What Kids Gain from Joint Custody

jointcustody
Image via Katie Hurley

Divorce is hard on the whole family. Emotions run high, and change can be difficult at any age. But a marriage that isn't working isn't any better for a family, and sometimes, parents need to separate.

I've worked with kids coping with all kinds of family dynamics, and more often than not, kids being shuffled back and forth between houses didn't mind the shuffle if it meant getting quality time with both parents. The key, however, was always the quality of the time spent together.

When kids spend quality time with each parent, they feel more connected to each parent, even when they live apart for a portion of the week.

New research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that children manage better when they spend time with both parents. Researchers looked at data from nearly 150,000 kids and compared psychosomatic health problems such as sleep problems, impaired concentration, loss of appetite, dizziness, stomachaches, headaches, and feelings of sadness or tenseness.

What they found was that while children living in nuclear families reported the fewest complaints, children living with both separated parents fared better than children living with only one parent.

It's important to note that this is an observational study, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. The study does, however, make a case for everyday contact (or at least more frequent contact) with both parents. Frequent contact with both parents might be the key to helping kids cope with the stress associated with divorce, even if that means switching homes mid-week.

While making a mid-week switch might seem overwhelming and stressful, there are ways to help kids with the transition.

Boys-Bedroom-Makeover1
Image via Momof6

Create a home in both places.

Kids need to have their own space in both homes. Even if it's tiny, give them a place to decorate as they see fit so that they feel at home. I once worked with a boy who made his own reading nook in a quiet corner of the family room because he shared a room with his brother at home and felt like he couldn't get enough downtime.

Giving kids some control over their own little spaces helps them feel like they have a safe space amid the chaos of change.

{ MORE: 10 Things Not to Say to Children with Divorced Parents }

mother talking to her child
Image via iStock

Communicate clearly.

Yes, there are big feelings involved, and it can take months, years, even decades before ex-spouses move on from hurt feelings, but kids shouldn't be caught in the middle of that.

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Be prepared to talk over and over again about the divorce, new living situations, and any feelings your kids might have. Allow your children to vent their feelings of anger, sadness, and grief. Listen to their concerns and respond in a calm and age-appropriate manner.

Communicate clearly with your former spouse so that you can be on the same page and co-parent as effectively as possible.

dad reading picture book to daughters
Image via iStock

Focus on quality time.

It's very difficult to feel like you're missing out on things with your kids at times. It's also hard to sit back and wonder what might be happening or what might be said in your absence. The truth is that you can't know everything, but you can focus on spending quality time with your kids when you have them with you.

You don't need to plan big adventures or make every moment fun, you simply have to be present, be willing to listen and spend time engaged with your child.

{ MORE: Meatless Meals Your Family Will Love }

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What Kids Gain from Joint Custody

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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