You’ve finally worked out all of the details of your separation. The agreement is being finalized and now it’s time for at least one parent to move. Whether one parent is keeping the matrimonial home or if both are moving, this transition can be delicate and difficult for children. As adults, we can easily get caught up in the business of the move and forget how this might be affecting our children. Keep these strategies in mind in helping children understand and adjust to “the move”.
- Communicate ahead of time: It’s important for children to understand the timing of the move. In fact, if you can prepare them ahead of time, then they’ll have time to ask any questions that might be bothering them. Imagine the shock of telling children on a Friday that mom or dad is moving tomorrow. Even if they knew the divorce was happening, it takes time to prepare for the reality that mom and dad are going to be living in different houses.
- Information is key: There’s a saying that “if you don’t say anything, they’ll make it up”. Try not to leave children in the dark even though it’s complicated. So while taking them house shopping may not be a good idea (it could set up a false sense of hope before the disappointment of losing a desired property), showing them the new house ahead of time (once you know the deal is sealed), can be very helpful. Children like to visualize what mom or dad’s new house will be like and more importantly, will find security in knowing about their new room.
- Plan ahead: Asking children to think about what things they might want to take to their new room can really provide a sense of security for them and a sense of ownership. If both parents want an item/piece of furniture to be at their house, consider buying a second one. In my mediation practice, one family decided to buy a second set of identical bunk beds so their twin boys would feel at home at dad’s new house.
- Give them permission to be excited: One mom decided she wanted to be sure that the children knew it was ok to be excited about dad’s new house. They discussed it ahead of time, and she helped the kids pack some of their favourite toys. Then they all went to dad’s new house to help them set up their rooms. Another family purchased a second video game system for dad’s house as a joint house-warming gift so their teenage boys would not be upset about going to dad’s place.
- Reassure them often: When the move happens – help your children through the transition by giving them the confidence that you believe they will be ok. This is not to say that the first few nights at the new house are always easy, but with the right frame of mind and positive outcome, it doesn’t have to have a long-term emotional impact on your kids.
Younger children may refer to the marital house as ‘home’ and that may be hard on the other parent. Remember it takes time to adjust to any new situation. One family decided to call dad to come to mom’s new house on the first night to tuck the children in because they were missing ‘home’. Mom talked about how putting their needs ahead of her ego really allowed her to put her children first (“I feel like they need dad right now because this is so new rather than I want them to like my new house and they need to get used to it”). And sure enough, before long, they did in fact adjust to the new situation.
Allowing children to connect with the other parent can provide children with the security they need, especially in the early days of a move. Helping them feel safe to ask to talk to mom or dad is so important. You don’t want to make them feel guilty about wanting to talk to the other parent. Remember they love and need you both. One strategy that my clients find very helpful when the children want to talk to the other parent, is to text message the other parent to make sure it’s a good time to talk. Then the children aren’t disappointed if the other parent isn’t home or doesn’t answer.
How can you help your children make this difficult but important adjustment to new living situations? The most important thing is to purposely think about and plan for it. As part of your divorce/separation planning, talk about it as a couple. A good divorce mediator can help you discuss and develop your strategies as a united team. And it’s not likely to be the last thing you’ll both need to plan together as parents. However, by managing it carefully, children will soon be referring to both residences as TWO HOMES.
Colette is owner/mediator of Fairway Divorce Solutions Waterloo-Wellington serving Southwestern Ontario. Her divorce mediation practice has helped over 200 couples achieve a more peaceful, future and child-focused resolution to the end of their marriage. To learn more about Colette click https://www.thedivorceangels.com/vendor/colette-fortin/