtime rituals, and maintaining extracurricular schedules are all ways to bring in structure and reduce anxiety. You do not need to worry about having everything the same as it was prior to moving from one home to two. That would make anyone go a little nuts. But the pieces that you think you can easily carry over into your home, that feel right to you and your children, are probably worth attempting.

  6. Time to connect with the other parent.
    Depending on the age of your children, they may need to connect with their other parent during their time with you. Younger children typically need more frequent contact than older children. No matter what the age, however, it is important to be mindful about this piece. For example, it will be important for the other parent to convey that he/she is okay in your children’s absence so these contacts do not trigger more worry, guilt, or sadness. The point is to simply touch base, not to pepper the children with questions or pry information out of them. A “Hi, how are you?” and letting your children take the reins from there is probably all that is needed.
If your children use these times to complain about the new arrangements, their other parent should be prepared to direct them back to you. “There are a lot of new things going on and you are making some important points. I think that if you talk to your mom/dad about this, you guys can put your heads together and figure some things out.” Of course, it matters are too complicated for your children to handle on their own, then it may be best for you and their other parent to discuss them instead without the children present. Once there has been some resolution to the matter, then it is appropriate to talk about the resolution with your children and thank them for bringing the issue to your attention. The ultimate goal is for them to feel that they can turn to you when things don’t feel right and have confidence that it can get better.

For anyone that wants to understand how to tackle this time of transition with a better understanding of their children based on their age,
Gary Neuman’s book is a great place to start. There are age-specific chapters that can help you understand where your children are coming from and what they may need.

No matter what route you take, it will be most important to take it a day (and sometimes just a moment) at a time. Keep working with your children and make sure that the home that you build is good for everyone in it. If you think that you have tried all of the things listed above and your children continue to experience significant distress while living with you, it may be useful to consult a family therapist that is well-versed in divorce-related issues. Sometimes having some outside support and new ways of looking at things and strategies to try can be very helpful.

Anita M. Schimizzi, Ph.D. is a licensed child psychologist and certified parenting coordinator in private practice in North Carolina.  She specializes in treating families affected by divorce. Dr. Schimizzi is also a regular contributor to the child psychology blog