Growing up in a two-family home after a divorce or separation can be a difficult adjustment for children. Not only do they have to deal with not seeing their parents every day, but they also have to adjust to the new environment if one or both of you move house.
Cierra Fisher, Licensed Therapist, and Program Specialist said, “The most impactful way we can make divorce smooth for children is by parents finding a way to co-parent. Co-parenting means compromising, working together on scheduling, agreeing on parenting styles, and interacting with each other in a positive way.”
Monitoring your child’s behavior can help you identify if they are going through some emotional turmoil or if they need help. Cierra says, “Recognize new habits or behaviors your child is depicting that they didn’t prior to the divorce. It could be more crying or throwing anger fits. And if you begin feeling overwhelmed or don’t feel that they are being responsive, I highly recommend seeking additional support. Many therapists are well trained and versed in helping children cope with divorce. There are also community centers, as well as schools, that regularly offer support groups for children coping with divorce. These resources can truly make the difference for children and how the divorce impacts them in the long term.”
Parenting time changeovers (the day a child moves from one parent’s home to another’s) should be treated with special care and attention. Children can be especially vulnerable and emotional when they change homes. But parents can make these transitions a little less scary by using these basic rules for transitioning from parenting time.
1. Keep the same schedule.
Recognizing and preparing for change is huge for a child trying to adjust to living in two homes. A regular schedule reduces anxiety and provides a much-needed sense of stability, especially when the transition is recent.
Cierra said, “Having a consistent schedule makes the transition smooth for children. There is so much going on in terms of new homes, new norms, and new people coming in and out of their lives. Stability and schedule will really help children under such scenarios. It is also a great way to begin co-parenting together, to establish a routine together. I typically recommend starting with a bedtime routine and schedule. Create a bedtime routine and schedule that will work at both parents’ homes and incorporates family time. This will not only promote a healthy sleep schedule but also increase stability and comfort for your child.”
2. Don’t make your child pack a bag.
Being raised in two separate homes can feel like always having one foot out the door for your child. It can be hard to settle into one place, especially at first, and having to pre-pack every changeover can make this feeling worse. This is especially true for schedules that include midweek overnights and frequent shifts. Also, having a set of items in both houses can decrease the added stress of forgetting which items are in one house and which “belong” in the other.
3. Changeovers should be tension free
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Nothing makes change more stressful for a child than open and obvious conflict between parents.
Parents will never agree 100%. But regardless of differences, these conversations should be kept strictly between parents.
Do you think you can sneak away from your kids and have a whispered argument about child support by going into the other room or into the back of your car? Think again. Children can be very aware of their parent’s emotions, body language, and tone of voice. If they’re nearby, assume they can hear you so keep your conversations orderly.
4. Respect each other’s time
The changeover cannot be shifted south faster than when either side is delayed. And even the most patient among us can have a hard time hiding their irritation when the behavior becomes a frequently repeated habit.
Unless the parents make other arrangements to transition the children between the two homes, changeovers will be a common aspect of the co-parenting relationship. For co-parents with young children, this will go on for years. To get off to a good start and maintain this consistency, you must take seriously the golden rule of respecting everyone’s time.
However, no one is perfect. Know when to change and if you are running late, let your co-parent know as soon as you know. Don’t wait until you are 5 minutes late to inform the other that you are 30 minutes late.