Coparents come up with a wide range of parenting plans for where kids spend their time. Regardless of the custody agreement, the plan may favor one home with more time, be a weekend home, or be a situation where the kids move fluidly between the two residences. It can be hard to avoid one being favored – common reasons are one parent remains in the family home, proximity to friends, amenities, or one parent is less stringent. These may change from time to time.
The transition to two living spaces can be a big issue for the children, and that upheaval can make them feel insecure about family and their place in it. However, parents can take steps to ease the transition and make both homes safe and welcoming.
How to make each space inviting
Each family is different, and the needs of the children will vary individually. Some tips for making it work include:
Stay local: This can include both parents remaining in the community where they lived during the marriage. Living close together also makes transitions more fluid. It also enables parents to minimize the logistics of picking up and dropping them off from the residences, schools, friends’ homes, and extended family.
Normalize it: Parents can subtly point out that their friend’s mom and dad no longer live in the same house, and it’s okay.
Talk about it: It can involve discussing the concerns of living in two places, or parents can look to storybooks where the child’s parents live separately – some favorites are “Two Homes” by Claire Masurel and “Emily’s Blue Period” by Cathleen Daly. Discussing issues with older and adult children is also effective.
Create space for them: The economics of another home with individual bedrooms may be unrealistic (at least at first), but creating a personal space for their things is essential. It can include having places for clothes, toys, blankets, and other belongings. Some parents will put a framed photo of the family or the child with the other parent to acknowledge the children’s relationship with the other parent.
Involve them: Have the kids help decorate the new home, picking furniture or the color for painting the walls. They can also help pick out the house – maybe wait until it’s down a few realistic options rather than getting their hopes up. This level of involvement helps them feel like they have some control over the situation.
Minimize the baggage: There may be no avoiding a favorite toy traveling back and forth, but visiting should not feel like they are moving in as they would for a vacation home.
Consistency: Perhaps there are chores or activities that the child does in both spaces. Having favorite foods in the cupboard or refrigerator can also help.
My house, my rules: Many parents strive to keep consistent bedtimes, behavior expectations, and rules, but bending or ignoring specific rules can make that home unique as long as it does not cause safety issues. It’s natural for kids’ teachers, coaches and other essential people to have different rules, so they can adjust.
Flexibility is critical: Children change over time. It’s because they mature, they become more comfortable with the divorce and the living spaces, and other issues arise that need to be addressed. Remaining flexible throughout minimizes tension all around.