Tools for Helping Children Thrive Between Homes
Ron L. Deal
This is a deleted section from the
first trade paper edition of The Smart Stepfamily by Ron L. Deal (Bethany House
Publishers, 2006). Used with permission. All rights reserved.
the Revised & Expanded edition (Bethany House Pub., 2014) of The
Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family by Ron L. Deal today.
I have learned a
great deal from the stepfamilies that participate in my seminars. One group
activity in particular is especially helpful in clarifying for adults what
children need as they travel back and forth between homes. Without revealing
any secrets as to how the activity is structured (you might want to come to a
conference someday), let me share the most helpful realizations parents have made
through the years.
1. When children return from the other home,
share what has been going on since they left. Upon return, it’s very common for
parents to ask what the child has done over the weekend or summer (not trying
to make the child a spy, but simply taking interest in the child’s life).
However, rarely do parents take the time to tell their children what has been
happening in their home while the child was away. This helps children to know
the mood of the home and invites them to find their place in the flow. Remember
that belonging can be an issue. Help children find their place.
2. Send lists of items to be returned. Children
often forget items, such as their math book, and co-parents may assume it is
being returned. Send a checklist of items that need to be returned so the child
can be responsible (if old enough), or the co-parent can make sure it is
3. Give children a little “grace space” as they
adjust to your house and rules. Children can adjust to different rules in
different homes. However, they may need gentle reminders of the rules in your
home after spending time in the other. A simple reminder like, “I know you can
stay up till nine at your mom’s house, but the rule in our house is eight-thirty.
Off you go.” Don’t argue with the other house’s rule or take issue with the
rule-makers. Just manage your home and give the kids a break while they
4. “Choosing sides stinks!” Try not to force
loyalties as children move between homes. The transition from one house to the
other is a natural time of comparison for kids. Don’t ask them to make choices,
and answer their questions regarding the other home with neutral, supportive
statements. If you can’t be supportive, don’t expect your child to adopt your
opinion and don’t denigrate the other home.
5. “Who needs me the most?” When examining their
fit in both homes, children will sometimes choose to invest themselves in the
home where they are most needed. Parents need to be understanding about this.
Try not to take personally the fact that a child is drawn to the other home;
ask questions and listen to what pressures he faces. It may be that he can’t
fix the situation and needs to be relieved of the responsibility to do so. But
it also may be that there is a legitimate reason for him to spend more time in
the other home (e.g., a parent’s illness that requires extra support from him).