One of the toughest parts of single parenting is the custody agreement. Not only does the custodial parent have to let go of their child, but the noncustodial parent has to deal with not being able to see their child every day.
Custody agreements run the gamut:
noncustodial parent has the child every other weekend and Wednesdays after school
Parents alternate weeks
One parent has the child during the school year, and the other parent has the child for school holidays, Christmas and summer vacations and spring break
other arrangements that the parents work out
Not only is this hard on the parents, but it can be confusing for the child as well. Trying to figure out if you’re at Mom’s house or Dad’s house this week, having two separate groups of friends at each house, and in some cases, learning to live with stepparents and stepsiblings can all be hard for a child, especially if the child is very young. There’s also what some term “guilty parent syndrome”, where the noncustodial parent (often the father) feels guilty about what the child is being forced to go through, and therefore lets the child get away with almost anything. Then there’s the fact that sometimes a child can feel like a guest in the parent’s home.
There are some things that parents can do to ease the confusion and stress on all involved.
While you were married, you generally agreed on the rules. Unless you have drastically different views on something now (which does happen), try to continue agreeing on the rules. If the child has different rules in each house, there’s a chance she could misbehave simply because she can’t remember the rules. If Mom lets her ride her bike up and down the street but Dad doesn’t, she could easily forget that Dad won’t let her and ride her bike on the street. If there are safety reasons behind a rule being different (maybe Dad’s house is on a busier road than Mom’s, or Mom has a new baby that requires making changes), you should go with what is safest, but perhaps a gentle reminder whenever the child is there of what the rules are until she has been there enough and is old enough to remember on her own.
Make it home
Many times, the noncustodial parent (often the father) has to pay child support and finds himself a bit short on funds. Often, he also feels so lonely not having his children there every day that he wants a smaller place that doesn’t make him feel quite so lonely. This is understandable, but it’s important to buy or rent a home that is big enough for your children as well.
Your child needs to feel like your home is his home, too. Whether he’s only there twice a month for two days, every other week, or all summer, he needs to know that he is welcome and that this is his home just as much as his mother’s home. Even if he has to share a room with his brother or sister, he still needs a bedroom with his own bed, his own dresser and toys.
Don’t rely on Mom to send his clothes for the visits either. Having to bring luggage packed with clothes for each visit will also make him feel like a guest in your home, or make him feel like you don’t care enough to provide for him. While it’s acceptable to ask Mom to send some clothes the first few visits, you need to build up a collection of clothes at your home as soon as possible. If your child has more clothes than he needs, consider asking if the other parent will split them with you, that way your child has clothes at each house – this also has the added bonus that the clothes at each house will be familiar to him.
Just as with clothes, toys are important too. There are some toys that simply can’t duplicated – a favorite stuffed animal or blanket that the child uses as a security item will have to be transferred back and forth. But other than something like that, it’s important to have a selection of toys your child can play with freely whenever he is at your home. Again, if he has more than he needs at one home, maybe you can split the toys between the two houses.
Keep in touch
Whether you are the custodial or noncustodial parent, it’s important to keep in touch with both your child and the other parent. When your child is with her other parent, you shouldn’t call constantly, but you should keep in touch with a phone call or two, or even an email. This gives your child the security of knowing she can talk to you, even if she’s not in your house at the moment.
This need to keep in touch also applies to the other parent. You need to communicate with each other. Maybe your child is having nightmares, or has developed a sudden fear of the dark or clowns. Maybe she’s struggling with math, or has a book report due on Monday. These things need to be communicated to the other parent, so he or she can be prepared for middle of the night screaming, or can help with homework. This keeps both parents involved in the child’s life, and again, shows her that both her parents are there for her.
It’s also important to relay big changes occurring in your own life that may affect the child – a new relationship, getting married and/or divorced, a new baby, and many other changes can have a huge impact on your child. As much as you may not want to tell your former spouse about what’s going on in your life, you need to share the big changes. This way they can be aware that your child may be hurt, confused, scared, or any number of other emotions and be prepared to deal with that. It’s also possible that your child may tell your ex something they are too afraid to tell you – maybe they don’t like your new partner, or they are being bullied by a stepsibling. If you keep your ex informed, he or she will extend the same courtesy and tell you when your child shares something that you need to know.
It’s important for children to bond with both parents. As difficult as it may be to deal with giving your child up every other weekend, you have to do it for the well being of your child. Even if the reminders of your child are painful when he or she is not with you, it’s important to make sure your house feels like a home to your child, regardless of how much time they spend there. Always do what is best for your child.
If you need to purchase bedding, clothing, or toys for your child and are strapped for cash, consider using a thrift shop. Here’s a list of thrift stores in Ocala that may have what you need, or be able to help you find it.