In my work with families making the shift from one to two households for their children, I often remind parents that transitions between homes are typically bothersome for kids. I use the personal example of going on vacation to explain this: I love my job, and I love going on vacation, once I get there. It’s the transitions in between that I don’t look forward to at all. What do I need to remember to pack? Did I forget something important? Will I know what to expect when I get there? Will I get enough sleep? Transitions by definition take us out of one routine and into another—and kids usually do best with predictable routines. So how can attuned parents help make transitions less stressful? Here are five tips:
1. When relocating after a divorce or break-up, strongly consider whether it would be possible to live within biking distance of each other. I hear all this wish expressed all the time from kids. It helps them feel less worried about forgetting something at the other house, because retrieval would be easier. It also gives them a sense of personal agency to imagine they could bike over to Mom’s or Dad’s on their own power.
2. Ensure that kids have ample supplies of what they feel is important to have at both houses. No, you won’t need to buy two saxophones, but you may need to invest in particular kinds of shampoo and conditioner, multiple special pillows or specific games to have at each home. Having photos of the other parent in the kids’ bedrooms will also help.
3. Be very mindful of the emotional tone of transitions. Focus on what the kids need, which is a respectful and calm exchange. Anything else and kids will feel in the middle. Transitions are not the time to try to resolve disagreements between parents.
4. Be reliable and follow through on commitments. I can’t emphasize this enough. Trust can only build between co-parents, and between parents and children when behaviors match words.
5. The best parenting time arrangements are both structured and reasonably flexible to accommodate unexpected opportunities or life events. However, parents need to confer directly about any changes of plan. Even if a child asks for the change in routine it is not a good idea to say “Sure, I’d love to take you to the game on Saturday, but it’s not my weekend with you. You’ll have to call your mom/dad and see if it’s okay.” This puts your child in the middle, and can be a set up for the other parent. What to say instead? How about, “Thanks for letting me know you’re interested in going to the game. Mom/Dad and I need to talk first to make sure it would work.”
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