Splitting time between parents

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Going back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s is stressful for children. There is usually little consistency with rules that are constantly changing between the two homes. Some things that make the regular transition between homes easier for your child:

  • Establish a going-away routine that will be something you do the day of each switch. This might be getting a scoop of ice cream or playing a favorite game. This will help define the transition for your child.
  • Always tell your child you will miss him or her every time you make a switch.
  • After switches, talk with your child about what both of you did while apart.
  • Refrain from questioning your child about your ex-partner. This puts your child in an uncomfortable position.

How can I stay close with my child when I do not have custody?

First, recognize that you have survived divorce as a parent and your daughter has survived as a child. It takes courage to face divorce and to talk openly about your fears, sorrows and confusion. According to T. Berry Brazelton, a national authority on very young children, 58% of children in the United States will live in a single-parent family. Therefore, your question is one being faced by many parents today. Following are some suggestions to help you:

  • Use books as a resource during your healing process for both you and your daughter. Although your daughter is young, she is learning.
  • Put your daughter atop of your priority list.
  • Put most of your energy into being a parent, especially during the first year after your divorce.
  • Make the most of your time together. Notice her interests and build on those.
  • Call or visit your daughter’s child care provider. Keep yourself informed about her development. Make plans to have things sent to you by the teacher so you can prepare and extend things she is learning.
  • Voice your love for your daughter and have fun together. Reassure her that you will always be her daddy.
  • Call your daughter often to be regular part of her life.
  • Make arrangements for regular visits.
  • Make use of new technology. Use e-mail to send notes and pictures. You can access the internet at most local libraries.
  • Send notes, letters and cards.
  • Make audio and videotapes to share with your daughter.

Young children and divorce

Marital separation and divorce are difficult life transitions for families. During these difficult times, parents can become preoccupied with their own problems and not realize how it affects their children. Parents need to be alert to signs of distress in their children.

Children often believe they have caused the conflict between their parents. Vulnerability to physical and mental instability can originate with the onset of a traumatic event such as divorce. Careful attention to a child’s needs can mobilize strengths and create stability.

Each child will react to the situation uniquely. The signs to watch for include depression, restlessness, sleeplessness, withdrawal, aggression and uncooperative behaviors. Children often feel conflicting emotions, including fear, abandonment, guilt, sadness and loneliness. Do not draw your child into your issues. Your child will have his or her own issues to work through.

Children do best and get through the situation stronger if they can establish a similar routine with each parent. Allow your child the chance to have a relationship with each parent separately; A child should not have to choose between parents. Talk with, love and comfort your child. Talk with your child about what is happening and how he or she fits into what is happening. Clearly outline how choices will and won’t affect your child.

For young children it is important to keep the talking and explaining brief. Give them the information they need to know without confusing details. For example, tell your child that both Mom and Dad will spend time with him or her; do not get into the details of how you reached those decisions with your ex-partner and do not make your ex-partner a villain in your child’s eye. Read books to your child focusing on divorce. Ask your local librarian or bookstore about titles. Reading stories gives children a chance to discuss feelings related to the situation in a detached way.

Opportunities for your child to act out and express feelings will help your child process the situation. Children might act out through art, dramatic play, physical activities or other ways frustrations are released.

The grandparent-grandchild relationship

Our image of family is often a father, mother and child. Today 4.5 million children under age 18 are living with grandparents; 1.5 million of those children live solely with grandparents.

  • Grandparents can play many roles in the life of a grandchild:
  • Grandparents can provide regular daily care.
  • Grandparents can take on the responsibility of a grandchild living in the home without legal custody.
  • Grandparents can have legal custody.
  • Grandparents can live far from the grandchild.
  • Grandparents can live near the grandchild and maintain visits or occasional help with the child.

Grandparents take on the responsibility of grandchildren for differing reasons, including work schedules, financial reasons, emotional issues, illness, divorce, incarceration, substance abuse, child abuse or neglect.

A grandparent who takes on significant responsibility for a grandchild may have to adjust priorities. Everything from finances to living space may have to be reconsidered. In some cases, the privilege of enjoying grandchildren without real responsibility may be difficult to get used to. All life changes take time and patience. Grandparents likely will need extra support from family or friends. Some issues that may surface for these families are:

  • Resolving legal issues related to custody.
  • Financial decisions including employment and benefits.
  • Choosing appropriate child care.
  • Securing adequate medical insurance coverage.
  • Enrolling in local schools.
  • Providing emotional support.

here is a lot of rivalry among the different grandparents. How can I handle this?

Both you and your partner should try to stay strictly neutral, however hard it is at times. Stay out of discussions about how much, or how little, time or money another grandparent spends with your child. Sometimes even adults have to be reminded that everyone does things differently and that there is no harm in this.

Why are grandparents and relatives raising children?

Many reasons account for relatives caring for children of family members. For many children, kinship family care prevents entry into out-of-home care and into the foster care system. Grandparents and relatives can often provide the quality of care a child needs when biological parents are unavailable or unwilling to care for their children. In part, the increased use of kinship family care may be due to the changes in the social service system as a result of the Welfare Reform Act (1996).

Placement with relative caregivers promotes a child’s sense of family and cultural identity, maintains feelings of belonging and significant attachments and thereby assists children’s well being for healthy growth and development. The opportunity for children to remain with their relatives promotes stability and permanency while maintaining important biological and family ties if health and safety can be assured.

What are key practice principles in kinship parenting?

The kinship family:

  • Develops resilience by promoting a sense of security and self-esteem in children.
  • Encourages the development of individual and family identity.
  • Increases children’s connections to culture and family belief systems.
  • Provides historical family continuity.
  • Reconnects children to values and spiritual beliefs held by their family systems.
  • Is a protective factor for children’s development.
  • Is a protective factor in prevention of children coming into the child welfare system, and is an accepted permanency option.
  • The school can be an important resource for the child and grandparent.

Who are the children in the care of relatives and grandparents?

  • About 4 million children live with grandparents.
  • In two-thirds of the 2.5 million grandparent households.
  • The grandmother has no spouse.
  • The children live in poverty.
  • At least 50% of children in kinship care are children of color.
  • Non-Hispanic white children are less likely to live in the care of grandparents or relatives.
  • African-American children are most likely to live in kinship care arrangements.
  • Most children in kinship care are young and likely under 11 years.
  • Most children will not have health insurance, and health and dental issues may be present.
  • Many grandparents have difficulty acquiring legal custody of the child or foster care status because of outdated legal requirements and state laws.
  • Grandparents are often blocked from enrolling children in school, from receiving health care, food stamps and cash assistance to raise their grandchildren.
  • Older grandparents put themselves at health risk under stressful conditions.
  • Grandparents living in subsidized housing have housing problems when children move in with them.
  • Custody laws require grandparents to sue their own children to get custody of the grandchild and access to basic services.

What are the parenting skills and strengths in these families?

  • Grandparents are particularly well suited to promote and assist children in their efforts to find the optimal level of functioning if given sufficient and appropriate support and services.
  • Grandparents and relatives actively promote the child’s interests, teach cultural pursuits, sports, hobbies and other activities to encourage self-esteem and building a sense of accomplishment for child and family identity.
  • These parents often experience added stresses of aging and health-related issues and often need additional resources from the community.
  • These families are a source of resiliency for children’s development but often need services from the school and community to deal with the problems experienced by the children prior to kinship care.