Managing life between two homes

For children, being able to spend time with both of their parents is important. As difficult as it may seem at first, managing to successfully parent across two homes is achievable.

Don’t assume that your children can’t manage living between you: the difficulties caused by parenting across two homes don’t affect children and young people in the same way. They can be much more flexible and adapt to sharing their time between you if you provide a secure framework for them. 

You may feel very angry or hurt by the actions of your ex, but as parents you have a responsibility to ensure your children are parented to the best of your ability.Try to work out how to manage family transitions together - regardless of whether you live together or apart and of who else may be involved.

“If you don’t feel able to work out how to manage time between you, think about using a professional to help you – perhaps a family mediator.”

Managing activities and events

Think about the significant things that happen as children grow up such as change or choice of school, medical treatment, problems at school and everyday things such as bedtimes and discipline. Try to think through how you and your ex will make decisions or take action.

If you can’t do that without help, think about using a mediator to help you set out a framework for all the important areas of your children’s growing up.

Support your children's need for both parents to be involved. The first people your children will look for at events will probably be their parents – and the involvement of both parents is hugely beneficial to children.

Similarly, if you say you will go to an event make sure you keep your word and turn up. Being around your ex may be hard, but don't make things worse for your kids by failing to show up at events when they are expecting you.

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Summer holidays

The summer is often a time when many children spend longer periods with or away from one or both parents. It can be difficult to think about not seeing children for weeks at a time and the changes of routine can create stress for your kids too.

  • Talk to the other parent about your plans. If you disagree, make the best of things and focus on what is best for your children.
  • Plan ahead. How would you like to spend time with your children and what can you do to prepare them for holidays and special occasions?
  • Instead of informing children about plans, talk with them about how they would like to spend time with you.
  • Use a wall chart or diary so children know when they will be seeing each parent.
  • Build in quality time with low-key activities like visiting the park, reading a book together or playing a game. Too many exciting activities can overwhelm children and tire them out.
  • If travelling with the kids, give the other parent contact information and details – you both have a right to know where your children are.
  • Help children maintain consistent contact with the other parent by phone or email. Remember that children may miss their other parent.
  • When your children are with the other parent, use your time to get refreshed. Visit friends, take a class, read a book or enjoy a lazy day.

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Christmas and birthdays

“Don’t make your children take sides. Make it easy for your children to move easily between the two homes. They don’t need to feel guilty or upset.”

Christmas and birthdays are often seen as special times for families to be together. To a child, they are exciting occasions. They deserve to have happy birthdays free from worries about an atmosphere between their parents. Try to ensure that they will have some contact with both of you – by phone or in person, for a short time at least.

  • Keep children informed about plans – where they will be and with whom.
  • Build a sense of family. Talk to your children about what makes the holidays special and how you can enjoy yourselves.
  • Allow children to talk about past special occasions. They have a right to good memories of their family.
  • Let the children know that even though things will be different, they can still be special. Invite them to help establish new rituals with you.
  • Help your children make or buy gifts for their other parent so they can experience the joy of giving and know that you support their relationship.
  • Don’t overindulge the children or get into a “gift competition” with your ex. Try to coordinate gift choices with the other parent.
  • Minimise tensions for your children. Only take part in activities with the other parent, such as opening presents, if it will be a positive experience.
  • Allow your children to decide where they will keep their gifts.
  • Maintain a sense of humour and be flexible. If plans are altered, ask yourself: “What difference will this make one year from now?”
  • Don’t make assumptions and don’t plan or book things without talking to their other parent.
  • Older children and teenagers need to be part of any planning because they too may have things they want to do at significant times of year.