18 Tips for when Mom moves out in the divorce
Divorce is changing. Increasingly it is the mother who is choosing to leave the marital home. There are many reasons for this; each one as unique as the marriage that is ending. I know for me it was a difficult decision but the best one for me and my kids.
When I speak to the divorcing women who attend my workshops, work with me as divorce-coaching clients or hire me as their divorce Realtor I hear about the stigma associated when mom is the one who changes her address. Gossip and judgment surround her. Examples of things I and other moms have heard are: “she must be having an affair”, “she must not love her children”, “a good mother would never do that”, and perhaps the most insensitive, “I wish I could runaway from my life too”.
When I moved out after 11 years of marriage, my daughters were 8 years old, 4 years old and 16 months old. It didn’t take long for me to be accused of abandoning my children. Even though they slept at my home many times a week, even though I drove 16 miles in the opposite direction of work many mornings to pick up my 4-year old and drive her to pre-school because she asked me to, even though I couldn’t afford a babysitter so I was with them every minute of my scheduled parenting time, even though I would race to meet the afternoon bus and even though I was in touch with them constantly via phone, text and Facetime the whispers of “running away” followed me.
For some women, the fear of being stigmatized as “the mom who left her kids” is the reason why they stay in the home, for others the traditional roles of divorce are so indoctrinated that they don’t even realize that moving out might be a good option for them to consider. But for some of us, moving out is the best decision. I held the words of an old friend close to my heart, “home for your girls will be wherever mommy is. It doesn’t matter to them how many bathrooms or bedrooms there are, it only matters that mommy is there.” So I started over in a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment 17 minutes away from where we all lived when I was married. The transition was honestly brutal on me, but my girls did really well. Here are some tips from what I learned that can help you make this transition go more smoothly for you and your kids.
- Let friends and family in on your plans – You don’t need to justify your decision, just give friends and family a heads up about what changes are coming. Telling them you’ve thought it through and that this is right for you will help curtail the assumptions and judgments. In other words, get ahead of the gossip.
- Don’t disappear – Let your children know that you are moving out, when it’s happening and where you’re going. I didn’t have my kids help me look for a new place because I felt like I was too emotional and I didn’t want to have them feel my anxiety. I wanted them to feel like they were getting a second home, a safe and loving place to grow and be comfortable.
- Be consistent – Once I moved out, I was out. Don’t create confusion or false hope for your kids about a reconciliation. Move out, stay out and do it with confidence, even if you cry yourself to sleep every night at first.
- Eliminate the word ‘visitation’ from everyone’s vocabulary – Never let anyone refer to your time with your children as “visitation” or “visits”. If you have joint-shared legal custody of your children your time with your children is never visitation, its hands-on parenting. Don’t be undermined, undervalued or have your rights to your children feel diminished by allowing people to consider you visitor in your children’s lives just because you moved.
- Update your cell phone contacts – The day after I moved out my daughter called my cell phone and up popped the word “HOME”. I pulled over and cried before calling her back. I felt so many emotions, I felt homeless, I felt I left my kids behind, I felt like an outsider and I felt abandoned and betrayed by my ex-husband. It took me awhile to figure out what to do and then it came to me, I changed the contact from “HOME” to “GIRLS”. It was a simple change with a profound impact. No matter where I am or what I am doing I am always happy to hear from my girls. I suggest you too replace “HOME” with some other innocuous and cheerful word. It does wonders for healing your mind.
- Be careful with their first impression – When my girls walked into my apartment for the first time I had made little signs with their names on them out of construction paper and taped them to the wall. I had pictures of them on my bookshelf. I had paper and crayons there so we could all make artwork for the walls. I let them choose where their beds went and I had them help me pick out decorations for their room. They immediately felt like they had a voice and role in our new home.
- Choose your words carefully – Avoid the phrase, “my house”. For example saying, “we are going to my house for dinner and your dad’s house after” can make your kids feel like they don’t belong anywhere. Ideally the child should feel like they have equal say, safety and comfort in either residence and that all starts with the words you choose. Gently work in phrases that underscore that the new place is also home. “We’re home!” after school, or “ I can’t wait to go home and cook dinner with you” are simple phrases that will help them adjust to having two homes. It takes time. And it hurts. But it’s important. Together you’ll make new memories, and together you’ll cook dinner, do homework, decorate the refrigerator, put the laundry away and hang new drawings up and do all the things that feel like home, just in a new place. It took about 8 months before my girls started calling my place “home” and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.
- Change your address – Your credit is so important, don’t allow your ex to “misplace” your mail or “forget” to get it to you. If you know where you’re moving change your address on your bills 30 days prior to your move. If you don’t know the new address yet invest in a PO Box.
- Watch your credit score – I recommend ordering your credit report so you know all the credit cards and accounts associated with you and your ex. Call all your credit card companies and make sure to remove your ex from any accounts that list you as the primary on the account and him as an authorized user. Authorized users can charge on an account but have no legal responsibility to pay the bill. Conversely, (and I learned this the hard way) make sure you’re not an authorized user on any of your ex’s credit cards. While you’re not liable for the debt on that account, high balances and late payments will still negatively affect your credit score. Also, take your name off of any utilities associated with your old address and have your ex put them in his name. Even if you agree to cover the costs of these bills while the divorce is being finalized, get your name off the accounts and just pay the bill. Be sure to talk to your attorney about all of this as well, because in some instances you may need to take a different approach.
- Notify the schools, daycare and pediatrician of your new address – Make sure your email is updated and that the school knows to mail everything to both addresses. Just because you have moved, you are still a parent of a child in that school system and are entitled to all pertinent information. Continue to participate in after school events, be up-to-date on what your child is doing. Last year I was texting with a mom during the day about arranging a play date when she sent me a picture of my daughter at a farm. I didn’t know she was texting me from a field trip that she was chaperoning for my daughter’s class. The permission slip went home on a day my ex had the kids and the trip was on a day he had them as well, so I had no information about it at all. I felt like an ass, I felt heartbroken, out of the loop and overall I felt like less of a mom. No parent should ever feel that way and every parent has a right to know where their child is during school hours.
- Get a library card-If you don’t already have one or if you’re in a new town, this is a free and simple way to make new memories. It helps the kids feel like they are getting to become part of a new community. Divorce doesn’t have to be about splitting up a family but about growing it, with new experiences, new places and new people. Position it as this, no matter how hard it may be for you to believe at the moment, and your children will thrive.
- Get a copy of their health insurance card
- Let your kids bring whatever they want to the new home – My oldest brought 48 stuffed animals to my house the first night she stayed over. 48. It was insane but I just stood there and let her pile 2 black garbage bags into my car that afternoon. In the early months they would bring and switch their toys a lot while they got their bearings with the new situation. I had also gotten them some new things to discover at my place. Money is incredibly tight when you move and the few dollars I spent felt like hundreds. So when they said they wanted to take things I had bought them “home” (to their dad’s house) it was hard to swallow. But I took a deep breath and remembered these are kids, they didn’t make this situation, they need to feel control and comfort. So if taking a stuffed pig “home” was what they needed, so be it. Even if I never saw the pig again.
- Leave things behind at the old house- Don’t have your child wake up one day in the only home they know as their family home and find it bare. Leave things, lots of things. Too many things maybe. But leave them. I left makeup, my hairdryer, old high heels, my headbands, and even some of my clothes for dress up. They are replaceable things to us but to our children those things create their universe. Choose with care what you will take with you, tell the kids in advance you’re moving and what you think you may take. Eliminate the shock and surprise of it all. Ask them for help in what you should take.
- Let your kids decorate their space freely- My middle daughter has a picture of me and her dad over her bed. It’s not what I would choose to look at but it’s not for me, it’s for her. It’s so she knows she has two parents. Both of whom will always love her even if we don’t love each other anymore.
- Take inventory with them – Things that kids “need” don’t always register with us as parents. Video games, device chargers, craft supplies, makeup, dolls, etc are all things that may go under the radar. So ask them,”what else do you need to feel at home here?” and see what they say. My oldest walked through the door the first time at the new place, looked at me and said, “do we have toothbrushes here?” and I went to the linen closet and showed her 6 new toothbrushes that her and her sisters could choose from. She had the most enormous smile and I felt 1,000 pound weight off my back. We both knew, I had things under control, and they would be taken care of.
- Keep it real – when you have them with you it’s okay to give chores, take them with you to the grocery store or even send them out on play-dates. Many moms (including myself) make it harder in the beginning by believing the time we get with our kids post-divorce needs to be a magical experience. The truth is the magic of “momming” happens in teaching how to cook dinner, brushing hair, giving baths, showing them how to pick out a ripe avocado, reading bedtime stories. All the simple things that we do as moms is what makes our children feel safe and connected. Don’t worry about special trips and extravagant experiences. They are fun, but the truth is kids do better with a safe, consistent home environment. So keep it simple, keep it real and know that they need you know more than ever.
- Make it your own place – Lastly, your new home is yours. It’s where you and your children will heal. It’s where you will find yourself. It’s where new traditions will be made. Don’t feel like you need to let your ex be part of that space. Just as you are no longer a part of your old home your ex is not someone you need to have as part of your new home. Don’t rely on him for maintenance, snow removal, etc. You are on your own. It’s new, it’s scary but you will do it. Meeting your ex outside, at a restaurant, at the end of driveway is totally acceptable. Set the boundaries that make you comfortable and stick to them.
What tips do you have for making the move a successful one for you and your kids?