In a new series of blogs we’re looking at the practical side of making arrangements for children. This week we’re asking whether children can cope with two homes. It is something that comes up a lot in mediation – is it better to have one home and see the other parent, or should children have two homes and two bedrooms?

Firstly, it is important to bear in mind that there is very little law on what arrangements parents should make for their children when they separate. The main and governing law comes from the Children Act from 1989 and it says that children have a right to have a relationship with parents. The detail of what that looks like will vary for each set of separating parents and it’s really important that you make the arrangements that will work for you and your children. The nature of the arrangements you made will be tailored to the needs of your children, possibly their ages, practical arrangements like working patterns, as well as the wishes and feelings of your children.

It’s also important to bear in mind that most children adjust to things when they get messages from the important adults around them that it is safe and OK. So if children are to have a home with mum and a home with dad and they feel that mum and dad are both happy and OK with this then they are more likely to be OK with it too. Where either parent has anxiety or worries around this it can be helpful to deal with those worries so they do not become your children’s worries. Sometimes there can be worries about the practicalities of the arrangements. What if mum forgets to pick them up from swimming? What it dad doesn’t know they need to offload when they come home from school? How will we manage making sure school books, clothes uniform, sports kits etc are in the right home at the right time?

There can also be deeper worries about whether each parent will be able to adjust to the new arrangements. Where you have been the parent that dealt with most of the day to day childcare can you let go to allow the other parent to take the reins on this? It can be hard to separate your worries from your children’s worries and especially so when your children may be worried because you’re worried. There are times when children are reluctant to see the other parent because they instinctively know that the parent they are leaving behind will be sad when they’re on their own. Are the worries you see in your children related to them or to you or the other parent?

It can be a huge adjustment to go from all living in the same house to living across two homes. There are many, many urban myths and stories about whether two homes works for children or whether they need one base. In much the same way as there are for births and divorces there are always horror stories and stories of those who made it work. If those stories give you a useful framework or a starting point, or help you to fill the vision of what you would like things to be like for you then use them. But if they fill you with horror or dread or anxiety then maybe put them back where you found them. The fact of the matter is that you don’t know what will work for you until you try it. A lot of arrangements for children are trial and error and tweaking over time what is working and what isn’t working.

Being able to have conversations around this can be really useful. Talking to your children about how they feel can also inform the process. Lots of children of separated parents say that they weren’t listening to or kept informed about arrangements so it’s useful to talk to your children about what’s important to them and what they feel is working and what isn’t. This should always be with the view to understanding and not laying blame for anything that’s not working at the other parent’s door. Listen without any attachment to the outcome or judgement on what they’re saying. Simply listen to understand their perspective.

If you struggle to have conversations with the other parent about this then consider using a professional to assist your conversations and to keep them constructive, structured and focused on your children’s needs.
Other blogs you may find useful?

Are you really listening?

A simple way to think about co-parenting

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