Step-Families with Preschoolers

With divorced, single parent and other non-traditional family structures, today’s preschooler can experience a much more fluid upbringing than their peers in traditional family situations.

Their actual number of family members, for instance, can increase dramatically (and very quickly) with a remarriage. A  post-divorce break-up, on the other hand, can do the opposite – aside from all of the emotional turmoil involved.

At its most basic level, planning the lives of preschool children of divorced parents is complicated and seemingly endless. The standard workweek imposes a structure that needs to be followed without much room for negotiation; it’s the down-time when crisis situations tend to occur. Unless (and sometimes despite) a real effort is made on the part of all adults involved, extended holidays or weekend visits for step-families with preschool children can be torturous exercises.

One Mother’s Choice

A grandmother related her live-and-learn story, saying:

My daughter’s boyfriend has a little girl, 2 1/2, who is in custody of her mother. He was supposed to get her for Christmas Day and had prepared the house especially to accommodate a young child. We had childproof ornaments on the lower half of the tree. I even baked gingerbread men. We were very excited because the little girl’s mama doesn’t put up a Christmas tree and neither does her grandmother, so she had never seen one.

So, my daughter and her boyfriend went to pick her up, but when it was time to leave, she screamed and cried and didn’t to come because she didn’t want to leave her new toys. The mother, who has always let the father have the child when it was his time before, said she wouldn’t force the little girl because she was so upset.

Plan the Get Away

Just as we parents literally crawl around the house, in an attempt to see it from the perspective of our newly-mobile babies, we need to look at our visitation plans from the point of view of our preschoolers. Because family customs or expectations are meaningless to a child, the parent needs to choose between following beloved traditions (without change) or bending the situation to fit the child’s needs.

Sharing custody of a child is simply that – a split, a division – and there will always be inherent loneliness and forfeit involved. Things will not be the same; however, by rotating visits and holidays fairly between extended family members, your preschool child can actually benefit by having more people who love her.