Making Transitions Easier for Children
Being raised in two houses after a divorce or separation can be a difficult adjustment for children. With a shared parenting schedule, not only do they have to contend with no longer seeing both parents every day, but they must also adapt to new surroundings if one or both parents have moved.
Parenting time changeovers—the days when a child transitions from one parent's home to the other's—must be handled with particular care and attention. Children may be feeling particularly vulnerable and emotional when making the switch between homes. But parents can make these transitions a little less scary with these 4 basic rules for parenting time changeovers.
Help the kids understand their schedule
Being aware of and prepared for a changeover can mean a great deal to a child who is adjusting to life in two houses. Especially when the change is fresh, knowing what to expect can lessen anxiety and provide a much-needed sense of stability.
There are many different ways to keep children informed of the parenting schedule. The method you choose will depend on the age of your children, but most age-ranges can benefit greatly from a simple, printed calendar hung in a common space or in their bedroom. For younger kids, you can mark changeover days with stickers or magnets. Pre-teens and teenagers, on the other hand, may prefer an electronic copy of their schedule that can be easily referenced on their phones.
Helping kids understand their schedule also means informing them well in advance of any one-time changes or permanent updates. If the possible changes or updates are still in flux, however, hold off on discussing them with your children until plans have been finalized.
Don't make them pack a bag
Packing for a trip is something we're all familiar with, so it may feel natural that your child will have a bag of their own as they move between their two houses. But by having them do so, you may be adding additional and unnecessary stress to their schedule.
Being raised in two separate households can feel like constantly having one foot out the door for kids. It can be hard to feel settled in one place, especially during the beginning, and being made to pack a bag in advance for every changeover can compound that feeling. That can be particularly true for schedules that include midweek overnights or more frequent changeovers. Plus, when made to use one set of items for both houses, there can be the added stress of forgetting items in one home that 'belonged' in the other.
A child's first activity when they get home shouldn't be unpacking. That can make a child feel like a visitor. Instead, parents should work to create an atmosphere of simply being at home as soon as they step through the door. That means having wardrobes, toiletries, and other familiar and daily items at both houses.
Changeovers should be conflict and tension free
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating: nothing can make a changeover more stressful for a child than open and apparent conflict between parents.
Co-parents will never agree 100% of the time, and there may even be points when the last person you both want to see is the other. But whatever the disagreements, those conversations should be strictly kept between co-parents.
Think you can sneak a whispered argument about childcare expenses past your children by taking it into the other room or behind the car? Think again. Children can be hyper-aware of their parents' emotions, body language, and tone of voice. Assume that if they're around, they can hear you, and keep your conversations appropriate.
Be respectful of each other's time
Nothing can turn a changeover south quicker than one party being late. And even the most patient of us may have a difficult time hiding our annoyance if the behavior becomes an oft-repeated habit.
Unless parents make other arrangements for their children's transitions between their two houses, changeovers are going to be a common facet of their co-parenting relationship. For co-parents with young children, it will remain that way for many years to come. Getting off to a great start, and then maintaining that consistency, requires a serious commitment to the golden rule when it comes to respecting each other's time.
Nevertheless, no one is perfect, and it's inevitable that co-parents may occasionally run behind schedule. Be conscious of your timing around changeovers, and if you are running late, give your co-parent a heads up as soon as you know that to be the case. Don't wait until you're already five minutes late to tell them you're running 30 minutes behind.
Like many aspects of co-parenting, parenting time changeovers may be unfamiliar and confusing at first. Parents need to do the homework beforehand to make their children's transition into living in two houses as smooth as possible. Be sure to keep your children informed of their schedule, make both houses feel like homes, and protect children from any and all co-parenting conflict. With these simple rules, parents can help children settle into their new schedule with confidence.