How does a parent contemplating divorce or separation keep a child feeling loved, supported, and safe? This is a question often posed by clients and it was covered recently in an article published by The Washington Post, “Separating parents want what's best for their 2-year-old. What is that?” Here are a few tips to help separating parents:
Understand the child's perspective.
For instance, a young child does not understand time and cannot comprehend a parenting time schedule. To help a child feel safe at either house, a good solution is to have things that remind the child of a parent at both parent's homes such placing a photo of the other parent in the child's room, developing the tradition to wish (mommy or daddy) a good night too, re-telling family stories such as the child's birth story that includes both parents, or asking the other parent to provide a recorded bed-time story for the child.
Allocate 5-10 minutes for drop-offs and pick-ups of the child.
Plan with the other parent to discuss simple topics such as the weather, upcoming child events, or just make small talk. If both parents are discussing simple topics in a calm manner, the child will likely remain calm during the transition as well. Please save your irritation or anger at the other party for the ear of a dear friend or counselor. Drop-offs are not a time to express dissatisfaction with the other parent.
Do not take a child's rejection personally.
Even if both parents do their best to make transitions calm, the child may cling to the parent they are leaving. This is natural and common. As the article states, a young child “just wants and needs to be with her main attachments.” She may cling to you one day, and then cling to the other parent the next day. Try not to take it personally. It is common for parents to report their child does not want to visit the other parent's house when in fact it might just be the child expressing its natural attachment.
Parenting is hard. There are often no right or wrong answers but there are tips and tools that can be used to help a child feel loved, supported and safe in both parent's homes. If you are contemplating separation or divorce and are worried about your children, please contact me to discuss developing your parenting plan.