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Two houses, many challenges

Restructuring a family means change after change. Kids move between two different houses or kids stay put and the parents move. Regardless, each parent will have their own way of doing things, and the kids will need to adjust. Some parents worry that different rules in different homes will hurt the kids. Children can manage a lot and will find a way to cope. The more predictable, the easier it will be for them to adjust. Just because house rules are different doesn’t make them bad. The reality is that at times kids may prefer one house over the other (because the rules are a little more flexible, or because it is consistent and safe.)

Dealing with the co-parent’s house

Change can feel like quicksand. Struggling will take you down. Grabbing onto what you can control can help pull you out of the mud. As long it’s safe for your children, there are three key rules to remember: 

Rule 1: You can’t control what happens in someone 

else's home. Release the need to try.

Rule 2: You have complete control over the rules in your home.

Rule 3: See Rule 1.

When following Rule 2, get clear about the rules for your house and stick to them (this may take some time. I help families to do this all the time – sometimes a new perspective makes all the difference.)

Wondering how to talk about this without bad-mouthing the co-parent?

“We both love you; we just do things differently. In this house, the rule is…”

If your kids are struggling with something in the other house, you can help them find words to use when they talk about it with the other parent. 

You can ask: “What do you feel? What do you need?” 

Then you can coach them: “Parent, I have a problem and I need your help. When we are at your house, I feel like this. I would really like it if we could do this. Can you please help me to figure this out so I feel more comfortable here?”


Smoothing the transition between the homes

Separation and divorce are a huge adjustment for everyone in the family, especially the kids. They are dealing with big emotions and big logistical change. These may show themselves in a variety of ways depending on the child and the moment. Loud outbursts may be followed by bouts of silence. There could be anger, sorrow, and grief – or, at times, things could seem pretty laid back. Supporting our kids’ emotions is critical. The emotions may come out as misbehaviors and, while it’s important to keep everyone safe, simply disciplining misbehavior without checking in on the emotions underlying those behaviors may leave everyone more lost than they already were.

Creating as much consistency and support as possible can help smooth the transition from house to house:

  • Post a calendar at eye-level for your kids. Have the kids use stickers or crayons to color-code the days at each house. This helps everyone, including younger kids feel more aware and in control about the transitions. They can see the patterns and predict what’s happening.
  • Create lists (words/pictures) of what needs to be packed to go to the other house. Ideally, much of what they need will be duplicated, so they are not dragging everything back and forth. There can be a list at your home and one that travels with them in their duffle bag or backpack.
  • In the beginning, help your child to pack. Then, watch over them as they show you that they are getting the hang of it. Eventually, let them do it on their own and give it a once-over before they go. They’ll learn to do it independently over time.
  • Get clear about what you will take to them if they forget it and what you won’t. Be honest with yourself. If guilt means that you’ll take whatever they leave behind, go with it. At some point, you may start to determine that they can live without their deck of cards if they forget it at your home.
  • Notice recurring arguments that happen the day the kids are leaving and the day they return. Many times, these arguments are expressing the emotions of having to leave one parent or let our kids go. Once we notice the situation, we can start putting habits in place to create space for emotional expression, extra cuddle time, or quiet time for people to decompress.
  • Talk with the kids about building good relationship habits, especially on the day they return. Is there a special meal for days they leave or come back? Do you need to build a 15-minute cuddle time into the schedule?
  • Don’t heavily emphasize how much you missed your child while they were at the other house. It’s nice for them to know you love them, but it can feel like a burden for them to worry about you being sad the whole time they are at the other house.
  • Have a story about your time on your own to share with them. Create space for them to share, but you don’t need to turn your dinner time into an inquisition with many questions about their time away. They may be trying hard to not miss the other parent. They may not want you to know the fun things they did in case you feel left out.
  • Schedule kids’ chores so that they do not happen on a transition day. Often arguments that happen about chores are really just ways to let out emotions around the transition.
  • As change is happening, start to notice the rocks in the road: recurring arguments, emotional explosions and increased sibling rivalry. Once we notice recurring patterns, we can create new systems to make things work more smoothly. Give everyone time to adjust through these major changes.


Author, blogger, podcast host and parenting expert, Julie has been supporting parents across North America for 20 years. Through her company JFS Parent Education, she helps parents find relief from their everyday parenting challenges. Want to know how she can help you? Email her today: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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