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rojo's avatar

How do you help a childs stress levels in a marriage separation situation?

Asked by rojo (14582 points ) September 13th, 2013

My daughter and her SO split up about a year ago. It was an amenable breakup and both parties are still communicating and taking care of my 7 year old grandaugher. The only problem I see is that it seems to be taking a toll on her mental well being.

During the week they take turns taking care of her every other day and they compromise on the weekend depending on each others schedule. But, it just seems like switching parents every day is taking a toll on her. She seems to be emotionally stressed out, prone to tears for the slightest reason and, while a generally happy child, she seems to mope for no obvious reason.

It could be she is just tired. I know her mom enforces a bedtime of 8:30 but her dad does not seem to be able to set his schedule to do the same. It is not unusual for her to go to be after 10 pm. She is also three weeks into the school year and has been late four times, each time it has been after staying with her dad. They have spoken about this but he does not feel that 2nd grade is that big of a deal.

My daughter is fretting and not sure what to do. She does not want to deny him his daughter but does want her to be happy.

My suggestion is for her to keep my granddaugher Sunday night through Friday and for him to have her all weekend.

Any thoughts, particularly from those of you who may have been in similar situations.

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15 Answers

Headhurts's avatar

I was 6 when my parents divorced. My mum moved round the corner from my dad so I wouldn’t be too far away. However, it was horrible. My dad didn’t have a clue what to do with me, and neither did my mum. I spent nearly the whole of my childhood in my bedroom fighting with my toys. I would separate them into who bought me what, and attack them with the other. Divorce is horrible on kids and they never forget. I am 34 now and I remember their divorce like it was yesterday. My advice is, do not slate the other in front of her, no matter how hard it is, it will seriously damage her. They both need to love her and bring her up as they would have done when they were together. She isn’t a weapon. If her mum wants her in bed at a certain time, then that time should apply when she is with her dad. Just messing with times like this is mentally messing with her. I feel for her, I really do.

snowberry's avatar

Agree with @Headhurts. If the two of them can swing it, they need to keep her in one place, and switch out who is home. There have been articles about this. The up-side for her is that she doesn’t have to live out of a suit-case, make new friends at Dad’s or Mom’s new house, and her bed room stays the same. Dad needs to hire a baby sitter to get her in bed on her bed time, or take her to school. Yeah, so it’s more money and inconvenient to dad, but if they’re really trying to support the kid he needs to do this.

ccrow's avatar

I agree with you, her time is too chopped up with an every-other-day schedule. That would be difficult enough, even without the separation issue. Other than that, I would say make sure she knows none of it is her fault; kids often blame themselves. And give her as much love and support as you can.

Headhurts's avatar

@snowberry is spot on here. It is isn’t the little girls fault what has happened. The dad needs to step up. They might not like each other, but they loved each other once and created the child. She comes first now. The parents need to get together, sort out how they want to bring her up and agree to this. Also what is important, is that when the girl sees them together, that they are amicable. What she sees at this age, is how she will portray her relationships in the future.

Headhurts's avatar

I also think you have a role here. I loved my grandparents, my grandma in particular. They never judged, they never hated the other parent. They gave me wonderful security, they gave me love and they gave me the childhood I should have had in the time I spent with them.

rojo's avatar

I need to speak with him privately. He is a good father, kind and patient with children but he is also somewhat emotionally immature. He gets vindictive if he thinks he has or is being slighted, nothing too bad but in my opinion kind of an emotional blackmail type attitude. He is an intelligent person but did not do well in the public school setting and I think that this has colored his attitude toward schooling in general but I need to step up and lay it out for him. He will be hurt and think that my daughter put me up to it but it is not about him, or me for that matter. I know he loves his daughter it is just that he and my daughter have differing opinions on what is important in life in general and raising a child in particular.

Cupcake's avatar

If the parents are amenable, I think family therapy could do wonders.

They need to set up a schedule that works for the kid, and I think this is too much transition for her. Perhaps a week here and week there would be better??

If not family therapy, get the kid a therapist who works well with children.

JLeslie's avatar

Most 50/50 custody is 3 days with ne parent and 4 withthe other and then it alternates. Not every other day.

Does the father also worry that the back and forth is upsetting his daughter? Is he willing to discuss a change in the schedule?

gailcalled's avatar

She seems to be emotionally stressed out, prone to tears for the slightest reason and, while a generally happy child, she seems to mope for no obvious reason.

it seems to be taking a toll on her mental well being.

It is taking a toll and she is emotionally stressed out. Perhaps find a neutral mediator to set up some sane house rules or even better, a child therapist to talk to everyone.

I agree that having her bounce around every other day is destructive and should be stopped immediately.

i also agree with this:

”.... If the two of them can swing it, they need to keep her in one place, and switch out who is home.

Every minute in this little girl’s life is a big deal, starting with this one…now.

geeky_mama's avatar

Hi. I’m the custodial step-mom of a now teen aged daughter.
I’ve been part of parenting her since she was about 18 months old.

Their divorce decree stipulated one week at one parent’s house and the next at another – but in practicality – and for the stability and emotional health of SD, it’s turned into her living with us about 90% of the time. It took a while for this situation to evolve – and I heard SD, from a relatively young age, that as much as she loved her mom she didn’t like having to switch houses.
One week on, one week off made some aspects of parenting harder – but more than that, I think it was tough on SD.

As others have pointed out – it’s highly unusual to have a custody switch as frequent as every other day. Moreover, if she doesn’t know which parent will have her on which weekend how does she make play-dates with friends or have friends over? That can be stressful (the not knowing where she’ll be—not having a known routine) to kids, too.

Even if both parents are perfect and loving it’s not likely that their parenting style is identical, and therefore it takes time for her (your granddaughter) to adjust to being each house. With the switch like it is currently she never gets a chance to settle in and get with the program at either house before it’s time to switch again.
Even the best co-parents tend to have slightly different rules..so she’s constantly having to remember which set of rules apply..and, as a child, she’s also testing the boundaries..and the boundaries are no doubt slightly different..which is nothing short of confusing at age 7.

The parents should seek a children’s counselor experienced in dealing with children of divorce. Also, with the help of a neutral 3rd party (there are mediators that don’t charge a lot of money that specialize in child custody negotiations) they should try devising a schedule that has fewer switches and then STICK to the schedule.
They need to let their daughter know what the schedule is – perhaps even putting it on a calendar in a way she can understand and look at and follow—and they need to play to their strengths.
If Dad is more “fun” and doesn’t enforce bedtimes, maybe he’s better to have Friday thru Saturdays and more of the summer or school vacation days. In time, they might figure out a way for daughter to live school weeks at mom’s house—but see dad for a couple dinners out each week to chat & catch up. That’ll give your granddaughter a good routine but still the time to bond with both parents.

Parents have to realize that as much as they love their kids and miss seeing them on non-custodial days..it’s more about what’s best for the kid to have stability & routine.

snowberry's avatar

My daughter divorced, and moved into the same apartment complex with her ex. He has custody. She has a key to the house, and even goes over and picks up/cleans once in a while (the dad is a horrible house keeper). The oldest kid also has a key to her apartment so she can get away from her rambunctious special needs little sister. It’s as good as it’s going to get, which is not wonderful, but it CAN be made work if mom and dad aren’t fighting all the time.

CWOTUS's avatar

It appears to me, looking at this only through the lens of your words, that the parents have very fundamental differences in how a child should be reared (perhaps this also influenced the split?) and are still fighting over their differences, no matter how well it appears on the surface, through their daughter.

It seems to me – and seeing only your daughter’s side of things through your eyes and words – that your son-in-law is being somewhat passive-aggressive towards his ex, as demonstrated by his diametric opposition to her concern for evening routine and bedtime, importance of school, etc.

So, how do you counter that? Can you have a talk with him – a “nice” talk that doesn’t raise his hackles and make him behave even worse toward his daughter, even if no one else can see it – to encourage him to find another proxy for the battle? I agree with others that the shuttle between parents, to enable them to avoid the appearance of “losing” to the other, is taking a toll on her.

One other potential strategy is to encourage your daughter to take a certain risk and leave the girl with her father for a week or two, so that he can see the effects of his lackadaisical attitude towards bedtime and early school hours. Right now, he gets to let her stay up late, and then your daughter has to deal with the consequences. Perhaps (if he really is a decent sort) he’s just ignorant of the effect of his bad parenting.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

When my wife and I separated and divorced, we agreed on an every other week schedule for where our children stayed. We also made sure they had the same toys and books at both houses. They had clothes at both houses, though not identical like the toys and books. There were no suitcases involved.

There were periods of great stress for all of us. It’s unavoidable, but we had some strict understandings.

1. We never said derogatory things about the other parent in front of the children.

2. We communicated regularly about the daily activities of the children and about any special activities for weekends.

3. We kept the same bedtime and morning routines at both houses. (My psychologist, who happened to be a child psychologist, impressed on me at the time the importance of routine in a child’s life.)

4. Getting a child to school on time is mandatory. It is not to be taken lightly, and the father should be notified that the school officials will become involved should the tardiness continue.

Writing this response renewed a lot of the emotions surrounding my own separation and divorce. It was not an easy time, but both my ex-wife and I had one important thing in mind: the children’s needs came first. If there is any indication the father is not doing his part, legal options must be considered to limit his time with the child.

augustlan's avatar

Routine is very important for children, and hers is being disrupted every day. Really, she doesn’t have a chance to settle in anywhere. While I admire parents who strive for true 50/50 custody, I think it’s often easier on the kids to have one home base. If that’s not an option, at least a week at a time at each house. Having both parents adhere to the same bedtime is pretty critical, too.

Supacase's avatar

Your granddaughter needs time to settle in long enough at each place for both of them to feel like home to her. It is ok to be flexible for special situations; However, I would wait until a consistent schedule has been established. She needs to be familiar with the normal routine first. Structure tends to help children feel secure.

It will take time to find the balance between switching back and forth too much and not enough. I would be hesitant to follow the schedule you suggested simply because being the parent who only has her on school days would be stressful and the other is eventually going to want some of his weekends free.

We went through something similar with our 7 year old daughter after we separated. She was stressed and confused and, honestly, exhausted. It was hard on all of us, but we now have a schedule that seems to be working well.

I know this is hard, but your granddaughter does have people looking out for her and trying to do what is best. That is a big step in the right direction and, unfortunately, more than many children have.

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