I love my kids, but as a divorced working mom it’s difficult adjusting to having them all home for the summer. In my case, this means two college students and a high-schooler, all sharing two cars and chaotic schedules. For you it might mean having younger kids out of school for the summer and the prospect of all that free time to fill, or it might mean young adults returning home to figure out their next steps.
No matter the ages of the kids, or the specific circumstances, having more people in the house, with the plethora of moods and demands on your time and energy is tough. Here’s how to adjust so you can keep (or regain!) your peace of mind.
- Acknowledge the need for an adjustment period.
- Accept your kids’ growing independence and the changes that means for your relationships.
- Tune in to your own needs and default “mom” behaviors, then decide what to keep and what to let go; determine your non-negotiables so you’re clear before acting.
- Set ground rules, preferably in conjunction with your kids.
- Coordinate and communicate regularly; family meetings can work well for this.
- Appreciate having your kids around; they won’t be home forever.
1. Acknowledge the need for an adjustment period. When kids come home from college or young adults move back home (or even when younger children are out of school), everyone needs to get used to a new normal. Kids are used to being independent while they’re at college or living on their own. It’s challenging when they have to get used to living interdependently again. So allow for a few days, even a week, of emotional ups and downs to weather the highs of being together and the adjustment of how it’s all going to work. Expect some strong emotions and don’t react too strongly at this point.
2. Accept your kids’ growing independence and the changes that means for your relationships. Parenting children of different ages and allowing your relationships to change over time is tough. A college graduate doesn’t need as much support, guidance, and caretaking as an elementary school student, or even a high school kid. Age, gender and personality all play a part as well. If you’ve been used to doing for your kids or reminding them about appointments or school work, they may not need that anymore, and you’ll have to adjust your behavior. For example, when I asked him (for the second time) whether he had started his summer school online courses, my college-age son reminded me that he had a 4.0 GPA last semester, and he was capable of getting the work done. He was right, and I agreed to not ask again.
3. Tune in to your own needs and default “mom” behaviors, then decide what to keep and what to let go; determine your non-negotiables so you’re clear before acting. All of us have things that we think we need to do as moms. For me, this includes cooking meals, doing the laundry, and being there when the kids need a hug or a listening ear. Often we don’t question these behaviors; they’re just part of our role. But when these behaviors interfere with our work, our well-being, or our sleep, it’s time to make some changes. For example, in my house my boys expect me to cook because that’s what I’ve always done. But they are both able to fend for themselves when they need to. That doesn’t mean I don’t cook, but it does mean I don’t plan and cook three meals a day. If you need the kids to take more responsibility, it’s A-OK. You are a breadwinner mom, and earning money to support your family is a primary responsibility. Honor that. Being clear on what you need, and what you need them to do, will help make the adjustment smoother when it’s time to act.
4. Set ground rules, preferably in conjunction with your kids. Once you’ve gotten clear on what you need the kids to do, you’ll need to let them know. It may not intuitively dawn on them what they need to do. (In fact, odds are good it will not occur to them!) And they probably won’t like it, at least not initially. So keeping in mind that their reactions will probably not be something like, “Of course we see why you need help, and we’re happy to step up to the plate,” will help you set reasonable expectations for yourself and not be too upset when things don’t go smoothly. Your kids are not going to stop loving you even if they aren’t happy with the ground rules.
5. Coordinate and communicate regularly; family meetings can work well for this. Change requires telling ourselves and others what the change will be and how it’s expected to work. Our responsibility as divorced moms is to let the kids know about the ground rules. If you can allow them to have input into decisions and let them work out the details, so much the better. In our case, I decided we would use a weekly family meeting to coordinate the logistics for the week (cars, schedules, etc.) and address issues affecting everyone. I set the ground rules about my office hours and priorities for who gets use of the cars. They provided input as to their schedules and needs for the week, and they handle issues among themselves if they need to make changes. It may not go smoothly at first, but eventually things will work pretty well if you’re consistent in the guidance and clear in communicating.
6. Appreciate having your kids around; they won’t be home forever. Sometimes it seems like a hassle with the chaos and confusion of kids in and out of the house. Grocery bills increase, the noise levels rise, and the normal routine is shot to bits. For me, a self-employed business owner who works from home, it’s a real challenge to stay focused on work and to not be resentful when the kids are having fun, and I’m at my desk. I miss my peaceful routine. But the years have flown by so fast already, so I know what’s ahead. These kids won’t be kids forever (except perhaps in my heart), and they won’t always be coming home for the summer. I appreciate their presence, even with its challenges, and I have made some choices about how I will spend my time so that I can enjoy them while they’re home. For example, I take time most days to go to the gym with one son (that’s important to him and something we can do together), and I walk with my daughter, which gives us time to connect and enjoy the Colorado outdoors. We’re doing family dinners on Sundays (after our family meeting). Find some ways - small or large - that work for your family, and appreciate the gifts that summer has to offer in life after divorce.
For more in depth coverage of these tips, check out the series on my blog.