Parents whose children navigate between houses know about the transition period well. When kids first arrive from the one parent’s house to the other, at times there’s tension. Sometimes everyone can feel unsettled. You might feel overwhelmed by how much you’ve missed each other. And sometimes there are big differences in how households are run, and so there’s an adjustment period. Toss in some angry and confused children and you’ve got a wild ride that even Mr. Toad would avoid.
Parents sometimes want to overindulge the kids upon arrival or shower them with affection. Many parents, and I think mostly dads, fall into the trap of leniency. The thought is that being lenient with kids and letting them just “be” for two or three days is OK and in some way makes their transition a little smoother for them. This tactic is an easy way to avoid conflict and establishes a pattern of behavior that intertwines itself into your changing life.
I was guilty of making this mistake from time to time. I went through a rather tumultuous divorce with my ex-wife. I have two daughters from that marriage, who sadly moved many states away with their mother. I’m married again, and as my wife and I began our new life together, we decided that our family — now including two daughters of our own — needed structure and organization. In our house, we established a set of rules and expectations that, if ignored, came with consequences. Our kids knew these consequences and what was expected of them and eventually, the transition period for the older girls started to become shorter and shorter. The key factor was, and still is, consistency and it showed in their behavior, manners and investment in our family. Even today, with my older kids coming for visits three times per year, the same rules and consequences remain intact. The transition period is now negligible and we get more time to just focus on enjoying our family time.
An important thing to keep in mind is that there are stages to the emotional recovery after a divorce. Much like the loss of a loved one, divorce creates several emotional upheavals, especially for children. Your children will experience everything from denial, anger and depression, to negotiating peace treaties. It is extremely important that you reassure them that it was not their fault and that your love for them has not changed. That was some of the best advice I received after separating from my former spouse. Stay patient, but don’t let it change your stance. Caving in only reinforces their behavior and leads to even more strife. It might seem hopeless, but, eventually, acceptance will come and the wounds will start to heal.
While the fallout from divorce is hard on everyone, it doesn¹t have to become the ruling factor in your lives. As a parent it is our responsibility to raise respectful and well rounded children. Tolerating rude or bad behavior does not diminish the effects of divorce; it only gives children permission to behave badly and affects everything around you. Building the life you want doesn¹t have to be a challenge. Establish the ground rules and consequences and your thrill ride will become a fun family experience.