A college freshman told me that his parents thought they were doing everything right by waiting until he left for college to divorce and sell the family house. “But my first visit home from school was terrible. My father was living in a small apartment. My mother had moved in with a new man,” he said. “I felt like, did my childhood even ever happen?”
Parents often don’t divorce and sell the family home until the youngest child goes off to college. But sometimes all those changes in a child’s life – starting college; losing a childhood home; dealing with their parents’ divorce – bring too much upheaval at once.
Divorcing parents can make a child’s start at college easier:
- If you are in a position to keep the family house for longer, don’t sell it the minute your child walks out the front door. Wait six months, even a year, to see if your child adjusts well to school. The bottom line is: Know your child and your finances. If you have a child who gets homesick easily, and you have enough money, hold onto the house so your child can return to it as a sanctuary as he or she acclimates to school.
- Don’t turn your son or daughter’s room into a man cave or a sewing room! If you are going to keep the house for your child, make sure your child’s room remains intact with the things they still value left in place. The message your child will take from this is that even if you and your spouse are going separate ways, neither of you are abandoning your child.
- If you can’t afford to keep the marital house – there are other ways to make your child feel at home. Even if your finances force you to move to much smaller quarters, you should make room for some of your child’s prized possessions. Also designate an area your child can call their own – don’t just open a sofa bed in the living room when they come home. Give them privacy – even if you have to close off a dining area or put up a fake wall.
- Don’t introduce the new boyfriend or girlfriend on parents’ weekend! If your child doesn’t know you are involved with someone new, don’t give them this information right away. Take your cue from them. First introduce the idea that you’re dating. Also don’t broach the topic until you are certain your child is adjusted socially and academically.
Children go off to college excited by the prospect of a whole new life and their first taste of independence. But just because they aren’t living home, doesn’t mean they are ready to handle the emotions of having their childhood home split in two. You have to send them the message that even if you have separated as spouses, you will always both be loving parents.