Every year I buy a new box of color crayons… for myself. The smell of the newly opened box takes me back to the stress-less days that were my childhood. The pointed colorful tips are potential waiting. 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 drop off to the school at 7:35 a.m. before which the girls have remembered their gym clothes, soccer cleats, volleyball kneepads, lunch boxes, signed agenda books, scholastic book order money, and have brushed 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 hairbows, and a healthy breakfast.
It is difficult to adjust to the full routine. Going from a slower summer start with little to remember or be responsible for, is a stark contrast to the massive school to-do’s, coupled with the fact it is an all or nothing situation. There is no easing into it.
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 “She is withdrawn and sulks in her bedroom and isn’t her ‘normal’ self for a day or so and by then she has to go back again.”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, different family members. It is normal for these adjustments to be reflected in their behavior. If you are unable to create consistency for your child(ren) between households through your co-parenting relationship, then I recommend the following:
- Be mindful of your reaction to their transition behavior. If your reaction is exaggerated, negative, or emotional, it will likely exacerbate their behavior. Making statements about their behavior being linked to having just been at their other parent’s house will only lend itself to them feeling bad, guilty, or frustrated further by having divorced parents. Your children didn’t ask for these transitions and shouldn’t be blamed for having to work through them.
- Establish your household routines. Children of all ages thrive on routines and consistency. Parents often complain that due to the divorce, their children will or do lack consistency. Focus on what you can control. Your own house and the consistency therein. Move your children into the routine of 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 for the first half hour?
- Be gentle and acknowledge the feelings. With yourself and with your kids. We struggle when seeing our kids having difficulty with transitions because of what we project onto them and the situation. We feel guilty for setting up their lives that 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, less rushed in the mornings, so too does the transition time of divorce ease over the months. 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.