A child will probably get more one-on-one attention from his parents after the divorce than before the divorce. The working parent who didn't spend much time with the children pre-separation might now spend much more time with them. The custodial parent may feel that this is just a ploy to reduce child support (more time spent might reduce support), but this may be the best news for the children.
Transitions are difficult for children, especially young children. (This is also true for many adults, depending on their temperament.) Try to remember what it feels like when you stay at a friend's house; there's the strange bed and bathroom, the likes and dislikes of the individual you're visiting, the different routines. The first night you might feel uncomfortable. You miss your own bed, your carpet, your morning coffee; you long to be free to look really grungy until you've completed your morning routine. Imagine this scenario, and you will begin to understand what your child's back-and-forth experience is like. To your advantage, you are an adult with an adult's perspective. Children, on the other hand, have fewer life experiences and also often experience time differently. What might be just a weekend to you feels more like a month to a child. What might be a two-week summer vacation to you seems like a lifetime to a child.
Although your children love their other parent, the transition between households might still be hard because it is a major change in your children's reality. For children, every reunion is also a separation; every transition is bittersweet. Every “hello” is also a “goodbye.”
Each “new” parent should give the children time to adjust to the transition and not get overly concerned with behaviors that seem unusual during the initial period after the change. Be sensitive to your children. Read a book or do some other quiet activity with them. If they seem to need some space, finish what you were doing before they came over. In time, things will get back to normal.
Six Strategies for Helping Your Kids with Change
Here are some ideas for helping your kids handle the transition from one parent to the other. You know your children best, so think hard about what makes sense for your family:
- Make a calendar with your children. The calendar should include the highlights of their schedule, including all major activities and especially those times when they will be with the other parent.
- Remind your children that they are leaving the day prior to the visit.
- Depending on the age of your children, help them pack their traveling bags the day before they leave. If they are school-aged, make sure that their homework is included. Have a young child choose his or her own traveling bag. His input into this symbol of his transition will help give him a feeling of involvement and control.
- To ease the packing and make them feel more comfortable when they are at the other parent's house, let children keep certain basics (toothbrush, comb, pajamas, and so on) at both houses.
- Give very young children a traveling bear or other stuffed toy to help provide a sense of security.
- Let your child take a picture of the absent parent with him or her.