It Takes a Village: Parenting in Separate Homes
Striving to perfect the fantasy of two happy parents providing a loving home for their 2.5 kids, with the white picket fence, pet, and Hallmark lifestyle is hard enough to achieve. So one can imagine what the uphill battle is like for separated/divorced parents. When a child is raised in two homes, splitting time and transitioning back and forth, how can we as mothers ensure that our children maintain the same boundaries, discipline and love in both places? How can we still communicate with the other parent without ripping heads off and scaring our little ones? It’s hard enough to agree and communicate on the same level when parents are in the same home, imagine the hurdles that pop up when they are apart.
It’s tough, and is a learning process, but I believe some version of the fantasy can still be achieved. It is my hope, that by sharing my experience, that I can provide some ideas and suggestions if are struggling or about to go through this with your family.
A Brief Family History
My son (we’ll refer to him as “J”) is 10 years old and has a set of parents in two different houses. At his Dad’s he has his stepmother and his baby sister. In my home he has his stepfather and his baby brother. (Nice little mix-up there!) All he has ever known, since he can remember, is dividing his time between two homes. So for our scenario I can’t speak to much into the transition period, but I can touch on how we communicate, discipline and divide our time.
If your child is about to go through the transition of splitting time between two parent’s houses my #1 suggestion is talk, talk, talk, talk about everything with everyone! Communication is key….
Family Motto: We are a TEAM even though we aren’t together
Our situation is unique in that my son’s father and I have been friends for a lot longer than we have been parents and that has contributed to our success (so far - if there even IS such a thing!) Even though some unfriendly words have gone back and forth a time or two, we never let our son see us divided. He has never seen us argue or speak poorly of the other person.
When we were first figuring out how to manage being parents separately we took a parenting class. It was the best decision ever. I can not stress this enough. TAKE A CLASS. Or go talk to someone who can help you manage some hurdles or give you some tools to handle the changes that are about to come.
One thing that I took away from that class was realizing that nothing good comes from bashing the other parent to a child. It is selfish, destructive and creates self-doubt and low self-esteem in children. They see themselves in their parents. So when Mommy talks about how horrible Daddy is, a little boy may wonder if Mommy hates those same things about himself. I never wanted my child to question my love for him because his Dad and I had a momentary lapse in judgement. It could also lead to the child “playing sides” and trying to “join a team”. We are all on one team. There are no sides to take! Dad agreed and it’s one thing we stick to 100%.
#1 Rule We Follow: Communication Is Key
The team mentality can only be achieved if we are in constant communication. We do not have the luxury of coming home to each other at the end of the day and discussing family issues over dinner. We are not witnessing behaviors, or experiencing frustrations and celebrations together as a family. So we have to make time for that.
When our son messes up at my house, Dad finds out about it and vice versa. If there is a situation at school, Dad and I discuss first, agree on consequences and then if we can, talk to him together. Our son quickly discovered that we were on the same page. He isn’t going to get away with anything at either house.
One thing I try to remember to do is talk about things that his Dad and I have discussed so my son gets a sense of unity. “So Dad tells me yesterday ya’ll rode bikes all the way to the pool? I bet you were exhausted!” Right there I’m hoping he picks up that Dad and I are friends, we talk, we share. I also try to hang out a bit, chat, ask questions to Dad and Stepmom whenever I drop him off or pick him up. I want him to see us getting along. There doesn’t have to be animosity between the two families, because we are a team.
(If you have to, fake it. So you and Dad might know you are blowing smoke but what your child sees is two people he loves getting along.)
Communication helps with scheduling time as well. We try to plan in advance vacations, switching nights, special events, etc… Anything that we can do to keep the peace, keep it friendly and set ourselves up for success we try.
Our Village Is Strong
We have asked our son how he feels about our family situation. If he feels different from kids at school, or embarrassed that his parents aren’t together. With a smile on his face he answered back better than I could have imaged, “Actually I think I have it better than the other kids. I have TWO sets of parents that love me.”
And that makes it all worth it. How lucky is this kid?!
Amazingly enough Dad married an incredible woman who loves my son like her own and my husband is marvelous with him as well. He has stepparents that came into a situation, embraced it and took on a role than many would not. My husband doesn’t try to be his Dad and she doesn’t try to be his Mother. They support us in our decisions, are backup and a helping hand and above all else, VIP team members. It really takes a village to raise kids and our village is strong according to the one person who matters.
Some Advice (My 2 cents)
Every situation is different and unique. Not everyone lucks out like we did, with a partner in parenting, I understand that. We are not perfect. We have had many ups and downs and it has been a PROCESS. We are still learning and going through this crazy parenting thing together, even though we are a part.
Remember that we are learning to be parents right alongside our kids who are learning to be tiny humans. Give yourself some grace. Forgive yourself. Forgive others! Take it one day at a time.
If you are in a situation where you can enter into a team mentality with your child’s other parent - DO IT!
Putting aside your differences (if they are small enough to let go)
Packing your past baggage up
Remembering what is best for your children
Being a role modelBeing the people you want your kids to grow up to become
You got this mama - and you have a village right here at Project Mother behind you 100%!