Give your daughter a “nest” of her own in your new place and watch her settle right in.
There is an on-going discussion in the family law arena about whether or not a “presumption” of shared physical custody between divorced parents is the ideal status quo. In the simplest terms, this means that unless one parent provides proof of emotional and/or physical abuse by the other parent, courts would assume that custody plans should include a 50/50 timeshare.
Legal presumptions are fine and dandy, but if parenting under the best of circumstances places parents in murky waters, divorced parenting is like trying to wade through the thickest sludge, especially at the beginning.
The idea that married parents should spend equal time parenting is all fantastic. So are most romantic comedies. That doesn’t mean life generally works that way. Many husbands have sincere intentions of being as involved in their children’s lives as their wives, but a family needs to eat. On a logistical level, men more often than women still find themselves having to work too hard for too long to make that parenting intention a daily reality.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Marriage is a partnership. Clearly defined household roles, not necessarily according to gender-norms, are often stabilizing and healthy for everyone. Mom and Dad are a team, and teams need players at different positions on the field in order to fully cover the field of action.
If this type of partnership crumbles and the parental teammates separate into two households, it is common for both parents to then worry about how the children will handle their time in Dad’s new place. The kids have had Mom with them every morning they’ve woken up and night they’ve gone to sleep, while Dad has been out at meetings or away on business, building a stronger network and keeping the family in that beautiful home.
Mom’s concerns about the potential quality of Dad’s overnight care aside, what if the kids don’t want to go to Dad’s new pad? Should they be forced to? I have heard this question raised most often in regard to fathers of girls. It is surprisingly common for divorcing parents to find that while their son seems pretty cool with hanging out with Dad no matter what his place is like or how often he’s been around in the past, their daughter can put up quite the fit about the new arrangement.
According to Bill Eddy of The High Conflict Institute, you’d be hard pressed to find a judge who will try to “enforce schedules with children over about age 15.” However, both parents should do their absolute best from the very beginning of their separation process to work towards encouraging their kids’ to not only go to their scheduled times at dads’ place, but to enjoy and look forward to it.
Still, no matter how awesome a dad you have been and how supportive their mom is of your relationship, girls are difficult creatures to understand. There will be plenty of times when you just don’t get her, and this situation is likely one of them. You’re growing as a dad, maybe becoming a far better dad than you’ve ever been before. Why is she rejecting you?
She isn’t rejecting you, though. She is freaking out. FREAKING out. It’s not about you. She’s a girl. When she goes to your place, how will she possibly have enough clothes to choose from before school? How will her hair get done? I’m not accusing your daughter of being superficial or bratty — your daughter is a female, plain and simple.
An effective way of helping your daughter see your place as her own is to provide her with the opportunity to “nest” it.
There is, after all, a reason Austin Powers calls us “birds.” Remember when your ex-wife was pregnant and suddenly began over-stocking the pantry, rearranging (or possibly buying) furniture, cleaning and organizing like a mad woman? This phenomenon is known as the “nesting instinct” – a woman’s biologically overwhelming urge to prepare the home for baby.
What I have observed over the course of my own divorce and the divorces of many clients is that the nesting instinct in women extends beyond pregnancy and can pop up at any time of stressful transition in our lives. And it starts when we are young girls. Even when the instinct doesn’t make itself known on a conscious level, giving girls the opportunity to nest their space is extremely soothing.
As a newly single dad welcoming your daughter to make your new home her own, here are 5 simple ways you can give your baby girl the gift of feathering her own nest:
- Make sure she knows she has her own space. Even if the home is a studio apartment, give her a wall, squared off corner or any other identifiable area as her personal property to decorate and make use of as she sees fit.
- Let her see the space and choose the colors and/or a theme. If she walks into a bubble gum pink extravaganza and feels more punk rock at the moment, you’ll have just shot yourself in the foot. (Yeah, we’re difficult. I get it. But don’t shoot the messenger.) Determine whether your budget, and your landlord, can tolerate an entire paint job or even just some thematic picture frames and let her set the tone.
- Let her know she’ll have the time and supplies she needs for her morning routine. Depending on her age, you can ask her or her mom to give you a breakdown of how it tends to go and what helps or doesn’t with any potential hiccups, as well as which supplies you should have on hand.
- Take her on a shopping spree. You don’t need to break the bank. Target or a similar store near you will have all of the supplies noted above, as well as a variety of bedspreads, pillows, posters and other little goodies she can use to make her space her own.
- Allow her to set some boundaries. When she gets closer to the onset of her period, the premium a girl places on her privacy flies through the roof. You have zero interest in discussing her period with her, and she has even less interest in discussing it with you. Let her know that as long as she still engages with you regularly and participates in family meals, alone time in her room and on the phone with friends is absolutely OK.
I would strongly discourage you from telling your daughter you get that she’s a bird, especially if she’s a pre-teen or older, unless you’re looking for some serious eye-rolling in response. However few girls, no matter how surly, will turn down a father/daughter shopping date. Throw in some kind of activity or treat she loves at the beginning or end, and you’ve got a beautiful bonding ritual.
Just like grown women, girls want to know that the man in their life understands them. You’re the most important man her life will ever know. The best way to understand her is to ask her and then acknowledge her explanation. Keep up that learning pattern and I guarantee conversations about whether or not shared parenting requires “force” will become entirely irrelevant.
Originally published on YourTango.