As parents, we often glide through a multitude of changes without so much as batting an eye. After all, it comes with the territory.
Lauren wakes up with a fever so you adjust your schedule, make a couple of calls and work from home that day. Evan surprises you with a notice about baseball practice across town and the dinner you had planned turns into picking up a pizza on the way home. Sure, some of those changes are stressful, but overall most of us have cultivated the ability to roll with the punches.
For our children, however, living life on the fly isn’t so easy, especially when Mom and Dad live in different homes. Two homes involves juggling a schedule that may or may not be predictable, dealing with different parenting styles, different rules, different places, different people and different ways of being a family.
In addition to dealing with a multitude of differences, shifting back and forth between homes has the potential to create some serious emotional angst for kids. Johnny comes back from Dad’s bouncing off the walls and testing limits, while Melanie spirals into a never-ending whine fest after being with Mom for the weekend.
End result – you get stuck picking up the pieces and getting life back on track. The worst part—it starts all over again the next time they leave. If you’re tired of going through the same ole, same ole when your kids come back, here’s a simple strategy you can use to get back to calm and carry on.
Understanding the problem
Children tend to function best when they know what to expect. For many, moving between Mom’s house and Dad’s house literally feels like transitioning between two worlds. When children don’t have an opportunity to regroup often their anxiety levels go through the roof. Without our guidance and support, kids tend to manage those feelings by acting them out (usually in ways that drive us crazy). To offset transitional stress children need predictability and emotional space. One way you can help kids cope is by creating a consistent environment that helps children shift gears more easily.
What to do?
It can also be helpful to notice what other contributing factors are at work. For instance, do your children react the same way every time they come back from spending time with Dad or only after they’ve been away for a weekend?
Does where make a difference? Do they respond differently when Mom picks them up from school as opposed to your house?
If you discover a pattern or factors that seem to be influencing how your children respond, do your best to make adjustments in how transitions between households take place.
Keep in mind it’s best if the activity matches your children’s personality and energy level. For active kids you might consider going for a walk around the block, shooting hoops or playing in the backyard. Kids who are more low-key might do better engaging in an activity like drawing, putting a puzzle together, reading a book or playing a game.
For older children, meal times can be a special way of gathering. In our family, when my bonus children were transitioning into our home we would use a sit down meal as a way to bring everyone together. This gave us an opportunity to talk about what we had planned for the weekend and catch up on things we missed while we were apart.