Could Nesting Work for Your Family?

Instead of getting a divorce and having two separate homes the kids rotate through, nesting is a newer concept where the kids remain in the existing family home and the parents take turns staying there. Some parents each get their own new place and rarely some will share one other place that they are never actually in together. Often parents rotate on an every other week schedule, but any schedule that works for the parents is definitely possible.

The idea is that the kids remain safe and sound in the “nest” or family home. Their living arrangements don’t change and they aren’t shuttled around from place to place. It allows the kids to have a more stable environment and familiar surroundings as they adjust to the divorce. The children experience as little disruption as possible and can continue with the same school, same activities, same schedule, and essentially the same life as prior to the divorce. The benefits of that are huge.

Nesting can be quite expensive though. Maintaining the existing family home as well two additional homes is a huge financial burden most families cannot take on. Nesting can also be challenging for the parents. You’re sharing a home with your ex even though you’re never there together. You don’t actually see each other (except for planned meetings or occasionally passing on your way out) yet you’re sharing a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living area. All of the conflicts you had about not doing things the same way or disagreeing about how a household should be run will continue.

It can also be difficult to uproot yourself every other week and stay someplace else. Packing clothes, work things, toiletries, medications, and everything else each week can result in some giant mix-ups.

Another challenge is that after divorce, it’s common for the parents to gradually evolve and make some changes about who they are, what they think, and how they live their lives. This is often gradually reflected in parenting styles that can change. If this happens during nesting it can be confusing for kids who may find the parents suddenly are implementing different rules within the same home (Mom says no eating in the family room, but Dad says it’s ok, for example).

I worked with some families who tried nesting and most found that it worked as a short-term transitional method. It wasn’t something they wanted to do long-term, but they found that for a few months to a year after the divorce it was a great way to help their kids adjust and also give themselves time to figure out what to do with the family home and to find other places to live permanently.

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Coping with the Parenting Plan

Setting up and living with a parenting plan is a big change for everyone. All of you must get used to a new schedule. Working through the new plan takes time. You need to readjust your weekly rhythm and perhaps make adjustments to other activities in your life to make the schedule workable. Perhaps the hardest part though, is learning to handle how you feel about visitation.

It’s Normal

You might be totally overwhelmed with the emotions you’re going through as you adjust to and live with visitation. There is no “right” way to react. Everyone handles this in their own way and in their own time. You need to be patient with yourself, accept the various emotions you are feeling, and try to go with the flow. There’s nothing weird about you for having a myriad of feelings about the situation.

Don’t Feel Guilty

You might experience some feelings that bother you. It is normal, for instance, to have very strong negative emotions about your ex. It is also normal to sometimes feel excited about having some scheduled time alone, away from your child. It is also ok if you feel angry or resentful towards your child – for enjoying time with the other parent, for not worrying about you, or for making things difficult. Feeling or thinking these things does not make you a bad person or parent. It is healthy to feel these things and try to find a way to accept them and get through them.

How to Cope

If you feel like you’re drowning and don’t think you will ever be ok with the parenting plan, there is hope. First of all, if you don’t have a therapist, get one. Having someone to talk to who can help you work through problems and find solutions can be invaluable. It is also important to take things one day at a time. If you look ahead and wonder how you can ever cope with years and years of this schedule, you will feel overwhelmed. Instead, try to get through today and this week only. Try not to focus on your anger and resentment, instead think about what you can do right now to move ahead and get through the day in a positive way.

Dealing with Missing Your Child

As you first adjust to the schedule, and even in the years to come, there will be days when you will miss your child while he or she is with the other parent. Remind yourself that spending time with the other parent is a healthy and important thing for your child to do. Find other things to do during these times, so that you can begin to find some fulfillment, or at least distraction.  No matter how hard you work at it though, there will be times when you ache to be with your child. During those times, there is nothing wrong with calling, texting, or emailing your child. Remember, however, to keep your conversation light and do not dump your loneliness and sadness on your child.

Getting Through Anger at Your Ex

Even if your divorce or separation was handled in a somewhat amicable way, cooperating as parents can cause strains and tensions. There will be times when you will be angry at your child’s other parent. The best way to try to handle this is without involving your ex or your child. Scream and cry, unload onto your friends, throw pillows at your wall, do whatever you have to do to release steam. However, getting into a shouting match or a war with your ex will only make things worse. It will make it harder to work together as parents and it will be hurtful and difficult for your child, who will feel as if he or she is in the middle. Try to partition these feelings and keep them away from your child and as removed as possible in your dealings with your ex.

Making a New Life

A parenting plan gives new shape and definition to your life. Embracing that new direction can help you feel as if you have a grip on things. You may never completely love your parenting schedule or feel completely adjusted to life as a single parent, but you can move forward and try to put a positive spin on the situation.

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And Baby Makes…

You’re divorced with kids and are expecting a new baby with your new partner. Maybe he has kids too from a previous marriage. This isn’t the Brady Bunch, but there are definitely ways to blend all your various families together. His, mine, and ours can all function together happily if you follow some important tips.

 

Talk to the Older Kids

When you’re expecting a baby, make sure that your kids and his kids understand that the baby belongs to all of you. Together you are one big family and the baby will be brother or sister to everyone. Avoid using terms like “half-brother” because kids are not concerned with degrees of relatedness. All that matters is that the baby is going to be an important part of their family and will be a sibling.

 

Be Prepared for Jealousy

Jealousy of a new baby is normal in an intact family, so don’t worry that your divorced status has caused your kids to react negatively to the baby. Keep in mind that your older child will recognize that the new baby has two parents under one roof, something he doesn’t have, which can cause disquieting emotions. Don’t give your kids a pass because they are children of divorce. Expect love and respect to be shown to all members of the family no matter what.

 

Prepare Extended Family

If your husband’s family comes over to meet the new baby, make sure they understand that everyone must be included in good wishes. Your mother-in-law should not fawn over the baby and her bio grandkids and ignore your children. She needs to congratulate everyone on being a new brother/sister. If her grandkids get a “new brother” t-shirt, yours should too. You do need to set general boundaries and expectations for holidays and events (for example, many families create the rule that grandparents will buy holiday or birthday gifts for bio grandkids only, while some grandparents want to embrace all the children as their grandchildren), however when the baby is new it is important that everyone receive equal attention.

 

Cope with Your Ex

Because your child is going to be excited about the new baby, she will probably want to share that excitement with her bio dad. No matter what kind of relationship you and he currently have, there are probably some uncomfortable feelings, particularly surrounding the new baby. If your child wants her dad to meet her new sibling, welcome that and think of it as a way to help her adjust to the new baby. You will want to encourage a friendly relationship between your new child and your older child’s bio parent. Not too far in the future, your baby will be old enough to interact with him and understand who he is. You want them to develop a friendly, fond relationship since they will likely be seeing a lot of each other over the years.

 

Schedule Family Time

If you are dealing with his, mine, and ours when it comes to children, your life is likely in total uproar with the various visitation schedules, not to mention school and activity schedules. Getting everyone together in one room might not be possible very often, but it is important to make the effort to do so. Gathering all the children in your family together on a regular basis will help reinforce that they are one unit and are all important to each other and to you.

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You Fed Him WHAT? Special Diets and Co-Parenting Solutions

If you’re one of the many parents raising a child with a food allergy or special diet needs, the thought of sending your child off with your ex for visitation or parenting time may make your stomach clench with worry. Will the other parent make sure he stays away from dangerous food items? Will the other parent be as vigilant as you are to follow your child’s special diet? These concerns are real, particularly when food choices can be so confusing with so many potentially serious consequences. Follow these steps to ensure your child’s needs are met while with the other parent.

 

Educate

The very first step is to educate the other parent. Ask him to come to a doctor or nutritionist appointment with you and your child, or offer to set one up at his convenience. The most important thing you can do is have a professional stress the importance of your child’s diet and lay out all the dos and don’ts associated with food. You might be able to tell your ex everything he needs to know, but it’s all going to carry more weight coming from a professional in a position of authority. It’s very important that the medical professional tell your ex what the consequences are of NOT following the prescribed diet, so he cannot just brush off the advice.

 

Reinforce

Provide your ex with a clearly written sheet of dos and don’ts. For example, if you child is a celiac, you could print out a list from the internet detailing surprising foods that often have hidden gluten. If your child is allergic to tree nuts, a list of unexpected places those can be found would be helpful. The same goes for lactose intolerance or other allergies. A list of no-no foods is very helpful, but also make a list of foods, brands, and products that are safe for your child to eat, particularly if you have your child on a diet such as one to control or reverse autism. Remind your ex that he must be ever vigilant when eating at restaurants or at other people’s homes with your child. Teach him how to ask – and what to ask– about food that is being offered to your child. Sow him how to read labels when shopping. Give suggestions about what alternatives to offer your child when she wants something she can’t have. In the beginning, it may even be necessary for you to pack a bag with some food items to be certain your ex has some products available, just in case.

 

Follow Up

In many cases, all of this will be enough to keep your child safe. In some cases though, the other parent can make things difficult. It’s a good idea to ask about what your child has eaten while away. Red flags are statements like “My mom fed him something,” or “We just ate at X restaurant.” That’s not enough information for either of you! If you have real doubts about your ex’s ability to stay on track with your child’s diet, start a food log and send it along on visitation, asking your ex to fill it out. To make things a bit less confrontational, fill out the log for when your child is with you as well. This way it will seem like a joint effort and your log entries will provide an excellent model for your ex to follow.

 

Empower Your Child

If your child is old enough, you can educate him or her about what he and can’t eat. You are probably already doing this, but many children would not think to question choices a parent is making for them, so make sure your child understands that the diet comes first, no matter what anyone, even a parent, says.

 

Non-Cooperation

If you have an ex who either does not believe the special diet is important or who seems to be unable to follow it out of laziness or even just to spite you, you need to take action. Document what is happening (make dated notes about interference with the diet, as well as the consequences your child experiences). Then go back to court. Depending on your situation, you can ask for a few different things. Some parents just need a judge to tell them they have to follow the diet (but you may need a doctor to testify about the importance of it). It may be enough to have your custody order modified to include a directive that both parents follow the recommendations of the child’s doctor about diet. If that isn’t going to do it, you can ask to have visitation modified so that your child is not with your ex at meals or so that your ex has supervised visitation, where another responsible adult is present and can make sure the diet is being followed.

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Marital Infidelity Affects Children

photo by Arvind Balaraman

The reasons for your divorce or break up are between you and your spouse, but even if you try to keep infidelity under wraps and your divorce is not front page headlines, it still has an impact on your kids. Even if you don’t tell your kids about infidelity, they are likely to find out if they are old enough to understand, simply by overhearing arguments between parents or conversations you have with other people. Kids react in individual ways, but the following reactions are almost universal.

Embarrassment

Kids whose parents are unfaithful often feel deeply shamed by the situation. A parent has done something that deeply hurt the other parent, and which is considered a no-no by society. Kids are afraid people will talk about the situation and that by being part of the family your child will be tainted by association.

Confusion

Kids are expected to follow the rules, so why can parents break them? That is a question kids ask themselves or even you, as they try to work their way through the situation. It’s not uncommon for children to react by testing the rules themselves to see what they can get away with.

Disgust

Anything that has to do with parents and sex is just gross as far as your child is concerned and a situation that calls attention to the fact that a parent is actually having sex is beyond what any kid wants to think about.

Anger

A common reaction is anger – often at both parents. The cheating parent is easy to blame because he or she took action that ended the marriage and hurt everyone involved in the situation. Kids will frequently freeze this parent out or rage at him or her. It’s also not unusual to blame the non-cheating parent, believing that he or she could have done something that would have prevented the cheating, like being more loving, working harder to please the other spouse, etc.

Distrustfulness

When a parent betrays the entire family, children frequently experience doubt that they can trust anyone ever again. If a parent broke trust with the family, who can you rely on? Children will experience insecurity in all of their relationships. Teens may find it hard to trust members of the opposite sex and say that love is not worth the risk.

How to Help

You can’t undo what has happened, but you can get your child into therapy to help work through the issues. Be available to listen to your child. Let him or her talk and just listen. It’s also important that both parents talk about the situation, as hard as that may be. The cheating parent may be met with silence or ignored, but it is important to apologize for the hurt that has been caused and offer to talk about it with the child in therapy. The non-cheating parent is often in a better situation to have a conversation with the child. It’s hard to do, but the best course is to emphasize that this happened between the parents and does not affect the relationship and the love between the cheating parent and the child. As with all divorces, it takes time for your child to accept what has happened and move forward. Being supportive through this process is the best thing you can do.

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