Living between two homes |

Living between two homes

Could you manage your responsibilities if you lived between two homes, moving every week?

Imagine working one job for a week, and then switching to another for a week, then back again. You would be dealing with different rules, tasks, roles and different people and expectations — every other week. As an adult, do you think you could do this and function effectively?

Well, about 50 percent of American children do this all year long as their lives are divided between the homes of divorced parents. Imagine! These children and teens have to schlep a bunch of things back and forth, manage papers, books, clothes, electronics and more. They have to keep track of everything. (I don’t know about you, but I lose things on my own desk.)

They have to manage different sets of rules, often very different rules and expectations. On top of that they have to deal with the demands of school, learn new material and find some way to fit into an out-of-control social world. In many cases, they deal with all that while having to listen to one or both parents complain about the other. Imagine!

They have to manage different sets of rules, often very different rules and expectations.

Taking a new approach to parenting can feel like work at first, but these ideas are tried and true. Eventually, the new approach becomes second nature and the results can be outstanding — happy and productive people.

Schedules: Try to keep them consistent. Don’t fret over variations, just do your best. For example, try to have dinner within the same hour each night. Any changes in schedules should be announced early to allow time to adjust. Keep schedules written down for everyone to see. Even if you have electronic calendars, it’s important to still have one on the fridge or in another common area. If you’re rushing all of the time, consider dropping something.

Belongings: Kids lose things. So do adults. It’s frustrating for everyone. When dragging things back and forth, something is bound to get lost. If you want them to learn how to keep track of their belongings, then teach them how to be organized and use mental/written checklists (remember they are in training until 18). Slowing down and not rushing through life also helps a person keep track of his/her belongings.

Transitions: The transition between homes can be difficult. Often the adults are tense (divorce can leave hard feelings), or someone is unhappy with the custody arrangement or other resentments. Naturally one would want to “rush out of there” when dealing with an ex-spouse, but if at all possible, slow down. Giving yourself time will help you manage uncomfortable feelings. (Being in a “rush” may be a way of avoiding any conversation with the ex.)

It’s easy to get frustrated under these situations and plenty of parents have said (or snapped), “Come on, hurry up, we don’t have time for that now.” Slow down and try a different approach.

When your child comes back to your home, before doing anything else, sit in a common area for a few minutes (make it the same place every time, e.g., kitchen table, living room). It helps everyone refocus and will change the temperament of the whole home.

Ask how it went at dad/mom’s. Don’t judge the ex or your child. Just listen. If the answer is a mere “OK”, then accept it. Twenty questions is intimidating. Don’t do it. (If you’re worried about abuse, seek professional help.) Then remind the child “we’re here now and we have different rules.” Ask her to recite a couple of the rules in your home, have a positive response like “that’s great,” “good memory,” etc., then give a general idea of what’s on the agenda (e.g., homework then dinner at 6 p.m., great movie at 8 p.m. And when is bedtime?), then end the meeting.

Children shift their energy level and deal with different rules from the playground to the classroom. They understand that concept when pointed out. It’s OK to have different rules from place to place, that’s real life. There are different rules between home, school, work, gym, church, the in-laws, etc. We need to be able to adjust between venues.

Sometimes people hold on to their anger for the ex-spouse, but the children shouldn’t have to bear that burden. Even if a parent doesn’t agree with shared custody there is no reason they can’t say “Have a good week at your mom/ dad’s.”

Please go to,, or call (530) 477-7016 for more information.

Kathy J. Ellis, LMFT, lives in Nevada City.

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