Think about the emotions associated with divorce for adults – the anger, frustration, crushed expectations. It’s true – no one gets married thinking their love will end in court.
Now, imagine dealing with those realities as a kid. One minute you’re playing ghost in the graveyard, the next, wondering why mommy and daddy don’t love each other anymore.
Young or old, emotions are on overload. The best solution is to parent kids under the same rules and expectations. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with two divorced adults that (still) don’t see eye to eye. Which leaves the kids confused and opens the door for chaos.
When rules and expectations vary from home to home, the kids take note. One parent holds to a more “organic” bedtime, while the other wraps up the day at 8 p.m. sharp. One allows cell phones, the other doesn’t. One enforces chores, the other, not as many.
Moving a child from place to place gets them thinking … why can’t my favorite rules apply to both parents?
Then, the testing begins, often as soon as they return home. A lippy remark, a question about a rule that’s been in place (you think) forever. On a bad day, there’s a tearful meltdown and one really stressed out parent (and in my case, step-parent).
Looking for some transition tips? Here some ideas that really work for us:
Create a list of house rules and post in plain sight. Samples from our list – no talking back, listen first time, be kind, speak with respect, don’t argue with parents, don’t fight, and something really random – don’t feed the dog lots of treats. (It’s so funny I keep it on the list.)
Lock the windows and doors. Not literally, but figuratively. When kids come back from visiting the other parent, sit down as a family and review the house rules. It really clears up all the confusion about rules from house to house and reminds them that, nope, the rules haven’t changed in the last three days.
If a rule is broken, clearly state: “You’re breaking this house rule. Let’s go over the list again so you don’t lose any priveleges.”
Create a calm environment. Before the kids return, clean up the clutter, do the dishes, plan a nice meal. This creates a really nice scene to come home to.
Extra credit: tidy their rooms. Visits with the other parent are a great time to wash sheets and do some deep cleaning of clutter that’s been building up.
For the first night: keep expectations low. A fun weekend usually leaves the kids drained. Their sleep schedules are off track and they’re on sensory overload. Instead of expecting them to do a bunch of chores, give them a break. Keep tasks to a minimum. Save folding laundry and unpacking for tomorrow.
Spend time with them. Again, keep it simple. Watch a TV show together, read or simply talk.
Don’t save things for the night back. Finish must-dos like homework the day before a visit.
Most important: Tell them how happy you are to see them again. They are loved and missed.