Living, Packing, and Constant Moving: How To Support Two-Family Children
A Child’s Struggle to Manage Transitioning Between Two Homes Because of Divorce
Today, many children live out of a suitcase – packing and then unpacking their lives every week. When parents divorce, a child’s world is significantly different. For many children, they describe the challenges of transitioning between two homes.
Two different bedrooms, two sets of parents, two different sets of siblings, two different sets to structural rules, and two different set of life styles.
Many children share with me their experiences of having elevated stress, as they go between both homes. They never feel like either house is actually a home, because they are always moving. The experience of feeling ‘part of a family’ is lost for many kids as they are never settled enough to connect and gain this experience.
Children seek to have predictable structure and stability.
When stability is not a constant in the lives of children, they become overwhelmed, stressed, and highly anxious. When these features become heightened for a prolonged period, sadness, withdrawal and depression can set in. Where step-parents become less sensitive, this only amplifies the sense of a loss of belonging for the child.
As stability is compromised for a child that transitions between two home, their passions and belongings become even more important. Their ‘belongings’ become the only source of their stability and security as everything else in their world is in constant weekly change. When the child’s possessions become controlled by one party or the other, or limited to what possessions can travel between homes, this only creates a greater sense of loss of control for the child and exasperates their anxiousness and stress levels.
What can you do to support children traveling between two homes because of divorce:
Create a grounded sense of ‘family’ for the child by being aware of where they may be struggling, and LISTEN to their needs to support them through their weekly transitions between two homes
Have a welcoming routine when they arrive at your home after being transitioned (hug or warm intentional welcome).
Be very aware of the need for your children to have their own space in your home. Let the child create and organize their space for themselves supporting their belonging and choice in your home.
Ensure that their possessions and belongings are respected by all family members. Let the child travel with their possessions. Ensure that other siblings or step siblings are respectful of their belongings. Provide your child with proper personal storage for their possessions in your home. I can’t emphasize how important this is!
Encourage your children to do chores in your home to support their role as a member of the family.
When you have your children with you at your home, schedule individual time with them where special meaningful connection can be made.
Allow your child to be part of planning family activities, vacation and events. Including them in this process supports their sense of belonging.
Your child may become sensitive or confused when at extended families homes if they notice the extended family being closer to their biological grandchildren, nieces, nephews or cousins. If your child feels left out in these environments, explain what is really happening and reassure your child that they are very important to you and to others.
To avoid triangulating your child between you and your previous partner, NEVER compete with the other home and how they support the child.
Avoid ‘parent’ bashing in you home. It is important that both homes openly support to the child the parent at the other home. Children are protective of their parents and love them both. Preserving this for the child is essential to them feeling safe, supported and secure.
Organize a dual calendar for the child of both homes activities and keep a calendar on the fridge where your child is aware of all events occurring in your home and that they can plan and pack for these activities.
Often the two homes have different sets of ‘rules’. It is helpful to be clear of the ‘rules’ in your home so the child knows what is expected of them. Writing the rules out in a marker board or in a visual place is helpful and review these when required with your child
Support and celebrate your child’s strength, successes, and achievements.