Let’s face it, everyone hates to move. I want to meet the person who tells me, “I love packing up and moving from my home to a new place!” If I ever do meet them I might check for fever, delirium or the possibility that maybe this whole divorce really has gotten to them. So it’s not surprising that the home can be an emotional conversation for the family in the midst of an already difficult time. It usually is one of the first issues that has to be confronted especially when it is clear you can’t stay together any longer. S0 one family member is definitely moving now and maybe both if the family homestead is not affordable to either.
In later blogs I will discuss the financial considerations in keeping or selling the house in divorce, but first I wanted to talk about the impact of leaving the home on the children.
When I divorced I had children between the ages of 3 and 13. For my youngest it had been the only home he knew. For my oldest it was a place where he had lived a few years. For my youngest if I had needed to move, which I didn’t, he probably would have been flexible enough to do so, but for my oldest it was the home that was just a few blocks from school, easy for friends to visit and a place that they had started to know. Thirteen can be a tough age for any kind of change. The emotional challenges of just becoming a teen can be enough for any young person much less to add on a divorce and a move. Admittedly it was just as tough for my 11 year old. But our family was extremely lucky. Their Dad was able to find a home just a half mile away, walking distance. The kids theoretically had the freedom to go back and forth. Did they? No, but that’s another story.
But their Dad did have to move and so they had to move also, at least half the time. They traveled back and forth from my home to their Dad’s and sometimes it just wasn’t easy. Where was their stuff? No matter how hard we tried there was often the inevitable question of, “Where’s my…..?” “ Do you think you left it at your Dads? Moms?” And then the inevitable dash to go get it! Thank Heavens we were only a half mile apart!
So how can we as parents help with all this?
First, you should try to be very confident about your decision so that you can present it in a positive way to your kids. Sounds easier said than done and it is! But as anyone who has read my book Deconstructing Divorce knows, getting to that point emotionally where you can discuss issues in a positive way, especially the home, may take time, but I suggest you be patient and take it! If you have the time and I know circumstances don’t always allow for that. Still you don’t want to discuss it with your children until you know what you want to do. If it is temporary say so and why and that you just need time to plan your next step. And then keep it simple and positive. Your good attitude will ultimately be contagious and build your children’s confidence even if they are struggling with the idea at first.
Help them feel at home in both places. If you are sharing custody in your respective homes they will be moving too. Help them feel positive at transitions. Let them take their favorite toys, books, clothing, gaming equipment and help them pack it up. Admire your co-parents space and speak positively about it. If it is a distance away be positive about the travel. Send them with books and games and positive thoughts.
In your new home, let them decorate their rooms, have the same special dinners you used to have, spend time there and enjoy your old traditions. Family is not about geography, it is about the traditions we share and memories we make.
Help them with the transition. If you have needed to leave the old neighborhood, assure them they will make new friends, invite the old friends often and make sure it happens even if you provide the transportation. Have the new friends meet the old friends and vice versa.
And there are options. Keeping the home and the kids in it, with the parents moving back and forth is often a solution. It may be the only way you can keep your kids in their current school and that could be important if they are near graduating high school. It may be the only way you can afford it! Be creative, work together and find different solutions that work for your family. The home decision is one of the first decisions in moving your family forward. Make it a positive experience for you all!