Easing Back and Forth Stress for Kids After Divorce

All the things your kids needed before the divorce, they will continue to need after you split up.

How those needs get met, however, can be a real challenge when parents have different parenting styles, household structure, and rules.

While it helps when parents can be on the same page about everyday routines, discipline, and structure, good co-parenting doesn’t mean you have to do everything exactly alike. If you and the other parent don’t see eye-to-eye, instead of haggling over parenting styles (i.e. bedtimes, how homework gets done, food choices, how much TV kids should watch, etc.) focus on core values (i.e. safety, education, respect, health.)

Although going back and forth can be a challenge, keep in mind kids can still do well as long as they know what to expect when they are with you.

Not so sure?

Think about your children’s experience in school. Does every teacher teach the same way, or have the same rules? Probably not, yet kids learn very quickly what each teacher expects, and they adapt.  Regardless of how classrooms differ, the school still has a set of expectations and ethics that all teachers support and uphold.

The key to how well your kids manage differences between households often has to do with how well you’re dealing with them. Even though the temptation can be strong, resist the urge to advise, criticize or control how the other parent does things in their home.

When you think about what life is like for your children on a day-to-day basis, consider:

  • What’s the hardest part of living in two homes for your kids?
  • What are some of the benefits of two households?
  • How can you make it easier for your children?
  • If there are things you can’t change, what could you do to help them adjust?

A couple of pointers…

Give kids love and limits

When kids hurt, we hurt.  During this time, you may be tempted to make things less stressful for them, however, avoid slacking off on discipline and turning into the proverbial “fun” parent.

Overindulging children is a short-term fix that often leads to long-term problems.  Kids still need you to be a parent.  Just as love is an important part of being a family, so is having expectations, guidelines, rules, and respect.

Don’t be afraid to set limits with your children or establish family rules.

Deal with differences constructively

Even under the best of circumstances, living in two homes can make life extremely challenging for kids. This is particularly true when it comes to dealing with discipline differences.

When your children know you have strong feelings about the other parent’s rules, expect that they may try to use those differences to their advantage.

Suppose you have a strict “no phones at the dinner table” policy.  When you tell your kids they need to put the phones up; it’s time for supper, the wailing begins. They want to know why they can’t keep their devices at the table, at the other parent’s house having phones at the table is no big deal.

Instead of getting angry or arguing over who is right and who is wrong, try another approach. Ask yourself, if your children told you Grandma let them have phones at the dinner table, how would you handle the situation differently?

Chances are you would say something like, “That’s the great thing about Grandma’s house, you get to do stuff like that. In this house, things are different. When you get done with dinner, you can have your phones back.”

Acknowledging the difference head on without getting angry often puts the brakes on rule haggling.

Ease back and forth stress

Going back and forth between households can be both confusing and unsettling for kids.  In many ways, it’s like moving between two, often completely different, worlds.

When kids get stressed, they may act out their frustration by:

  • Being disrespectful
  • Pushing limits
  • Becoming clingy
  • Acting younger than they are
  • Throwing temper tantrums or having a meltdown
  • Being hyper or overly fearful

To avoid having discipline problems or behavior issues when your children re-enter your home, let them know what to expect. You can ease back and forth stress when your kids are with you by offering verbal reminders.

For example, when your children first come home from the other parent’s house you might say something like, “Since tomorrow is a school day, we will have dinner at 6:30 pm.  After dinner, you’ll need to take a bath and get ready for bed before we read a book together.”

You can also help kids shift gears by creating a transition ritual when they enter or leave your home.

As always some of the best ideas about helping kids come from parents like you.  Got a tip to share? Weigh in below!