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Helping children get used to two homes

(83 Posts)
justanillusion Wed 12-Apr-17 05:42:22

My children spend a lot of time with their Dad. We separated last year. I encouraged this initially for many reasons. I'm probably responsible for the set up. I don't think i have got it right with "two homes".

My just turned 3 year alternates between being really clingy and detached. He sleeps with me every night. When talking about going to his Dads he "hates" me and distances himself.

He doesn't refer to either place as home. Mine is "the house".

They don't want to come home from their Dads, they are hard work when they get home, then it fades after a while and both will be sat on top of me for cuddles. Maybe this is all typical. It is a less than ideal situation after all.

My older child was very difficult for a while and wanted more time at Dads so let him. Things improved a lot when i realised that was a mistake and spent more time with him. He was much happier.

When i tried suggesting last year that the then 2 yo was struggling to be away from me and we perhaps needed to reduce overnights my ex had a really strong reaction so i got nowhere. Before separating the youngest and i were together all the time so it was a huge change.

My instinct is that things aren't right for my youngest but i don't know how to fix this.
Would doing family things with ex help the children feel more secure about 2 homes rather than a disconnect in their lives? Or be more confusing.

I wonder if anyone has any advice/thoughts.

MollyHuaCha Wed 12-Apr-17 06:02:16

Feel for you and the children flowersbearbear

summerfling Wed 12-Apr-17 06:08:59

Did you build up to them staying more??

Mumteedum Wed 12-Apr-17 06:29:22

I feel for you. I think when kids are so young they need to have contact with both parents but have a sense that one place is home.

I always felt sad at kids saying mum's house and dad's house cos then they don't refer to either as home. I started when I separated to talk about home with mum and home with dad but actually this was rubbish with the best intentions. My son now has home with me and talks about dad's house. He's happy with this. I think it's easier to understand.

However, we don't have 50/50 (for good reasons). He sees dad eow and goes out for tea every Wednesday but no overnights during the week.

I found this may be useful for you?

justanillusion Wed 12-Apr-17 10:36:15

We went straight from me being a SAHM parent who had been sleeping in his room for months to 4/3 arrangement (3 overnights with Dad).

So that's our starting point now. I suppose I'm trying to work out how to make him feel better now with that having happened.

Mumteedum that is really useful thanks.

BottleBeach Wed 12-Apr-17 13:16:22

My son really loved this book:

We read it quite a lot between the ages of 2-5. He was 18m when his dad and I separated, and he's now 7 and we are 50/50. The concept of having 2 homes doesn't seem to be confusing for him. Maybe it helps that one of his grandparents lives half the year in one country and half in another... Home is where your family is.

I agree that the clingy behaviour and not wanting to come home is typical. I always took the view that if he needs some extra cuddles, that's fine, that's what his dad and I are both here for. We found that handovers were easier for him if the parent he had been with dropped him off, rather than the parent he was going to collecting him.

Go easy on yourself OP. They'll adjust flowers

Ellisandra Wed 12-Apr-17 15:23:24

I can understand that their father didn't want to reduce nights.
Are you splitting 4 nights then 3 in a row? If so, could you experiment with a different mix so that they're never away from either parent for more than 2 nights?

Ellisandra Wed 12-Apr-17 15:25:56

With regards to it being hard work when they get home... do you move from one house to the other?
If so, is there an option to break things up with childcare?

You may find that Dad > Nursery > Mum is an easier transition, because they're not leaving one parent/home for the other.

childmaintenanceserviceinquiry Wed 12-Apr-17 15:32:24

Mine's nearly 12. Has been doing this for half his life. He still finds it really hard. If you research transition it is very illuminating. Such a shame that the family Courts who ought to be knowledgeable about this and the impact on young children seem to be very ignorant.

stuckinny Wed 12-Apr-17 15:38:41

DS has been doing the split house thing for almost 7 years (he's 10 now) and is still awful when he comes back to me. It takes 24 hours for him to reset and get back to the lovely boy I know him to be. It's not easy to always bite my tongue but I'm trying my best as I honestly don't think his mood/attitude is a conscious decision. I do find an early night the first night he's back with me works wonders.

justanillusion Wed 12-Apr-17 15:45:36

I can understand that their father didn't want to reduce nights. No one wants to be apart from their children. Would have been good if he could have made it about our 2 year old child.
2 nights here and there sounds dreadful to me. What adult would want to live like that?

Thanks for the book link Bottlebeach.

justanillusion Wed 12-Apr-17 15:47:19

My 7 year old seems to cope fairly well. Because much more adaptable and can talk about his feelings. My youngest is all over the place.

HT27 Wed 12-Apr-17 16:13:19

Suggested advice for young children is short but frequent changes. 5yo and 2yo successfully managing a 2,2,3 arrangement here. I guess it works for us because we keep routines and expectations the same (as much as possible), keep everything friendly and use positive language from both parents about having two homes. It's not easy but it can be done. If the other parent doesn't want to put the children first you need to move past that. Again, not easy. They will settle. BW.

Ellisandra Wed 12-Apr-17 16:13:36

Don't dismiss my suggestion because it doesn't sound like what you would like to do.

My friend has this arrangement with her children - since ages 3 and 6, now 8 and 11. It sounded like a lot of moving around to me, but they are perfectly happy with it and both say they like never being long from seeing the other parent.

I'm actually glad that my child is happy with longer turnarounds because that suits me better. But I would consider it if it were better for her.

So don't just dismiss me trying to help.

I understand that it's a heart breaking situation. But not wanting to reduce his nights isn't necessarily a selfish father not thinking of his child. If you both think that long term it's better for your children to have closer to equal time, he may think that it's better to find other ways to help your younger son through that now. Not because he's thinking of himself, but because he genuinely thinks it is best for your child.

It might be the best thing is to do 6/1 for a year then start again - I don't know. But there are other suggestions here to consider - shorter turn around, book recommendations, neutral pick up locations, which parent does drop off.

springydaffs Wed 12-Apr-17 16:25:57

Puts on hard hat: how about the kids stay in one house while you and ex alternate to the other house?

I know, I know...

justanillusion Wed 12-Apr-17 16:31:47

Sorry to be dismissive. But i said everything i could to reassure him i value the children's relationship with him long term. I wanted to consider an interim period where we gradually increased the overnights. So of course it's frustrating that he can't put our child's needs before his feelings. But more then frustrating I'm sad for our child.

He has no interest in figuring things out. I do that and then work on how to sell it to him.

I am looking for advice and ideas because i am not brave enough to suggest reducing overnights. Which feels like letting DC down still so i guess i am touchy. I haven't rejected everything at all. I've ordered the Amazon book already and looked at others.

I've also found a local family therapist who works on this type of thing that i might see if he would consider trying that together.

Ellisandra Wed 12-Apr-17 16:39:17

flowers it was toughest part of divorce for me, I feel for you.

It might help to remember that they change quite quickly at that age, and they can be emotional with or without divorce. I have a tendency to blame divorce for any wobble - but plenty of married parents on here have issues with clinging and phases!

Is there a way of changing your return night routine a bit? It could be your youngest is in a bit of a pattern and throwing him out of it might help. Something fun and distracting. For example, if he likes to swim, you could have a routine that you pick up and go straight to the pool. Then he's happy to see you as it's swim time, and distracted by the water - and you kind of fool him into interacting with you (swimming at that age is very hands on!). At the risk of making him over tired (fine balance!) tiring him out physically a little might help him settle with you too - too tired to fight it!

blackteasplease Wed 12-Apr-17 16:43:18

Thanks for the links and recommendations everyone.

I'm in the process of splitting and it's really helpful.

Ellisandra Wed 12-Apr-17 16:43:39

Try not to read too much into "home" and "house" - it may have more meaning to you as an adult than it does to him. My 8yo says "number 12" and "the Willows" (made up!) which sounds impersonal but she's perfectly happy. It can just be language that names each place, and nothing more sinister at all!

Keep up the cosleeping! I think it's really lovely for you both, and definitely helps to shower with cuddles.

Minime85 Wed 12-Apr-17 16:46:27

Hi op I think if you now started to do things together it would confuse them even more. It is really hard and I don't know it ever is a finished product as at different stages in their lives things change. I would suggest having a conversation with ex about it and maybe suggesting mediation if you can't do it in a civil way. I think the youngest is too young to be involved in the conversation but that you should both talk to both children, at the same time on their level about the way things are and ask what they would like to do. If you can keep routines like bedtimes and activities the same then that helps.

justanillusion Wed 12-Apr-17 16:57:44

Springy no hard hat needed but i don't think it would be good for us. The months before I left were miserable and that's where my ex still lives. I am however very glad that he still there so the DC have consistency but I don't want to share a home again. He spends a fair bit of time at my new home as it is and I've had to try hard to stop him treating it as his without offending him.

I've made this about me, but am genuinely trying to make things as best I can for DC.
Believe me I've been nothing but positive about their time with their dad to them.

Ellisandra that might be an idea thanks.

I'm feeling bad because they are there until the weekend and my youngest asked if he could play with Daddy but come back here for bed. So feeling a bit shit just now.

The one conversation we had with them together ex tried to say to 6 year old he could chose where to live when he is older. Maybe a professional might help us.

I guess it's probably true that we'll all settle into it over time.

springydaffs Wed 12-Apr-17 17:12:51

Of course it wouldn't be good for you. That goes without saying (for most couples, anyway). But it might be better for the kids.

I'm not emotionally blackmailing you. I've been in your position and it was shit. The ideal would be 3 properties, no? But not many could afford that.

You don't want to offend him yet your kids are suffering. I know who I'd rather offend tbh. Again, not beating you up here op.

Minime85 Wed 12-Apr-17 17:15:51

Why does he spend time at your house? I think you should avoid that. Whilst I chat with ex it's on door step and my house is my house. The kids need to see that distinction. You should listen to the children and if he wants to stay at home why can't he? When my eldest went to secondary school she decided she didn't want to stay overnight at her dads on a school night, so she doesn't. But her younger sister does. Like I said at stages of their lives things change. It should all be about the kids and not about the parents.

justanillusion Wed 12-Apr-17 17:38:42

I don't want to let my eldest choose where and when he stays. I worry about how my ex would cope with having him for the majority of the time. I know i will have a problem with this when DC are older. For now i need to manage it carefully. So i cant say no to eldest staying more at Dad's but let youngest choose. Eldest would find it unfair, ex would not take it well.

Springy it might look like i don't want to offend him, probably partly true but i think that's simplistic. It's in everyone's interest that i keep things amicable.

It's a constant juggling act.

BottleBeach Wed 12-Apr-17 17:40:27

There is a lot of good advice here. I second all these comments:

You may find that Dad > Nursery > Mum is an easier transition, because they're not leaving one parent/home for the other.

It might help to remember that they change quite quickly at that age, and they can be emotional with or without divorce. I have a tendency to blame divorce for any wobble - but plenty of married parents on here have issues with clinging and phases!

Try not to read too much into "home" and "house" - it may have more meaning to you as an adult than it does to him.

I don't know it ever is a finished product as at different stages in their lives things change

OP- you sound lovely, and your DCs are lucky to have a mum who puts this much care and energy into supporting their relationship with their dad. Please try not to feel shit when they ask questions about playing with Dad/coming back for bed. They are adjusting, and sometimes they are testing how you feel about the situation. They will take their lead from you if you just respond with a simple explanation/reminder about what's happening.

You need to do whatever you think is best, but personally, I think involving a professional to talk about things with the children runs the risk of making it more worrying for them. They need to be able to trust that Mummy and Daddy can handle this.

On the subject of doing things together with the ex, my own experience has been that DS loves it when we get together (we get on well), to the extent that I worry about him wanting us to get back together (never going to happen!) But also, his behaviour can be dreadful, and I suspect he is sub-consciously testing out which of us is in charge, and he's used to only having us one at a time! Personally, I find it better to keep quite clear boundaries.

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