“ But Mama, I sleep more still when you and Papa are here together”, says my 5 year old just 3 months after his father and I separated. The excitement of “2 homes” with “2 bedrooms” and “2 sets of toys” has worn off, and my baby is feelin’ it. I am realizing that with every new unfolding dynamic of my changing relationship with my son’s father, that I missed to mention some things. These “things” I failed to mention were also possibilities that I had not yet felt ready to consider. As parents we got to the 2 homes, and mommy and daddy are working on getting along better, and how much we both love him part covered. We didn’t get to “and someday mommy and daddy may begin to share time with a new man or woman”. People often mistake children 5 and under for clueless, but they know what’s going on! We support their security and sense of well being by preparing them if we can for new situations. We may feel a variety of things in our new separated state, the ups and downs to put it simply. Our children also have their own journey, and we need to support it by being available to recognize and respond to their needs.
Making the adjustment as easy for my son as possible is my number 1 priority. When my Aunt was visiting and we were picking up my son from his father’s, my boy was clinging to his Papa. My Aunt suggested that he come with “poor mommy” and “mommy needs him or she’ll be alone.” I quickly corrected that suggestion, although well meaning, with “Mama is okay when you are with Papa and is so happy that you and Papa had such a special time together. I love that you can have time alone with your Papa and I am so happy that we get to be together now too.” We want our children to know that we are here to take care of them, and not vice versa. We want them to know they can openly share their love for the other parent without upsetting us. We want them to process their experience, not ours!
Here are some suggestions that may help your little one.
1. Allow them access to the other parent, if it is possible and necessary. An example of this might be when they are sick.
2. Monitor the timing in between seeing parents for what is best for them verses what is convenient for us (when we can). Young children often get distressed to be away from a parent without seeing them for too many days, often the mother when very young. They show us with separation anxiety, getting more easily upset and not eating well, etc. Do not rely on their words, read their behavior.
3. A visual schedule of time with parents , and new routines can support the transition.
4. Have adult discussions without the children there.
5. Keep the ego out of it, like the story above about the transition from one parent to another. Fueling competition between parents makes the child feel more separation.
6. Be patient with your child, rushing them to “be fine” and make the adjustment to the change for our convenience is not realistic or fair. We all have our own rhythm through change.
7. Provide Comfort and understanding when your child expresses or shows signs of sorrow or distress.
Image Credit: Emma Whitney Photography