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When Your Kids Don't Live With You

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 13 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
Kids Children Parenting Shared Custody

Raising kids is difficult enough, but when your kids don’t live with you, things can be even harder. If you have shared custody of your children – or if your former partner has physical custody - you already know how tough that is.

Maybe you only see your children on weekends, or maybe only during the holidays and summer months. Whatever the pattern, it isn’t ideal – but with a little time and effort on the part of both parents, it’s a situation that can work – or at least cause as little disruption to your children as possible.

Key to Successful Parenting

Successful parenting only works when you focus on your children, whether that means concentrating your time for just one weekend a month, or every Friday afternoon. That means putting aside your own hurt, resentment or anger, and being there for your kids.

Remember that shared custody is not a vehicle in which you can vent your negative feelings about the child’s father. It’s a place where a child can build on his or her own happiness, and pave the way for a stable future.

Consistent Expectations

You and your ex-partner will have to work together to ensure that time spent with both parents is as valuable, stress-free and consistent as possible, with minimal disruption.

Children will thrive only when they have the same set of expectations from each parent. To accomplish this, both you and your former partner will have to have the same rules in place, to give the child a sense of consistency and fairness.

That means having the same rules about bedtime, friends over, and eating healthy meals. For older children, it means discussing issues such as TV and computer time and curfews with your former partner in detail, to present a united front on those issues.

Even though you and your partner are no longer together, you should still be present yourselves as a parenting team for your children. They need to know that both their parents love them, are involved in shaping their behaviour, and will be there for them as they grow into responsible adults.

Top Tips

If your kids spend most of their time with their father, parenting can be tough. Here are some top tips to help you - and him - cope better...

  • Try to have the same set of rules enforced in both households. If this is impossible, insist that the rules you set down be enforced in your household, even if they are different in their father’s house.
  • Give your children even more consistency by getting to know their at-home routines, and making an effort to stick to it. If they have regular ballet or drama classes, take them. Routines are important to children, especially younger ones, as they help foster a sense of security.
  • Treat the other parent with respect in front of the children – and insist your former partner do the same for you. Children need to receive consistent positive messages from both parents to grow up into healthy adults.
  • Be willing to change the ground rules as your children get older. Your children might be coming to stay with you every Friday night, but as they become teenagers with social lives of their own, this arrangement may not suit. You – and their father – might need to adapt.
  • Take care of yourself as well as the kids. If your children will be with their father over the festive season, for example, plan fun activities for yourself and invite lots of friends round. Don’t just sit around and mope – things will get better!
Children thrive with the love of both parents, and that doesn’t have to mean living in a traditional two-parent household. With consistent expectations, safe routines and parents who are friendly to each other, they can thrive even when Mummy and Daddy are living apart.

While it can be hard on you if your children spent most of the time with their father, you have to put their own needs and expectations before your own. Remember, if things go bad from bad to worse with your former partner, it might make sense to get a mediator in to solve petty disputes, and keep them from turning into out-and-out war.

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