Overlooked Issues for Children Growing Up in Two Homes
by Bradley S. Craig, LBSW
When children grow up between two homes their involvement with their peers and in their extra curricular activities can be a challenge to co-parenting.
Parents often struggle over the schedule for children growing up between two homes. Arguments frequently shift between the need for normalcy for children and the right for them to spend time with both parents.
Parents who raise children between two homes have additional concerns because of a perceived time loss with their children – time they would have if their children resided with them full time.
This may be more of a challenge when parents live long distances from one another. Parenting time may be minimized, but this distance often cancels any opportunity for your children’s access to peers in both neighborhoods. It is tempting for parents to try to maximum as much direct contact time with their children as they can.
Unfortunately, this may interfere with your children’s natural evolution – making the shift from needed time with parents to their desire and need for socialization with the outside world. When this conflict arises, children are forced to endure every other weekend parents and every other weekend friends and extracurricular activities. Children may be left out of friends’ birthday parties, or not even invited because friends may get frustrated when they believe your children do not care about them because they routinely don’t show up for planned activities. Though it is not your children’s fault they may find themselves left out of peer relationships.
Parents may believe their children’s activities “interfere with my periods of possession” or that their children’s other parent deliberately plans activities that interfere with parenting time that is already viewed as limited. Often children are enrolled in sports or other activities that may not be honored by their other parent. This makes it difficult for your children to feel they are part of a team. They may not be consistent with practice, so they may experience a sense of letting their team mates down. Their team mates may feel the same way and treat your children accordingly.
Think about your fond childhood memories. How often do those memories include time with your best friend, the time you won the championship or when you performed with your friends – in a band, in a play, etc.? Popular literature and films are dedicated to the relationship between children and their friends. “Huckleberry Finn” and movies such as “Sandlot” and “Stand by Me” center on the incredible significance peer relationships have on children’s development and their future adult relationships. Peer relationships serve as training grounds for children to practice what their parents teach them about being a part of a team. It is a parent’s responsibility to facilitate, accommodate, and guide their children in developing healthy relationships.
Consider the following points when you design or implement a co-parenting plan:
Children ages 6 and up: facilitate your children’s needs for peer relationships and extracurricular activities, even if their peer interactions or activities occur closer to their other household.
Respect peer activities: let them spend the night with friends; take them to birthday parties; and help them shop for presents.
Both households work together as a team: if one parent has difficulty facilitating peer or extracurricular activities, the other parent helps.
Do not ask your children to pick between their parents and their friends: they do not need to feel guilty about wanting to spend time with friends.
Live in a close proximity to your children’s other home: distance doesn’t facilitate continuous peer relationships.
Look at your time with your children as a period of responsibility: it is not a period of possession.
Embrace your shift in parenting roles: view your responsibilities as an opportunity to help your children grow as you transition into the role of chef, taxi driver, and banker.
Become active in their activities: coach the team, coordinate events, or sit on the sidelines cheering them on. Your presence and participation is far more valued than your children tell you.
Prioritize their need for extracurricular activities: your need for parenting time is important, but their need for peer interaction and extracurricular activities is important too, so find some balance.
Get to know their friend’s parents: even though you may live a distance from your children’s friends, the parents of those friends will be more likely to allow overnights and participation in activities if they know who their children are with and where they will be.
Spend special one on one time with each of your children: When one is occupied outside of home, view that as an opportunity to experience a Genuine Encounter Moment (GEM) with your other children. Anytime you have the opportunity to spend one on one time with your children you will get to know them as individuals. You may be pleasantly surprised at how differently they behave.
Children growing up between two homes have the same developmental needs as children in one home. It is far more challenging for parents to provide consistency when co-parenting from two homes, but it is just as important. Children need time with their parents too. You are your children’s first and best teacher. However, children also need time to develop away from their parents. As your children age their desire to spend time with their friends and their involvement in other social activities will increase. Help your children grow and mature by supporting their social needs and finding a balance between time with their parents and time with their friends.
© Bradley S. Craig, LBSW, Parenting Parterships, Inc. All Rights Reserved.