Before settling into bed the other night, my oldest daughter (nine) looked around her room and started listing the things she would move to her new bedroom; she mentioned the things she would keep where they are and why. I assured her we could duplicate a few things, and certain items can always be carried between the two houses.
This has been an ongoing conversation, and one that has evolved into bookmarking loft beds and bean bag chairs as she mentally decorates her new space. My daughter is getting a new room because I am moving out of the home she has known for seven years; her young siblings have only ever lived in this house, but in the near future our current dynamic will be pulled apart. The house we all currently live in will soon be the sole property of my ex-partner. Because I still live with my ex, however, my kids have had time to process the fact they will have two homes soon.
My kids have known for over a year that I and their other parent are separated; my ex and I knew our marriage was over several months before we told them we were getting a divorce. Shortly after, I moved into the guest bedroom and have been living there ever since. My ex-partner and I have remained excellent co-parents, and as time passes and wounds heal, our friendship is getting stronger too. Staying in the house has allowed me to save money, and it gave the kids time to adjust to a new reality. In March, I was about to start looking for housing options, but the pandemic threw a wrench into my job security and put a screeching halt to the house hunting. The pandemic isn’t “done” — however, it’s time to pick up the process again.
It’s important for my ex and me to have our own spaces, and for the five of us to exist in a new way; we need a bit of closure on what has been suspended reality, especially for the kids. We will remain a family, but one that is no longer under the same roof. It’s both comforting and heartbreaking to watch them process the change that is coming, but I’m fortunate to have had the time for them to help me create what our “new normal” will look like.
My kids are very aware that their parents are no longer married, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy and benefit from both of us being in the same house. Having two parents present and accessible for three kids is easier and more advantageous in most scenarios than one parent. Time and attention are more easily distributed; the supply of adult resources is better matched to the demands made by children. Not that single parents can’t and don’t rock the shit out of parenting, but my kids are used to having two parents in one house and they prefer when we are both home. They don’t have to be as patient, as demanding, or as independent when they have both parents around.
However, because I am in a long distance relationship, they have had a taste of me being away at times. We have used video chats and texts to stay in contact when I am not in the house. I have reinforced the fact that I am always available and will always come back to them. Getting a divorce and a new house does not mean I (or their other parent) am leaving them — I have reminded them that they are coming with me — but it does mean change is happening and what they are used to is going to take time to become our new normal.
My oldest will ask who will take care of the things she sees as my role in this house. They want to be sure their other parent is welcome to have sleepovers in the new house. They want and are given confirmation that no matter where they are, they can call or video chat whichever parent they may be missing or just want to talk to for a few minutes.
Living peacefully with my ex-partner has allowed me to have great conversations with all of my kids. They aren’t just anticipating change; they are preparing for it. While I am grateful for these interactions that give my kids a bit of control and peace of mind, it still breaks my heart that they need to navigate this change. I know it’s necessary, that they are resilient, and that they are far from alone in having divorced parents. But it still stings. I will miss them when they are not with me; the idea of them missing me hurts more.
I have used this time to help them visualize what it will look like when they have two houses, two rooms, and two parents who no longer live together. They are ready for it, at least in theory. I know the actuality of the transition will be tough, but going through the motions will bring muscle memory to all the visualization we have done. We are all preparing to the best of our ability. These are new, uncharted waters for us all.
During our summer walks or bike rides, my kids will point out houses they think will be good for me and them, whether it’s for sale or not—real estate is not a concept they completely grasp. They know the house needs to have at least three bedrooms and ideally it will be close enough to their current house so that they can bike or walk between their homes. A nice backyard is important.
And it must be able to hold a loft bed.