When you separate, one of the most challenging parts isn’t leaving your partner or cleaving your life in two. It’s not the packing or the moving or the goodbye that never really gets said – the silence speaking for it. It’s not even the circumstances in a separation like mine.
The worst part is the kids, or in my case, kid. No matter what I’ve lost, she’s lost more. Each time she transfer back and forth between us, that becomes plain to see. I can see that she doesn’t understand why I don’t go with her to our old house. I can see that it’s hard for her to adjust to two houses, two sets of rules and expectations and boundaries. I wish I could fix it for her, but all I can do at this point is make it as easy for her as I can.
I know that there are lots of other kids going back and forth between parents. I’m very new to this, but over time I’ve found a few things that make the process run a bit smoother. I’m sharing these tips below in the hope that they might help you if you’re in a similar situation, and I’d also really appreciate hearing yours in the comments if you have a bit more experience.
1. Prepare your child. We don’t have a regular visitation schedule, so I make sure that I give Olive plenty of notice before she goes to visit her dad. I want her to be aware of what’s happening in her world, so for the week before we go to Edmonton I remind her about what will be happening. I explain that we’ll be driving up, I talk about when she will be staying at “Uncle Um’s house” (we stay with my brother and his wife when we’re there) and when her dad will be picking her up. I tell her how many sleeps she’ll be there for, and when we will be going back.
2. Be positive. Emotions are charged when a relationship ends, especially if it ends poorly. It is critical that you separate your feelings for your ex-partner from your feelings for the father of your child(ren). It’s honestly the only way this will work. So when you are speaking about their father, you keep a positive tone. When I speak to Olive about going to visit her dad, I emphasise how excited he is going to be to see her and how nice it will be to see her old room. I tell her that I will miss her, but that she’s going to have so much fun. Likewise, when she comes home, I ask her if she had a good time, and when she talks about her visit I am happy to hear about it. Your kids should be spared any and all negative mentions of your ex-spouse, regardless of your feelings.
3. Stay close. Bedtimes without mom can be tough for younger kids, and the first few times she came back, Olive would talk about how she cried before bed. This is totally normal, but no mother wants to think about her kid being upset and missing her. I have a wonderful aunt, who surprised us one day by taking Olive to the Build-a-bear workshop, and having me record a bedtime message for her. We put the recording inside a monkey that she chose, and she now takes her monkey whenever she goes to her dad’s. When she squeezes its hand it plays the bedtime message, and I hope it makes the transition a bit easier for her.
4. Expect a bumpy landing. I have noticed that when Olive gets back she is often grumpy for a few days. Saying goodbye to the other parent and readjusting to her normal schedule can make for a rough transition. I now try to keep things fairly quiet for a day or two after she comes home. We just focus on getting back into our routine – her chores, bedtimes, schedules, etc. I make sure to keep things slow so that she can get as many “mummy snuggles” as she can (she’s a very snuggly kid, always has been, but before she goes and after she gets back she asks for even more physical contact) and I think that has really helped. At first, I’d be so excited to have her back that we would go on big adventures and see lots of people – I’ve found that’s not usually a great idea, not for Olive at least.
5. Keep things consistent. This is something we’re not quite there yet on, but I’m hoping it will come in time. It makes it way easier for your kid if they have as much consistency in their lives as possible. This means that both parents have the same house rules and expectations, and the kids have the same general schedule and set of responsibilities at both houses. It’s easier for everyone if you’re all on the same page, and it’s way easier for the child to transition back and forth if they don’t have to adjust to a whole new life at each home.
6. Read about it. On an earlier post, someone mentioned reading a book called “Two Nests”. I took it out from the library that week, and Olive loved it. I read it through the first time without explaining what it was about, and when it got to the part about a baby bird flying between two nests she was able to point out that it was just like her, going back and forth between her dad and I. I think books are incredible in general, but especially in explaining something like this to a small child, who might not otherwise understand it.
I would honestly love it if you more experienced divorced/separated families could chime in and tell me what made things easier for your kids. Or, kids of divorced parents, what did your parents do right?