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  • Zelena van der Leeden, MC, CDC®

Attachment Parenting in High-Conflict Separations: Challenge Accepted!

When the father of my children and I decided to separate, I struggled with a lot of guilt: my daughter was 2 and my son had just turned 4. During the marriage, we practiced attachment parenting so I was very worried about our babies missing one of us when they were with the other parent.


If both parents are able to care for the children, it makes sense that they spend an equal amount of time with each parent. You can consult with a child psychologist to find out what schedule to follow according to the kid’s ages: usually younger children adapt best to a 2/2/3 rotation. At a younger age, children miss their parents more and a few nights might feel like an eternity,


After my separation, I continued to co-sleep with my little ones and I wore my toddler until she was too heavy for my carrier. If you have an amicable separation, kids can sense the peace and usually tend to have an easier time transitioning between homes. Goodbyes can be emotional, but as kids grow they learn to cherish their time with each parent. If they miss the other parent, you can video-call, exchange pictures and leave voice notes for them. They learn pretty quickly that they can get a hold of you with the touch of a button and that they are loved despite the distance. Some co-parents even choose to celebrate kid's birthdays together and are able to plan outings and trips as a family.


If you are in the middle of a high-conflict divorce, it might take time to get to that “happily even after” scenario. Some parents are not able to communicate with each other and pick-ups and drops happen at school on a week-about rotation. Some of my clients are not able to talk to their kids when they are under the care of the other parent because of the animosity between the "grown-ups". They miss their kids terribly, but there are little tricks to stay close to their hearts when the little ones are away:


Give them something of yours to hold on to while they are at their other home: a bracelet, a scarf with your scent or a stuffy. You can write them little notes and leave them in their lunch boxes and volunteer at their school. My kids and I always blow kisses to each other and pretend to keep them in our pockets in case we miss each other. As they grow, you will be able to interact with them through video games or social media.


As time goes by, families get used to being apart for longer periods of time. If your children are struggling, it might be a good idea for them to see a child therapist. Never talk bad about the other parent and do not involve the children in matters meant for adults. Even if you don’t agree with the way your former spouse does things, you can let your kids know that each house has different rules and that they will be able to make their own when they are grownups.


Children are resilient and if adults are able to shelter them from the drama, they don’t have to suffer. Divorce affects everyone differently, but know that love is a powerful force and if you have a special bond with your children, it will not get weaker by being apart for short periods of time.


When I coach parents facing high-conflict separations, I remind them to focus on being the best version of themselves. If anything, many of us become better parents when we spend time away from our kids, because we learn to truly value our precious time with them.


You can choose a negative lens and think that you are missing half of your children’s lives because your marriage ended; or you can set an intention to be the best f’ing parent when you are with them. Give them your attention (put down the phone), play with them, listen to their silly stories. They will miss you when they are away, or miss their other parent when they are with you, but that is a good thing! It means they love you. Reassure them by telling them that they are safe in both homes and that they mean the world to both parents. Tell them they are part of you (50% your, 50% the other parent to be exact) and that they were made out of love and that that love will only grow stronger. They live in your heart and you live in theirs.



“Speak to your children as if they are the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical humans on earth, for what they believe is what they will become.” ― Brooke Hampton






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