Setting up a new home after separating from your spouse is a difficult task that thousands of people go through every year. It can be hard to be the one moving away from the family home, even if it’s the best choice for you and your ex. But what about the kids? Whether you are an equal co-parent, got the short end of the custody stick, or you’re in the middle of a custody battle at this moment, the way you choose and furnish your new home is more important than you might think.
It’s all too tempting to turn your limited funds and temporary post-divorce depression to the creation of a bachelor (or bachelorette) pad: a dark place for you to sleep and watch TV between working and thinking about your kids. Don’t do it.
Wellbeing and Custody Battles
For your kids, the way you build your new home will determine how welcome they feel in your new ex-free life. And for you, the choices you make for your new home can have serious implications on custody decisions in the future. Remember, just because you’re not living with your ex anymore doesn’t mean you stopped being a parent. In fact, both of you just signed up to become “single parents” during any time you are spending with your children. So it’s time to think like a single parent for the good of your children’s happiness and your own custody rights.
Find a Place with Room for Your Children
Downsizing is nearly universal with divorced couples but if at all possible, look for a place with at least one extra bedroom for your children. There usually isn’t a huge difference in price between one and two bedroom apartments or small residential homes so finding a decent place with one bedroom for you and one for the kids is not an impossible or overly expensive search. And this room makes all the difference.
The key is to make your children feel welcome, like they have a permanent place in your home even though you have a new separate house or apartment. Children who are forced to sleep on air mattresses and in sleeping bags on the couch in their divorced parent’s homes feel like guests instead of family, like they are intruding on your new life instead of being the single bright detail in your post-divorce funk. To avoid this, make sure your children have their own room in your home with a bed made in their favorite colors and a dresser where they can store clothes and toys that live at your house. This way, your home will be ‘home’ to your children just as much as the other building where they live with your spouse during their custody and parenting time.
Let Your Children Help You Move In
If at all possible, get your kids involved in as many aspects of new home selection and furnishing as possible. If you’re on a house-hunt, show them pictures and talk about budgets and neighborhood pictures with your kids. Let them throw in their own opinions on pros and cons and influence your choice with what they would enjoy most. Neighborhoods with other kids, parks nearby, and homes they think look fun (that are within budget) should go at the top of your list.
Bonus tip: If you’re angling for full or equal custody, pick a home near good schools.
If you’ve already got a lease or are at the move-in stage, try to schedule your move for a time when you have visitation or custody with the kids. Moving is an exciting adventure for children. Let them ‘ride the couch’ and help you decide what to put the few possessions you have ready to move. If you need new furniture, discuss it with the kids or even take them on a field trip to the furniture store to pick out a few things like a table to do homework at or their new beds. Feel free to set a few territorial limits, like that you get to pick the recliner and TV because that is ‘your realm’.
By involving your children in the choosing and furnishing of a home, you make it ‘theirs’. Even more than having beds for them (Gramma’s house has beds), making them little decision-makers in your new living environment will make it much easier for your kids to see it is their second or even primary home.
Connect With the Neighbors
This may sound like strange advice, but if your children have been living in the same home for most of their lives, they at least vaguely know the neighbors. They know which houses have dogs to play with, which ones give out the best Halloween candy, and which houses their friends live in. Even in today’s detached society, this creates a feeling of community and provides subconscious comforts like knowing who to run to if there is a home intruder or the house is on fire.
By reaching out to your neighbors, you can quickly recreate that community for your kids in your new location. Do the ‘good neighbor’ thing and introduce yourself around to anyone you can meet casually within a few doors of your home. This will allow you to prep the area to be welcoming to your children. Arrange play dates with other parents nearby, ask friendly retirees to keep an eye on your kids if they’re out on bicycles, and if you make a new friend or two along the way, consider a backyard or front porch barbecue with neighbors and neighborhood kids during your regularly scheduled visitation. Your kids will have a blast and they’ll feel a lot more comfortable playing outside and making new local friends since you already put in the legwork and checked out the neighborhood.
Being a good divorced parent can be hard, but with the right attitude, it can also be a grand new bonding opportunity for you and your kids. Invite them to become a part of your new life by making sure there is space for them, involving them in your move-in, and making your new little family a part of the community. These choices are fantastic for the growing mental and emotional health of your children and will show the courts that any question of your parenting priorities should be put to bed. For more divorce and custody advice, contact us today.