Every year I buy a new box of crayons… for myself. The smell of the newly opened box takes me back to the stress-less days of my childhood. Potential waiting in the pointed colorful tips. I relish the back to school season. New teachers for the girls, the starting again of routine and schedules, more structure and activity to the days as compared to the laze of summer, and a clean slate for the school year ahead.
But I confess that getting back into routine is a challenge. After every 7:35 a.m. drop of – before which the girls need to remember their gym clothes, soccer cleats, volleyball knee-pads, lunch boxes, signed agenda books, scholastic book order money, and to brush their hair and teeth, I arrive to the office feeling like someone should hand me a medal on the way through the door. I feel like a cash prize should come with clean uniforms, matchy , and a healthy breakfast.
As with the challenge of the abrupt summer-to-school swap, so too can be the household transfers for children with divorced parents. I often have clients distressed about their child’s transition time. It looks like this: “He is wound up for a couple of hours after he gets back home.” “She is withdrawn and sulks in her bedroom and isn’t her ‘normal’ self for a day or so and by then she has to go back again.”
Transitions can be tough – particularly for children going between different households, different rules, different bedtimes, and different family members. It is normal for these adjustments to be reflected in their behavior. If your co-parenting relationship makes it difficult to create consistency between households, I recommend the following:
- Be mindful of your reaction.
If your reaction is exaggerated, negative, or emotional, it will likely exacerbate their behavior. Avoid making statements about their behavior being linked to having just been at their other parent’s house, as this will only lend itself to them feeling bad, guilty, or frustrated. Your children didn’t ask for these transitions and shouldn’t be blamed for having to work through them.
- Establish household routines.
Children of all ages thrive on routines and consistency. Parents often complain that due to the divorce, their children lack consistency. Focus on what you can control. Your own house and the consistency therein. Move your children into the routine at your house as soon as possible into their arrival. Is there a chore they should complete? Is there a place where their belongings should be put? Is there a favorite activity they can engage in?
- Be gentle and acknowledge the feelings.
With yourself and with your kids. We struggle when our kids have difficulty with transitions. We feel guilty that their lives require constant transitions. We feel annoyed about the other household having different rules. We feel sad that we do not just get to have our children with us all of the time. Know that all of those feelings are normal, but be mindful about displacing those feelings onto your children. And just as you are having mixed feelings in these times of transitions, so too, are your children. Let that be okay.
What you will find over time, is that adaptation sets in and brings comfort. Just like we find in the middle of October that we have gotten into the swing of things and it suddenly feels easier and less rushed in the mornings, the transitions of divorce ease with time. Household transitions, just like homework at the dinner table, become the new normal. It gets easier until we cannot even recall how it used to be any other way.