Consider all the hoopla around weddings. Your family and friends surround you and pronounce, through their words and deeds, that they stand by your side during this life-changing experience. The band or DJ plays your favorite tune as you and your husband sway together wrapped in each other's arms. It's a great moment in your life.
Yet when you choose to make an equally life-changing experience to end your marriage, there are no rented dance halls, elaborate floral arrangements or three-layered cakes. And, more importantly, there is often no support around you for the decision that you make. There are many reasons to decide to leave a marriage, just as there are many reasons to start one. The problem is, you don't have nearly so much explaining to do when you are putting the ring on as you do when you are permanently taking the ring off. Many couples I talk to say that they feel pressure from family and friends to stay together in the marriage for one prevailing reason: the children.
Admittedly, I'm one of those therapists who supports people staying in a marriage that's less than ideal, particularly if there are children involved. If there is domestic violence in the household, or any dangerousness, either from substance abuse or sexual infidelity, then leaving a marriage may be the only option left. But, the fact is, for many reasons, marriages end.
Most children haven't read the textbooks on human psychology, but they have an uncanny suspicion that an ideal world is one in which their mother and their father participate together in bringing them up. The problem for the children is that they cannot choose whether their parents stay together. That sobering reality leaves parents who decide to split with the possibility that their children, whom they have promised to protect against harm at all costs, may suffer.
If you do choose to live apart from the the kids' father, there are a few guidelines that are absolutely critical to easing the stress on you children:
Two Whole Homes
It is important for children to feel that they are at home with either parent, and that each parent has a place for them. If you son or daughter arrives at your home, only to see your collection of Star Wars figurines piled on his or her bed, it gives a message that your children are taking up space that you'd rather have for other things. Having a home means having individual space that is designed only for your children in mind. That should include:
1. A sleep area specifically dedicated to the children
2. Age appropriate space in the bathroom for toiletries or make up
3. Uncluttered room to study or do homework
4. A storage area or closet for your children's belongings
5. Designated space to play or exercise.
It's not necessary for you to buy a trailer and attach it to your home to meet these criteria; even if you have a fold out bed, and a desk that pulls out from under a table, with a "bath basket" of special supplies, your children will get the message that they have a home with you.
Over our lives we accrue lots of material possessions, and there's nothing like a marital separation to make you take stock of how much "stuff" we have. Some of the stuff you can live with; most you can live without! But when it comes to your children, certain material possessions are crucial to their sense of identity and belonging. Here are some basic necessities that you'll need to have at your, and your children's, fingertips.
1. Personal clothes (especially undergarments)
2. Study materials (paper, computer, no. 2 pencils-you get the idea)
3. Books and toys that reflect your child's personal tastes
4. A means of communication (cell phone, land line, etc) between your ex- and your children
5. A daily planner or calendar to help you child keep track of his or her schedule.
Despite the pressures your children put on you, if you don't believe in television, videogames or graphic comic books, you don't have to have them in your house. Having consistency between household demands that there are objects that have meaning and entertainment value to your children, but it doesn't mean that each household must have a Playstation 3 or iPad chock for of games in it.
Of course, the most important elements that your children need can't be designed by an architect, and they can't be bought at Walmart or any similar store. No matter how the physical setting looks, and no matter what's in it, it must be a home to your child. And the only ingredient you need for that is your love.
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