We always hope that children will experience that they have two “homes” in their two-home family. Rather than thinking that they’re visiting at their mom’s house or visiting at their dad’s house, we hope they actually feel like they’re at home with Mom and/or at home with Dad.
But what makes a home actually feel like home?
Early in the divorce/separation process when one or both parents are living away from the family home, children are put in the position of establishing a new sense of home in an unfamiliar environment.
“Home is where the heart is” and that’s certainly, in part, true. But for most of us, home is also a place where we have positive experiences/memories, where we develop rituals that have meaning, and is a place that allows us to rest into rhythms of contentment. In order for this to happen for kids:
- They need enough time to have those experiences and to build those memories over time.
- They need to play Legos on their bedroom floor and be tucked into a bed with different sheets enough times that the imaginary play on the floor, and the bed and sheets, grow familiar and comforting.
- And they need to have enough days in a row in the new place where their day-to-day rhythms begin to match the schedule and activities as they unfold in the new place. No longer spending energy on simply adjusting, they’re returning to the art of playing, learning and growing!
Sometimes parents misinterpret a child’s reluctance to go to the parent’s unfamiliar home as indication that the child would be “better off” staying in the familiar home environment. “This is what the kids are use to. This is where they should be.”
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Helping our children grow and adapt is a parenting responsibility. We would be remiss if we never assisted our little one to adjust to kindergarten and then to first grade. Similarly, as co-parents, we’re called to help children build positive memories/experiences, develop rituals that have meaning (often a sense of security and mastery: “this is where my books go; I can do it myself”), and find their rhythms in each of their homes. With gentle persistence, understanding and assistance, in time, most children ease into a genuine comfort zone in both homes.
Without that focus, we could disadvantage our children and compromise the rich opportunity to have a strong and engaged relationship with each of their parents and comfort in both of their homes and allows them to return to their carefree childhood.
How can you help kids build a sense of home?
- Maintain familiar rituals at bath, bed, and meal time – and, build new ones over time
- Allow pictures of family and friends to decorate their areas
- Involve them in choosing linens and basic toys/books/etc. in age appropriate ways
- Ensure that children have adequate time to “rest in” – to explore, play, rest, and experience the best of relationship in their new environment…building on the notion that “home is where the heart is.”