How to belong in more than one home? A geographical perspective on a sense of belonging amongst children of divorce in shared residence in the Netherlands.
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A considerable number of children all over the world face divorce or separation of their parents each year. In the Netherlands, an estimated 70.000 children face the consequences of divorce annually. As parental divorce drastically changes the home and social environment of adolescents, it begs the question how this affects a child’s sense of belonging, especially when parents opt for a shared residence agreement, spreading a child’s daily life over two different homes instead of one. In the field of geography, however, not much is known about the workings of divorce on the sense of belonging of a child, even though the spatial ramifications of divorce and a consequential shared residence agreement leaves plenty of questions and considerations on this matter. In this qualitative research concerning the sense of belonging and the feeling of being at home of children who went through divorce and grow up in a shared residence arrangement in the Netherlands, an attempt is made to shed a light on the aspects that influence this sense of belonging of children who are raised in more than one home. The explorative nature of this research with many different aspects of a child’s daily life under review is carried out by performing in-depth interviews with fifteen adolescents between the age of twelve and nineteen. To gain access to this particular research group, a collaboration between the researcher and the interdisciplinary research group ‘Dynamics of Youth’ of Utrecht University was formed. In the past few years this research group performed longitudinal surveys accompanied with written journals of the children that participated to gain additional insights on the matter and this master thesis adds to their project from a geographical point of view. Existing literature on a shared residence agreement after divorce is extensive, but predominantly focused on the experiences of parents and professionals. Within contemporary Western and Scandinavian societies, opting for a shared residence agreement after divorce is gaining popularity, but whether this form of shared responsibility of raising children is as beneficial for the children as it is to the parents is still up for debate. Therefore, this research will focus on the experiences of the children, aiming in reducing the gap within the literature. To gain insights in all daily aspects of the child’s life, the research will focus on three different aspects of their weekly routine. First, on what children perceive as being of influence on their feelings of home and sense of belonging based on the families and living conditions in the households, they currently live in. It is concerned with the effects of living and moving between two homes, possible new partners of either parent and possible new stepbrothers and/or stepsisters, and the effect of these new family compositions on their living arrangements in both homes, such as having a private bedroom, preferences in households and the influence of the neighborhood on their living situation. Second, the children’s social networks will be under review, the maintenance of previous social ties and friendships and how this changed because of the move to another house and/or neighborhood. The final focus within this research is concerned with the daily activities of the children in the changed living conditions. Although a sense of belonging is closely related to one’s identity, and unique for any individual, there is conformity in what makes these children feel at home. Where younger children usually prefer one of the households, older children see benefits to both homes, making age a relevant factor. For a sense of belonging, specifically autobiographical, relational, and cultural factors are important in making the children feel at home. The role of self-efficacy seems to be the most significant aspect in the child’s life and the importance increases with age. As previous literature suggested, children value having a say in what goes on in their life, whether this is about their residential distribution, social networks, or daily activities. This liberty was also made possible for this particular group of respondents because of the fact that even after many years since the divorce, most parents still lived close to one another, and all children owning a bicycle decreases the relative distance experienced, which might be specific for the Dutch context compared to future results elsewhere.