Living in two homes can be stressful for kids, who manifest their stress in many different ways. Some close off to the world. Others act out and engage in behaviors that are rebellious or harmful to themselves and others. Some kids alter their appearance or hang out with the wrong crowd. Whatever way your child manages emotional stress and pressure, most are not emotionally mature enough to understand how to correctly handle the depth of what they feel.
When parents live apart, kids are often caught in the middle, which is unfair. Although relationship and family stress is inevitable when parents don't live together, it is not inevitable that your child will be damaged forever. You can still raise a well-rounded child, but it takes effort from both parents. Being on the same page about child raising is ideal, but not always realistic. You may find yourself doing it all alone, but that doesn't mean you can't raise a well-rounded child, either. It just means you have a little more work to do.
It's easy for kids to fall between the cracks when they live between homes. One of the dangers you face is ignoring your kids. Because of the emotional stress they experience with both parents living apart, kids need extra attention and love. Make sure that you're not ignoring your kids or assuming they're fine because they look fine. Conversely, don't hover. Over engaging your kids because you don't get to see them as much as you'd like doesn't actually help them at all. In fact, it may make them want to get away from you and spend more time with the other parent. Even though you miss them when they're not with you, give your kids some space to do the things they enjoy without interference.
A few more don'ts:
- Don't force your kids to take sides. You and their other parent may not see eye to eye on much, but even so, your kids should never be caught in the middle. They will naturally love both parents and should never be put in a position to choose sides in an argument.
- Don't make them deliver messages. Even if communication is bad between you and the other parent, your child should never be put in a position to deliver messages. Inevitably, someone will react negatively and your kid will be caught in the crossfire. Feelings of guilt, anger, and resentment will grow in your child and will take a lifetime to repair.
- Don't assume they're OK. Your kids may look and even act fine, even in times of stress, but don't be fooled. Living in separate homes and shuttling back and forth, watching parents argue, hearing one parent bad-mouth or complain about the other -- it's an emotional roller coaster. If your kids aren't acting out, it doesn't mean they're not harboring their share of pain. Don't assume they're fine or that things will work themselves out. If you want to raise a well-rounded child in the midst of parental turmoil, they need to open up.
- Keep your home a "safety zone" where your kids can speak anything on their mind, even if it's hard to hear.
- Look into professional counseling to help with times of stress or transition.
- Help your kids find a safe, neutral place they can go when they need to vent or just clear their heads, like a relative's house.
- Work with the other parent and remain dedicated to keeping things as normal as possible – including routines, schedules, habits, and rules.
- Keep all fights away from your kids. If you're arguing, don't do it in their presence.
- Engage them in activities to grow them as people. Keeping your kids busy and involved in interests they have gives them a sense that they are still in control of their lives. They'll need to know that even though they can't control everything, they can still be who they want to be.