Q – We’re beginning the divorce process. Right now we can’t afford two households so we’ve agreed to stay in our current home until our financial situation improves. As long as we are not arguing in front of the kids and act as we have been (there’s been very little affection between us), do you think staying in the house together will hurt the children?
A – While there can be some benefits to staying in the house together, there are a couple of things I would encourage you to think about. First, because you and your husband have a cooperative relationship your kids may really struggle with the necessity of divorce. To their way of thinking, if you can continue to live together and get along then why can’t you just stay married? Living under one roof could also delay their ability to accept your decision as they may hang onto the hope that things aren’t really changing.
In an effort to help your children adjust to the divorce while living in one home you may want to implement some of the following suggestions.
Be clear about the reasons you are staying in one home.
In an age appropriate way share with children why you have made this decision. You might say something like, “Although our feelings for each other have changed, our commitment to each of you has not. We both feel the best option right now is to stay in one home until we can afford to provide two separate homes. We know that staying in one home may feel confusing or make it harder to accept that things have changed. We want you to know it’s okay to ask questions or talk to us about how you feel.”
Keep tensions minimized.
No matter how amiable your current situation is, as you proceed with the divorce, it’s likely that strong feelings will get stirred up. Some of those feelings may arise unexpectedly and catch you off guard. When this happens issues between you and your husband could unravel fast and getting the space you need to deal with those feelings can be more challenging.
To avoid this pitfall, I’d suggest setting aside some time to discuss how you will plan for those moments. Talking ahead of time about how to handle future bumps in the road will help you to do a better job of shielding your children from potential conflicts.
Avoid bunking up with kids.
When financial resources are limited parents may need to be creative about sleeping arrangements. If you don’t have enough space to set up separate bedrooms for each of you, avoid bunking in with the kids. While it may be a workable short-term option, it isn’t a very good long-term solution. More often than not, it opens the door to children becoming overexposed to adult feelings or issues, blurs emotional boundaries and increase children’s anxiety. Further children may become used to sharing a bedroom with you, making it more difficult to get them to sleep on their own rooms later on. A better alternative would be to have children temporarily share a room with one another so both parents can have their own space.
Transition how you spend time with the children.
Instead of waiting until you are able to separate residences, consider working out a parenting schedule you can implement now that allows each of you to spend individual time with children. For example, Tuesday and Wednesday could be Mom’s nights while Thursday and Friday are allocated to Dad. Experimenting with different schedules while you are both in the same home may help you figure out what will work best for your kids down the road.