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How to Have Smooth Transitions Between Co-Parent Households

5 tips to make transitions between households easier than they are right now.

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One of the challenges of co-parenting is the transition between two different living situations.

When my children first started the transition on Sundays back to our home, I was like a puppy dog waiting at the door for them. I had missed them so much and just couldn’t wait to snuggle them up.

I would pace back and forth watching my phone for the texts from ex. “We will be there in 15 minutes,” “We are 5 blocks away,” and “We are around the corner.”

I was giddy and excited to see my two loves again. When the doorbell rang, I would open the door with the widest and warmest smile. As if we were filming a sitcom, my two kids would be looking at me with eyes rolled and sighing, “Oh Mom, we just want to go to our rooms.”

Unlike on a sitcom, there was no laugh track. In fact, my heart sank and tears welled up behind my eyes. I was so excited to see them and they wanted to be alone. I felt rejected, sad, and lonely.

Have you had a similar experience? Most of the divorced clients I work with have felt the same way. Transitions can be hard for everyone involved—which is why I want to give you five tips to make transitions between households easier.

  1. Examine your expectations and see if you can shift them a bit. Start by asking yourself what your ideal transition would look like. Circle any words that might seem a bit unrealistic. In my case, my expectation that my kids would simply feel excited to be home was unrealistic. After all, they were also going through a transition so they needed their own processing time.
  2. Ask yourself what you need during the transition. In my case, my kids were not going to be able to give me all that I wanted in that first moment home, so I decided to find that connection another way. Approximately 30 minutes before they were due to come home, I would look at photos and videos of them. I would read sweet letters and cards they had given me for my birthday. I was marinating in our connection before they came home so I was no longer relying on them to show it to me with their behavior.
  3. Give the transition an explicit name. We called it simply “transition,” but clients of mine have used such creative words as “stretchy time” or “bridge. ”Just the other day my daughter said, “Mom, I can’t talk about my plans for next weekend right now because I am in a transition time right now.” I knew exactly what she meant in that moment and shifted my behavior accordingly.
  4. Create a ritual. Rituals are a series of behaviors you engage in every week. These rituals allow for predictability around transitions. Kids love predictability. You can engage in a ritual that will begin at your home and continue when they return. A client of mine starts a puzzle with her kids on Sunday before they head to their dad’s place and finish it when they return the next Friday. Be creative and see what ritual you can come up with.
  5. Connect while you are apart. As your kids get older, there is more of an opportunity to connect with them when they are away. You can send texts, photos, and videos. I highly recommend you send them pictures and videos of things they like. They want to know two things when they are apart from you. First, they want to know that you are emotionally ok without them around. Second, they want to know that you are thinking about them. Focus your texts on praise of their unique talents, open questions about what they are doing, and tell them you are excited to see them when they return. These messages will provide them with a sense of security and safety.

Transitioning between homes can be one of the most challenging parts of divorce, but as I always teach, your nervous system loves to be prepared. So, the better you plan, the better you and your kids will feel during the transition.

What is the hardest part for you about your kids’ transitions between households?

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