This blog is a re-post of one of Ann Buscho, Ph.D.’s recent blogs that she uploaded to her website at https://drannbuscho.com. Your house (your home) has so many meanings for your family both emotionally and financially. Please read on for Dr. Buscho’s important thoughts on this topic as it relates to a divorce.
A house is just a building, but a home is filled with hopes, dreams, and memories. The attachment to the home can be almost as strong as an attachment to a living being. The attachment can be long-term— you’ve built a relationship with your home as you transformed it from simply a house to your home. It isn’t unusual for people to sob as they sign the final documents relinquishing the home.
During a divorce, you may want to keep the family home or may be relieved to have a fresh start. It can be contentious when you and your soon-to-be-ex want to keep the home, and it can be devastating if you realize that you can’t afford to.
For most children, their home has been their roots, their safe place, their sanctuary, and their security. It has been their world: the divorce is felt like a loss of family and the loss of the home doubles that loss.
For some children, the home may have been filled with abuse, conflict, or violence. These children (and their parents) may be relieved to have a fresh start. Selling the home, especially under difficult circumstances such as a divorce, can feel like a death to some. Grieving can take years.
It isn’t just in a divorce. We see this attachment to home when we move an elderly parent out of the home they have been in for so long; the home has become an extension of themselves and leaving feels like an emotional amputation. I have heard from many older people that they would prefer death to leaving their home.
The value of a home can’t be measured. It is subjective and not quantifiable. The appraised value may seem completely irrelevant because it doesn’t account for the emotional attachment. The attachment may also be to the neighborhood, the community, which has become the modern-day version of our village as families have become so dispersed. It is sometimes easier for people to relocate if they can stay in the same area.
Saying “goodbye” to the home is often skipped. You and your children can benefit from a ritual of some kind before the move. The ritual can take many forms: planting a tree, taking photos, or simply holding hands together in a moment of silence. One of my clients put down a square of fresh cement outside and everyone put in their handprint!
Your children will leave home when they grow up. While this might be hard, it is rarely traumatic. They have had plenty of time to be prepared and to embrace the idea of moving on. In a divorce, it is important to help children prepare for the move. Parents should talk about it with their children ahead of time (not just the day before) and offer empathy for the loss as well as reassurance about the future. Children can help with the move too, by visiting the new home, participating in designing their room, packing and unpacking their things. Children can learn that change can be both a loss and an opportunity for growth and something new.
Nesting (or birdnesting) is a transitional option for parents. It keeps your children in the home while you and your soon-to-be-ex rotate on and off duty. This is a time when you can begin to prepare your children for the changes that are coming. It is also a time when you can be thoughtful about your decisions, including whether to stay in the home, sell it, or have one parent keep it. Nesting is a kind of “softened startup” to the divorce, for the children and the parents. (More in my book, The Parent’s Guide to Birdnesting.)
When one parent keeps the family home, the children don’t lose that attachment. However, it is rare for children to attach as deeply to the other parent’s new home. That is why parents often argue over who gets to keep the home. You may decide to sell the home because it feels more “fair” that each of you moves to a new place. Other times parents agree that they want the children to have the continuity of being with one parent in the family home. Some say that home is where the parents are, and this is true to some degree. But the attachment to the childhood home can’t be minimized.
During your divorce talk about your emotional attachment to your home as one factor in making decisions about whether to keep or sell the home. It’s not simply about the money!
© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2021
Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. is a divorce coach practicing in Marin County. More information in her bio on the “Find A Professional” page.