Living in two homes after divorce can be hard on kids, but these shared parenting suggestions can help make it easier. What's even better, these tips come from someone who experienced this situation as a child and is willing to share her insight.
by Vanessa Van Petten
My parents divorced when I was 3. I was the only child of that marriage and both of my parents remarried within two years. Of course, it was a rough time, but I had lots of support. We saw family counselors and private therapists and I always felt emotionally supported as we developed the weekly switching and splitting up the holidays and birthdays.
Yet, looking back, I realized that the hardest part for me was the everyday aspect of living in two families and switching houses. It inspired me, as a now 22 year-old, to start working with recently divorced families on setting up their houses and schedules to streamline and avoid the common pitfalls. Kids who are experiencing divorce, love talking to a younger non-therapist figure who has been through what they are going through.
Here, I was hoping to give you some of these tips I share with my clients to make your life a little bit easier.
I know that this seems expensive, but really it makes everything so much easier when you get doubles of everything. Here are the essentials that people do not usually think about. I always had a big bag that I took with me and it was stressful to have to 'pack' every week.
You need to make a central place where everything is set up, which I call a launching pad. In the launching pad you will have one small bag or tote where your child can always pack the weekly things they need. Then on the wall or in the bag I laminate a full list of everything they always need to bring over with a little marker pen for them to mark it off as they pack, so they never forget anything when switching houses for the weekend or every week (this takes a lot of anxiety out of the process to know you will have everything on a list).
Also have a blank laminated piece of paper (this can also be a white board) where they can write things they need to remember that are special for that week (such as an outfit for the dance, equipment for a traveling sports game etc.). I often would remember things in the middle of the week and by Sunday night (when I switched) I could not remember what I needed.
Many families choose to not 'send out a memo' to everyone in their lives about their divorce, either for privacy reasons or to not make it harder on their kids. But I found it really difficult to have to constantly explain the new situation to people and deal with their reactions. This is a big burden, so do try to tell people that your kids will encounter so they do not have to.
Also, I wish my parents had told all of my new teachers/ coaches/ tutors every new school year that I switched houses. For school plays, or in-class birthday parties I had to explain "oh, I need four tickets for my parents because they are divorced" Or, "its my moms turn to bring in cupcakes so can we have my food day be on a week I am at her house…" This always caused a lot of anxiety and can be handled by parents going in and having a meeting with the school or teachers at the beginning of the year and explaining the situation.
The few times I encountered other young people who had gone through divorce it was like a breath of fresh air. It was always nice to talk to people who were slightly older than me who had gone through what I was going through. They told me that it would be ok, or what they found it frustrating, and it was just nice to hear! So, if you can find other teens or young adults who have been through divorce, try to set-up a hang-out time or dinner with them and your kids; they might be able to open up in ways they would never to you or a therapist.
No matter what, tell them that you love them, it is not their fault and you are trying to make a difficult situation as easy as possible.
Article by Vanessa Van Petten, the author of the parenting book "You're Grounded!" She created a parenting website that offers advice from a teen's viewpoint to help parents get a better grasp of what is actually going on in kid's lives and minds and interacting with them little easier.
For more shared parenting suggestions, the following articles offer good advice: