If you’re getting divorced and have minor children, then chances are you will have to come up with a parenting plan as part of the legal process. You and your STBX will have to agree how your child will divide their time between you. That means your child will have two homes.
My current guest, Fiona McGlynn is a child of divorce and was about eleven when her parents separated. She’s now twenty-six and looking back, doesn’t see having two homes as a negative. It sounds like her parents had a great approach. Here’s Fiona:
We had a wonderful situation where my dad lived maybe a 15 minute drive from my mom’s place.
That was a conscious decision on their part. They really wanted to give us the freedom to be wherever it was that we wanted to be. That was always the understanding. We stayed at my mom’s place most of the time because that had been where we’d grown up and it felt most practical. But we were over at my dad’s. We’d stop off after dance practice or go for a brunch on Sunday. It was very fluid. There was no set time or schedule.
Sometimes my sister would be there. Sometimes she wouldn’t be there with me.
I think it’s wonderful to have siblings so that they can support each other so that there’s some consistency across houses like, “Wow, my little sister’s always with me,” or “My brother’s always with me.” I think that can be very comforting.
My sister and I, at the time also, were going through our stuff. I remember stealing clothes from each other. This was a big upset for us. We were always using each other’s clothes and jewelry. We were doing what siblings do and working through stuff in our relationship. So, I remember through all of that a lot of bickering, there was a very close bond during the time of my parent’s separation.
I think she had, in some ways, maybe the opposite experience. My little sister was, at times, a naughty little sister. She liked to act up and cause all sorts of mischief and I think that may have been her way of expressing her feelings about the situation.
My sister and I, I think provided quite a bit of comfort for each other. I remember very clearly, there had been some conversation that we came away feeling upset about. I remember my sister and I jumping into the same bed and saying, “No matter what happens with mom and dad, we’re always going to be here for each other.” I think that brought my sister and I very close together in a lot of ways.
There was a time actually as a teenager when I think I lived at my dad’s for quite a few months after getting in some childish disagreement with my mom and deciding I was going to take off for a little bit.
I think I was just upset with her at the time and that was the perfect opportunity—me moving over to my dad’s house for awhile.
But I think one of the great things is that my parents were very secure in who they were as parents and as people and they could acknowledge that this was just me going through some teenage upset and it wasn’t the divorce.
The one thing I’d like to point out is that there’s a tendency, I see, for parents to make issues of parenting challenges that come up, all relating back to the divorce. Whether it’s, “Oh my child’s acting up. It must be the divorce,” or “It must be the split home.” I think kids go through stuff, whether their family’s divorced or not. It was great that my parents were just able to just see that that was just me being a brat and not really anything to do with their divorce.
My relationship with my mom, we sorted out that issue very promptly, I seem to remember. It’s almost like I was allowed to go have my little tantrum and then that was that. I ended up staying with my dad for awhile after that and I was just really enjoying myself and the time with him and then I moved back to my mom’s.
The Divorce Coach Says
I think the whole idea of sending your child off to their other parent’s home is intimidating and fraught with worries about losing your child. What if they like it over there better? At a time when you may be feeling very insecure, sending your child off can add to your fears.
That’s one reason why having a detailed parenting plan and sticking to it can make it easier on parents in the early months following separating. It builds a sense of security that your child can’t just up and go.
I also recall my teenage daughter telling me (yelling at me??) during one debate that she was going to live with her father. That was hard to hear. Of course, I didn’t want that but at the same time I didn’t want her to think she could manipulate me with threats like that.
Instead of caving or telling her she couldn’t do that because of the parenting plan, somehow I had the inspiration to separate the going to her dad’s from the issue at hand. I said something like, “Well, I don’t want you to do that. That would make me very sad because I love you but if that’s what you want we can talk to dad about it. It doesn’t change this though.”
And she told me later, when the emotions had subsided, “I don’t really want to go to dad’s.”
So be warned … you have to expect to deal with this one at some point and knowing that may help you deal with your teenager without falling prey to emotional blackmail.
Have you experienced this issue? How did you handle it?
Based on her experience as a child of divorce, Fiona McGlynn has written a beautiful book, i and the Great Divide, aimed at helping children understand that their parents’ divorce is not their fault.