Do your children split their time two houses or two homes? When it comes to helping kids successfully adjust to life after divorce, it’s the little things that often count the most, including how “at home” children feel when spending time with each of their parents. No matter what kind of parenting time plan you have in place, what does your living situation look like through the eyes of your kids? Here are some tips for rolling out the welcome mat.
– Make Space: If you are the parent establishing life in a new house or apartment, no matter what kind of child custody arrangement you have (two weekends a month, school nights, summer vacation, etc.), it’s important for children to have their own space and their own things in the new home. Some parents may be able to rent or buy a place that provides enough space for the child to have their own bedroom for visits, but even a small space that they can make their own — part of a bookcase that is their books and toys, a chest of drawers with clothes that stay at that house — can make it easier for kids to feel some kind of territorial ownership.
– Provide Permanence: It can be reassuring for children to know that their spaces in your home exist even when they are not there; they are not just weekend visitors. To this end, avoid keeping their things in a cardboard box or suitcase that only gets pulled out when they are there. If they camp out in a corner of your home office on weekends, leave their corner as is during the week instead of starting from scratch each time they come over. Encourage children to put up posters or pick out furnishings or bedding for their space. The message you are sending here is a symbolic one: a permanent place in your home also means a permanent places in each others’ lives.
– Double Up: As much you are able to, avoid having a child pack up a suitcase for routine visitation weekends. Both parents should make sure that all the basics can be met in both homes, including clothing, bedding, and things like toothbrushes and hairbrushes. Very young children may want to bring along a favorite stuffed animal, but try to keep belongings limited to their regular school backpack.
– Spill Over: It’s great if you can provide a separate room for your child. But don’t limit their presence to just that one spot. Post school artwork on the fridge (or have your kids make artwork during their visit to post), have lots of photos around, keep their basketball and tennis rackets in the hall closet mixed in with your own things. Take an honest look around your surroundings: does it look like a kid live with you? If the answer is yes, you’re probably doing just fine at making your house a home.