Kids of divorce carry a lot of weight! We can help transitions between homes be more bearable!
My kids love going to the pool in the summer. I usually buy a season pass, then they spend a few days each week splashing and soaking in the sun. I was the same way as a kid, so I understand the appeal, and I would much rather that they were outside around other kids and getting exercise than in front of a TV all day at home!
When it’s time to leave someplace fun, like the pool, not every child handles the transition between activities well. Even if where they’re headed next is also some place they are familiar with and enjoy, kids are often not developmentally equipped to switch gears as easily as their parents.
I have seen this phenomenon in action at least a couple of times per week at the pool. There is a little blonde-haired boy who also frequents the pool who completely loses his mind whenever it’s time to go home! I have seen him plop himself down on the hot cement and refuse to move and witnessed his poor dad attempt to drag him out of the pool day-after-day. I’m not here to question the boy’s parenting; but, sometimes kids need our help to cope with changes in their routine.
Transitions between parent’s homes can be similarly challenging for children of divorce. Sunday-after-Sunday I have watched the behavior and personalities of my stepchildren cycle through a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-like metamorphosis. They go from being relatively well-behaved and amicable to emotional, combative, and frustrated kids as the time grow nearer to transition to their mother’s. Seven days later when they return to our home, they are initially fighting with one another like cats and dogs, obstinate, and disagreeable in every way. After a day or two, they settle back to normal; but, what a ride!
To the untrained eye, one might assume that they become impossible in anticipation of returning to their mom’s home because there is something about her or her home that they don’t like. The problem with that theory is that they love their mom as much as they love their dad, and they look forward to spending time in both homes. Their father has talked to their mom about this behavior, and she reports that they act the same way coming and going from her home!
A more likely reason for the spike in anxiety and emotions we all experience as the children come and go is the difficulty that kids have in adapting and transitioning between different environments.
No two homes are identical. Every home in this world operates with its own set of rules, expectation, and its own culture. These unique differences from home-to-home offer exciting flavor to humanity; however, it makes co-parenting and being a child of divorce very difficult!
Another co-parenting expert once suggested to me that committed co-parents would do everything in their power to make everything in their homes identical for the sake of the kids. I like this perspective when dealing with little plastic families in doll houses; but, we live in a world of flesh and blood people, and it’s not very practical for most of us.
If my ex and I could agree on how to do everything, we would probably still be married. No thanks. I’m just saying, if it were that easy to agree on universal bed times, rules, consequences, and philosophies on bathing, there would likely be no co-parenting drama anywhere ever. Sadly, it’s just not the way it is with almost anyone I’ve ever met.
Yes, in a perfect world, two co-parents could sit down and draft up a plan to make absolutely every detail of both homes consistent. Some co-parents do a decent job of getting the most important things in sync. Some co-parents are complete jerks and will fight every suggestion or idea simply to be difficult or because “you’re not going to tell me what to do in my own home!” To be honest, I don’t want my ex or anyone else to dictate life in my home, but I do get the importance of being on the same page for the sake of the kids.
So, for those of us who simply cannot make life in our home identical to that of our ex’s home, how do we help our kids cope with transitions?
Understand the challenge. First and foremost, recognize the task before your children. You and I get to lay our heads down on the same pillow in the same bed every night. Our children rotate back and forth like little gypsies! My children and stepchildren have a full week at each parent’s home to settle in; but, some kids are rotating every couple of nights. I wouldn’t want to do it, and I feel bad that my children are expected to do so! Some compassion for their plight goes a long way!
Consistency. Although we have no control over what happens in anyone else’s home, we can do our best to set the tone and routines for our own. They may not admit it, but most kids crave routine and the comfort of knowing what they can expect. For this reason, kids grasp tightly to traditions and other things they feel they can count on. In my home, we ease the tensions with the menu for the week posted in the dining room and a schedule of the week’s events, chores, and so on. We run like clockwork, but there is comfort in knowing what’s coming.
Show them the way. I can’t make my kids brush their teeth at dad’s or do their homework. I can hope that he values these things as much as I do; but, there’s no promise. What I can do is try my best to impart important values and knowledge to my kids. Yes, this means that the kids bear responsibility for their actions, perhaps before they should have to; but, my example and explanation of important things may help to offer a bridge of consistency and comfort.
Don’t get mad for what you can’t change. What goes on in my ex’s home is 99.5%, not my business. If there is any risk of harm to them, that will always be my business, no matter where they go. What the kids do not need is being caught in the middle of my anger, judgment, or criticism of how their dad’s home operates. Again, I don’t want him to insert himself into my business, so it’s an exercise in mutual respect. He is allowed to feed them what he wants, handle parenting decisions as he sees fit, and so on. Period.
Support their love. Kids will be less anxious about transitions if they know they have our love and support no matter what! They should feel free to love their other parent and have a good time with them without a guilt complex about leaving one parent lonely in their absence, liking the other parent more, and so on. Never forget, they are the children, we are the adults, and it is not their job to be our emotional support. Both parents are important to a child, and they do not need us weighing them down with our manipulation and neediness.
Talk without being nosey or intrusive. Show an interest in your child and what goes on every day of their lives. There’s a fine line, however, between pumping a child for information and letting the child know that no matter where they are, a piece of you is with them. Allow your child to talk to their other parent while with you, and contact them while absent from you. Be respectful of your ex’s time with the kids, though, and don’t try to monopolize the time that is theirs with the kids!
Offer comfort objects. Especially for younger kids, a comfort object, such as a doll or stuffed toy, can easily travel between homes and help a child feel at home no matter where they lay their head for the night.
Children of divorce have to mentally psych up for vast differences in vibes, rules, and nuances for two homes. It’s a lot we ask of them, but we can help ease their burden by loving and supporting them every step of the way!