Foot in Two Families
By Gary Direnfeld, M.S.W.
eldest is from a prior relationship and youve long since established
a new family. He or she is now pushing for changes to the residential
arrangement and thus spend more time with the other parent.
is a pang in your gut. The old issues with the ex re-emerge.
You think about losing your child yet again and the impact on the
younger siblings who are not of that former relationship but who
will remain with you full-time, missing the elder sibling.
parents separate or divorce, precious little time is ever given
to the consequences and challenges to be faced down the road. The
custody and access battle of the day came to a conclusion and the
parent with primary residence or custody envisions that lasting
to the day the child leaves home for work or college. However, the
secondary residential parent or access parent, often holds a dream
that one day, their child will come to live with them as he or she
has been living in their primary residence.
these kind of issues surface when the child is in the tween years,
that age between 9 and 12. The child may want more time with the
alternate parent based upon the developing relationship and sometimes
based upon a fantasized view of what the change may provide. The
child is supported explicitly or implicitly by the desires of the
or not to facilitate a change in the residential schedule depends
upon many factors. Parents are asked to consider counseling or mediation
to review the plan and discuss issues arising. In the absence of
discussion, the matter tends to fester between the parties and even
between child and parents. In some cases the festering takes on
a life of its own and the conflicts that had long since been
settled re-emerge with a vengeance disrupting life for all concerned.
these appear to be complicated family situations. However, the complexity
can be navigated assuming goodwill on the part of both parents to
review and seriously consider change.
is inevitable, even in intact families. So it is not change per
se that is problematic, but more so resistance to it. With review,
planning and acceptance, families endure change. If this were not
the case, children would not enter school, grow and eventually leave
home anyway. For parents whose child has a foot in two families,
there do tend to be changes beyond what is experienced in intact
families. For children between separated parents who have since
re-established families, there are different changes to face. For
instance; as the child grows, one parent over the other may be preferred
along gender lines; there can be job relocations; the preferred
school may be in the area of the other parent.
the changes forthrightly and facilitating change through discussion
and dialogue can minimize negative consequences and help maintain
good and ongoing relationships for all concerned. The degree to
which parents can negotiate and facilitate change, family structure
remains somewhat fluid and resilient. Children get to enjoy and
develop their relationships according to their developmental needs.
All relationships can remain intact.
for the kids remaining with the parent who had primary residence,
they may miss their elder sibling. This does not mean however their
relationship to the elder sibling has ended, but circumstances do
dictate a different structure a reality that must be faced.
These parents must realize a child with a foot in two families has
different pushes and pulls and help all their children live within
that reality so that as they get older, they too learn that negotiation
skills and compromise can make lifes challenges manageable.
Direnfeld, M.S.W. is a social worker in Ontario, Canada, and an
expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and
family therapy, custody and access recommendations. Services include
counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
For more information, visit www.yoursocialworker.com
or call (905) 628-4847.