Cooperative parenting after a separation is becoming a far more common option for families. If possible, children prefer to be able to see both parents equally, rather than not have them on the scene at all. However, trying to parent children across two households when there are school assignments, favourite teddies, toothbrushes and social engagements to consider, can sometimes feel far more complicated than basing everything at one home, and camping out at the other.
The benefits of doing so however are not limited to the children. Parents who create a home environment at both living places say it makes them feel more confident as a parent. This is particularly true for fathers who may not have had as hands-on a role with day-to-day parenting before the separation. Suddenly they have the opportunity to choose how to prepare a home for their children, and then how to parent within it.
To do this well, it’s a good idea to keep the communication very open as the parents. While it’s tempting to start completely fresh, with new things, this is not only a large expense but may not actually be the best for your child. A mix of new items and familiar items in both homes is a better solution.
Keeping up with personal belongings
You’ve had them all day and it’s all gone well, until the three year old wants her cuddly and you realise it’s at the other house. Disaster! It’s easy to get cross at the other parent or at the child for forgetting the item, but that doesn’t solve the issue. Instead, this is a great time to find special items that are used only at your house, and don’t need to be taken from house to house.
There will need to be some double-ups of belongings. It is important your children feel as though they have their own space at both homes, even if it just means they have their own sleeping bag and mattress at one home, that isn’t used by anyone else without their prior permission. The key for children is not lavish belongings, but a sense that they are their very own.
What should be doubled-up?
While some more affluent families keep a complete second set of everything, this is neither possible nor necessary for many families. At the beginning, some of the favourite items will be ferried from one home to the other. However it is good to have two sets of the following –
- Their own pillow and bedding
- Toothbrushes and toiletries
- Several sets of casual clothes
- A pair of shoes
- One good outfit (for parties)
- Stationery for homework
- Cellphone chargers, laptop plugs (for teens)
- If you have young children it’s a good idea to have a double-up of car seats and pushchairs
If children are doing a lot of clothes swapping between the two houses, make sure their clothes are washed and cleaned on return. It might sound basic, but many parents become frustrated when the children return every week with a bag full of dirty clothes.
If you are sharing the parenting load right down the line but one partner always previously was the one in charge of buying the clothes and personal items, it can be a good idea to talk to them about what they think you need to have for your children in each home.
Setting up the system
Some things will need to be moved from one house to the other on a regular basis, especially during the early days. Create a list with children of what needs to be moved every week and train them up with being responsible for it all. Even a three year old can check things off a checklist if it’s created with pictures rather than words – if they are taught how to do it.
Buy a bag that is used just for going between houses. If money is tight, the eco shopping bags are a great solution – every child can have a different colour, and they are nice and open to drop last minute
items into. Pop a whiteboard in an accessible area for any notices that need to be passed on over the week. These can either be written once a week in a notebook that goes between each home, or emailed/told direct to the parent. This is where children need to place any party invites or sporting events the other parent is going to need to know about. It’s good to get the child to take as much responsibility as they can to keep the communication clear. This gives them control over their own environment and reduces irritation between the separated adults.
The checklist might include –
- School books
- Togs and sports clothes
- School notices
- Cellphone and laptop
School, friends and social times
Keeping abreast of what is going on at school can be difficult enough when the children are living in one household. When it becomes two, it’s doubly difficult. Keep your children’s schools in the picture regarding notices and reporting. Ask to receive notices by email or make a point of checking the school website on a regular basis.
Create boundaries right from the start
It’s far easier to start right than to try and fix what you let slide several months down the track. When a new home is set up, take your children through the whole house showing them where things are, and encouraging them to ask any questions. Set up ground rules together about respect for each other’s property (as they may be anxious about leaving personal items behind otherwise). If they are facing a new blended family situation, this is particularly important.
With one adult in the house there is more pressure to make sure things are organised, especially in the before school rush. Talk to your ex-partner and your children about morning routines and set up a similar structure in your own home. The more similar you can get the parenting style between homes, the less unsettling it is for your children.