While some parents do adopt a nesting arrangement so their children stay in a single home, the children of most divorced parents end up rotating between their parents. So the big question becomes how to make living in two homes work for your children.
My current guest, David has been separated now for over seven years so he’s had quite a bit of practice at making two homes work for his three children. Here’s what David sees as making the difference:
Once you have children then it’s not about you anymore and I think I’ve continued to feel this way in as much as I haven’t been that driven to look for a new relationship. It’s like I owe it to my children and maybe I owe it to myself to be as present for them as I can. Undoubtedly, that is one of the reasons that my kids enjoy being at my house and with me. I really do pay attention to them, not to the exclusion of my own identity and my own my life, but we really do a lot of the stuff that they like to do.
The prototypical dad gets the kids Wednesday nights for dinner and then they stay over every other Saturday night. I definitely know of situations like that and that’s incredibly hard on everybody. It’s especially hard on the dad who wants to be a participatory father, because it’s really hard to know someone if you don’t spend time with them day in and day out.
One of the things that we’ve done right since our divorce is we’ve really, both of us, focused on the children. I think the reason that they like being at both houses is, number one, our houses are fairly different. I live in a typical suburban neighborhood and we have bicycles, kids all around, and are in a cul-de-sac. And I have a basketball hoop at the end of the driveway and all this sort of stuff while their mom lives on a farm with horses. They’re really very different situations and each brings its advantages and disadvantages.
One of the main reasons that the children enjoy being at my house is because I pay attention to them. I think that it could be the case that I would show up and I would say, “Well, my life is more important, so you have to go and entertain yourselves while I go and meet with a client,” or “I have a date tonight. I’ll be home at 11:00 p.m., so you guys make yourselves dinner.” Whatever. Things like that. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do that. My kids know that I do actually work and I do need to have time to be able to do things with my friends, things for my own life. I do certainly take off occasionally, though I’m very, very discreet about my dating life with my children. I think that their enjoyment in being at my home is because I really enjoy them being there.
I don’t see them as broken children that I need to fix. I don’t see it as, “Oh, now I have to course correct after they were stuck with their mom.” I think she does a really good job parenting too. We don’t do it the same. We don’t have the same philosophy, but I don’t think she’s bad at parenting, so I don’t feel like I have to fix anything. I think that helps a lot, because when the kids show up, they know that we’re ready for more stuff, more adventures, more good times.
Having said all of that, I’m clear with them that I am not their friend. I do not want to be their friend and I’m definitely quite comfortable being in a disciplinary position where if there are certain behaviors that I find unacceptable I am quick to call them on it and mete out consequences, as appropriate.
I think that as a culture, we’re so busy broadcasting and talking and sharing ourselves and being maybe self-absorbed or selfish that we’re not very good at listening, even to other adults. I think that a lot of people — maybe subconsciously — see children as second classes and kids end up becoming used to things like starting to talk about something just to have an adult step all over them and just say, “Well, here’s how this really works,” or “You’re wrong” as opposed to saying, “Why do you think that?”
One of the things I’ve really, really tried to learn is to just really listen and really honor what they’re saying and if they’re saying something wrong, maybe have a discussion to clarify how I see it differently as opposed to just telling them, “No, that’s not right.”
The sitting down and having meals together is difficult because there are some challenges with food with some of my children. Dinner just never seems to quite work out, but we will do our best to at least eat at the same time, even if we’re eating different things and that’s hard.
I don’t care if we eat the same food but I’d really like us to all have the meal at the same time and that just seems really hard to do. The only time I can pull that off is when we’re not home. If we’re out, we all go out for a meal, then at least we’re all sitting at the table together. Unfortunately, we eat out way more than I wish we did, but I think that because I’m lazy about cooking and my kids all can cook but don’t, we end up having restaurants as the best option.
Watching TV together becomes difficult too, because then we always end up having to pick something that’s appropriate for a 10-year-old, which means my teenagers are bored out of their minds. The older two and I watch some TV series together, which I enjoy, and the younger one and I will watch some TV together, which I also enjoy. But having the four of us sit down and watch a show together or a movie, that’s a pretty rare occurrence.
The Divorce Coach Says:
- How much attention are you paying to your kids?
- How much do you really know about what is going on in their lives?
- Do you know the names of their friends?
- Are you willing to do the activities they like?
Relationships don’t happen overnight and your kids are no different. They aren’t going to open up about their fears about your divorce or the social difficulties they’re facing at school if you haven’t already established the trust and open lines of communication. They aren’t going to want to spend time with you if they don’t enjoy their time with you. For these things to happen you need to be engaged and available to them.
It seems to me that it’s less about what you actually do then just committing to spending time together in each other’s company. And I think that’s why mealtimes can be so important. Yes, kids need good nutritious food and yes, for many years I felt like a short order cook because my kids also had food issues but still, mealtimes are a prime opportunity for a conversation and dialogue and that means connection.
All of the examples that David gives are what goes into making your house a home and my kids seeing my house as a home was always a prime concern. I never wanted them to feel they were living in a two hotels governed by a reservation system otherwise known as a parenting plan.
What do yo think makes your house home for your kids?
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