When you are divorced, your kids go through many new transitions. They now have two households, routines, environments, and more distinct parenting styles. At times, they may even express that they don’t want to go to your ex (during their parenting time).
You may be upset with your ex for a long list of issues. You may also be tempted to help your kiddo build up their case for not going. For your kid’s sake, resist this temptation. Bad-mouthing the other parent, in front of your kids, is a major cause of trauma for them. Please let your kids love you both. It doesn’t take away from your great parenting.
Unless your child is truly facing neglect or abuse, you need to encourage a smooth transition to the other parent. Here are six ideas to make that easier.
Turn up the empathy.
Understand why your child feels this way. Don’t try and fix anything, just listen. Let them voice their concern and make sure they know you heard them. You don’t have to agree – you are just confirming they are heard. This also is not information to harass your ex with or to “prove your case”. You are validating your child’s feelings here and serving them. You can also let your child draw a picture – let them get their feelings out and don’t take any of this personally.
Do your best to put on a good front and not let any anxiety show. If your children feel that you aren’t okay with them going to see their other parent, then they will echo your emotion, which is not good for them. Think about positives for them with the other parent – toys, activities, pets – whatever make sense for your situation. If you know things that are planned for that time, then remind them so they have something great to look forward to.
Keep plans to yourself about what you are doing while the children are gone. If they feel like you are doing something fun without them, they may not want to go see their other parent or feel like they are missing out. If they ask you what you will be doing let them know the basic things such as cleaning, working, reading a book, those types of things that they see you take part in all the time. Also, make sure not to say in front of them anything like “oh I can’t do that, because I have my kids then.” If they think you are missing out because of them, it can be detrimental to their self-esteem.
Allow transition items.
Let your child take items to the other parent’s home. This can be pictures, games, a blanket, or even a stuffed animal to sleep with. Too many parents have set limits that what is at their home or need to remain. Let them take what they want to help them transition easier. If a child forgets something at the ex’s house, let them know this is okay.
Provide visuals for your kids.
If you have set days where you and your ex trade off the children, let your kids know these details. For a visual, you can let them help to mark the days on the calendar that they will be with each parent. This will make it less confusing for them and give them some certainty and predictability. Remember they are kids and don’t yet have adult organization skills.
Help your child to prepare for being with the other parent. You can give them gentle reminders such as telling them that tomorrow they will be going with their mom or their dad. You can also let them know a couple hours before the transition will take place. Try to have a mutual agreement with your ex that the children can call either parent when they want to. This way you can remind them they can give you a call later to tell you how they are doing.
Sometimes it can be difficult to encourage your children to go with the other parent. Using empathy to hear them and have them feel understood will help.
Some children only have anxiety when they are going from one parent to the other. Others experience it with both exchanges, as it is the change that bothers them. No matter when it happens, it is normal and okay for your kiddo to feel this way.
Divorce isn’t easy on kids, and they need the love and support of both parents to get them through it. Remember how important it is for a child to know both parents. If you can, you can even do a simple affirmation to your kiddo like “your Mom is a good Mom and loves you” – or whatever comes naturally. Remember, you are putting their best interests – and future – first.
You’ve got this.
Chris has worked in tech for 30 years, and healthcare tech for 8 of those. He's on the advisory board of Harvard-Based Think:Kids, and runs Rad Dad Rules. He is the proud Dad of two awesome kids, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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