Shared Parenting is becoming a much more common way to bring up children after divorce or separation. With both parents now taking a much more active role in bringing up their children these days as apposed to the more traditional roles in times gone by.
Whilst there are so many positive aspects to parenting in this way, with the children spending similar amounts of time with both parents and maintaining these relationships and bonds. There can be some difficulties to overcome which may not be initially apparent. There are logistical issues with changing homes a couple of times a week, but also emotional implications for the children which can be managed by being aware of them.
Depending on the parenting schedule that you have arranged with your ex-partner will determine how many switches between the two homes the children will be subjected to. Also, the age of your children will define how involved you are in terms of picking up and dropping off. For example, teenage children will be walking themselves to school, so it is just a case for them which home they return to after school.
For younger children, getting used to having two homes can be harder. So, to make the change over as stress free as possible, try to follow these tips:
- Be punctual, don’t leave children waiting passed the agreed time to collect them.
- Be positive about the change over and enthusiastic about the time they will spend with the other parent.
- If the children want to share what activities they have enjoyed with the parent they have just been with, then be positive and happy to listen to them.
- Don’t pass judgement on the plans or activities that the other parent has set out.
- Be organised, so that everything is ready for the other parent when they turn up to collect the children.
- Be flexible – sometimes, days and times must be changed, as long as this is done in plenty of time and not on a regular basis this will cause less emotional distress to the children.
- Respect your ex-partner, in turn they need to be respectful of you, your time and your way of doing things.
- Never argue or berate your ex at changeover times in front of the children. For your child to see the two people they love the most fighting is the most stressful situation for them.
Learning the rules in different houses helps children to develop skills around managing different situations and learning how there can be different way to approach things. However, as separated parents it is important that you communicate with each other on key rules and boundaries so that the children don’t become too confused.
Rules can be about bedtimes, homework, screen time, behaviour or any routine. The difficulty can come if parents have wildly different rules to the other home. For example, if in one home the children are not expected to do any chores, it can make life harder in the home where they are asked to help around the house.
Arrange a time to communicate with your ex about the way you do things in your home so that you are aware of each other’s routines. This is also a perfect time to discuss any behavioural issues that may have arisen since the separation. It is not uncommon for children to react in a negative way as they struggle to deal with their emotions.
If you are the parent who has moved out of the family home and must now make a new home, let’s face it the change will also be difficult for you. The child’s bedroom is an important consideration as it is their new space. Here are some things to consider when making the transition:
- Let the children have some say on the decoration and furnishing of their new space or bedroom (within reason!). It could be as simple has letting them choose a duvet set or painting a chest of drawers in their choice of colour.
- Allow them to bring some of their favourite books or toys so that there are some familiar and loved items in both homes. You do not want to be packing an entire suitcase every few days as the children move between the two homes. Communication with your ex on dividing these items is key here to make things fair.
- Don’t let the creation of your child’s new bedroom become a competition with your ex-partner. Resist the urge to go completely over the top by creating a palatial space. Try to remember they really just want comfort, familiarity and quality time with you.
For the parent staying in the family home, the main advice is to try to be enthusiastic about the children excitedly telling you about their ‘new, amazing bedroom’ at Dad’s. Don’t be tempted into one-upmanship to try to keep the children loving the home they have with you more than their new home.
This can be a tricky one to handle, as for some children leaving the beloved moggy behind each week when they go off to Dad’s can be tough. Each situation is different and of course pets are more important in some families, but there are ways to help your child with this difficulty.
- I have heard of cats, gerbils and hamsters travelling with the children between the two houses. If this is something you think is absolutely necessary and it works for both parents in a practical sense, then there is no reason not to do it.
- Most people opt for getting a new pet at the new home so that a new relationship can be formed. However, this should only be done if it can be managed properly, for example, don’t rush out and buy a new puppy to please your children only to find you can’t cope with all the walking and care for the dog alongside your job. You could start with a low maintenance hamster and see how you get on.
With all separations, there are going to be issues arise that you couldn’t predict, but the important thing is to keep the lines of communication open with your ex-partner. Put the acrimony and bitterness aside and focus on what is best for the children to maintain a strong and healthy relationship with both parents. Here are some further blog posts which you may find useful to read:
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