Divorce Means One of Us is Moving Out
Five ways to help your children with this critical transition
You’ve finally worked out all the details of your separation or divorce. The agreement is being finalized and now it’s time for at least one parent to move out.
Whether one parent is keeping the matrimonial home or if both are moving, this transition will be difficult for the whole family.
As adults, it’s easy to get caught up in the business of moving and forget how this might be affecting your children. Keep these strategies in mind to help children understand and adjust to “the move”.
1. 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.
2. 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.
While taking them house shopping may not be a good idea, showing them the new house ahead of time can be very helpful.
Children like to visualize what the new house will be like. And more importantly, will find security in knowing about their new room.
3. Plan ahead
Ask your kids to think about what things they might want to take to their new room. This can help 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 meditation practice, one family decided to buy a second set of identical bunk beds. This made their twin boys feel at home at their dad’s new house.
4. Give them permission to get excited
One mom decided she wanted to be sure that the children knew it was okay to get 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. This eased the transition so their teenage boys would be happier about going to dad’s place.
5. Reassure them often
When the move happens – help your children through the transition. Give them the confidence that you believe things will be okay.
This is not to say that the first few nights at the new house are always easy.
Yet, 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.
Change is hard but you can help
How can you help your children through this difficult but important transition to their new living situation?
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. But, by managing it carefully, children will soon be referring to both residences as home.