Two Homes, One Childhood

A parenting plan to last a lifetime

Posted Jul 26, 2016

            I have a new book just out called, Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime. I thought that visitors to this site might be interested in why I wrote this book.

            Two Homes, One Childhood is written for parents, as was my 2004 book, The Truth about Children and Divorce. Parents who live apart often want or need guidance about how best to raise children across two homes.

             I would like to think that Two Homes is like a "Dr. Spock" (the famous book about baby care), but written for parents who live separately. Because parents who live apart face unique challenges throughout their children's life, I don't focus just on babies though. Two Homes has chapters on the entire range of child development, from infancy through emerging adulthood.

            I have spent over 35 years doing research on children, divorce, child custody, and mediation and writing for professional audiences. During this time, I also have practiced as a clinical psychologist, divorce mediator, and, more recently, parenting coordinator. Both of these books translate my research and experience into advice for parents. I hope my insights can help you if you or a loved one are divorcing or divorced with children.

            I say “divorce,” but I use that as an umbrella term. You might be separated, splitting up after living together, or maybe you never lived together at all. My focus is on parenting children across two homes, not the particular reason why you find yourself in this circumstance.

            The Truth about Children and Divorce focuses on the crisis of a marriage unraveling. I review the tasks parents face at this time, for example, talking to the children and beginning to negotiate a parenting plan. But the big message of The Truth is in its subtitle, Dealing with the Emotions, So You and Your Children Can Thrive. Much of this book focuses on parents’ anger and the many emotions that hide behind and drive anger. If you can recognize the deeper, more honest feelings that create anger, you will be better able to act out of concern for your children instead of reacting impulsively to your own pain, fear, longing, guilt, and grief.

            Two Homes, One Childhood picks up where The Truth about Children and Divorce ends. Two Homes assumes you are dealing with your painful and powerful emotions, or at least beginning to. (The book steers you back to The Truth for advice in case you have not, as I just did here.)

            Two Homes, One Childhood opens with three broad chapters. Perhaps the most important is the second chapter, where I describe my evidence-based “Hierarchy of Children’s Needs in Two Homes.” (This will be the focus of an upcoming blog post.) Another key is Chapter Three, which focuses on legal and physical custody (time and decision-making), including the basics of the law and the much more complicated real world issues involved in actually sharing parenting time and decisions across two homes.

My focus in these chapters and throughout Two Homes is on joint custody, but I urge parents to think more broadly than dividing things exactly 50/50 when it comes to sharing time and decision-making. I urge parents not to treat “share” as a noun. “I got my share, 50% calculated right down to the minute.” Instead, I want “share” to be a verb for you and your family. You share the responsibilities, and, I hope, the joys, of raising your children across two homes. As a verb, sharing means having a lot of time with your children, perhaps 50/50, but as I say in the book, kids don’t count minutes and neither should you.

Following these opening chapters. Two Homes takes a developmental perspective on parenting across two homes and includes chapters on infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, adolescents, and emerging adults. These chapters discuss developmentally appropriate parenting plans for children of different ages, but they emphasize developmentally appropriate parenting. The key to successfully raising children in two homes isn’t the schedule you create. The key is parenting, separately and together with your ex. You can work together for the sake of your children, or you can work against one another for the sake of punishing him, vindicating yourself, or proving you are the better parent.

Doing the right thing by your children is not easy, I know. But it is the right thing.

That is a quick outline of the structure of the book. Let me highlight the key messages.

Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime has two broad themes, one reflected in the title and the other in the subtitle.

The title, Two Homes, One Childhood, underscores a simple yet profound message. Children have only one childhood. Childhood should be a time of innocence, trust, wonder, joy, exploration, learning, and making strong, worthy efforts. Childhood is a time when nothing, even your parents’ divorce, should shake a child’s sense of being loved, of feeling safe and secure.

Robert Emery
Source: Robert Emery

Two Homes focuses on children’s needs in an effort to help you keep your focus there too.

The subtitle, A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime, identifies the second broad theme of this book. The only parenting plan that lasts a lifetime is one that grows and changes along with children’s, and families, changing needs.

At first blush, the idea of a parenting plan that changes over time might seem frightening or burdensome. Do I have to continually negotiate with my ex? But on reflection, the possibility of change takes pressure off of you. You do not have to create a schedule now and live with it forever. You can try things out, see what works, and fix things that aren’t working. You can make adjustments as life dictates, particularly in response to major developmental milestones in your child’s life, or perhaps, in your family’s lifecycle.

Thinking of your parenting plan as a living agreement can be particularly helpful in addressing complicated and sometimes controversial issues, like what is the best arrangement for infants and toddlers, a topic I explore at length. And this idea is something that the legal system is slowly recognizing in various new state guidelines and in the increasing recognition of what some call “step up” parenting plans – plans that grown and change over time.

As I said, I wrote these books for parents, because I want to provide some child-focused guidance at a time when parents are emotionally distraught, searching for direction, and often hear conflicting advice. I welcome feedback on whether I have made inroads toward that important goal, as well as hearing ideas on other ways to do so.