Co-Parenting often requires ongoing travel between two-parent households for your child. During these transitions, your child is required to adjust to the continuing experience of saying hello and goodbye on a rotating basis. This experience can be stressful for your child and the management of leaving one parent while saying hello to the other and vice versa (and in a brief period).
Help your child ease the transition by incorporating the following five suggestions.
Preparations before leaving home:
Speak to your child about what to expect when with the other parent. Share this information with the other parent and agree that your child be prepared similarly when returning to your care. For example, "Daddy is going to take you to the museum and ice cream."
Establish a goodbye ritual that provides consistency and predictability. For example: giving a big hug, special handshake, or silly dance while stating, "Mommy is very proud of you, loves you, and will be waiting when you return."
Pack a comfort bag that will provide a sense of security and warmth, such as a favorite stuffed animal, book, blankie, toy, or picture.
At the moments of transition:
Teach and model to your child, whether the other parent is picking them up or you are doing the drop-off, the importance of being on time. This will provide consistency and predictability for your child.
Maintain awareness of your communication with the other parent during the transition. How you address one another directly affects your child's sense of safety and prevents your child from becoming the third party in the parental relationship.
Ensure the receiving parent also establishes a ritual of hello during the transition. For example, A special hug, handshake, or greeting: i.e., 'the duo pair meets again,' best week/end ever,' or 'together we will conquer the world.'
If your child displays dysregulated behaviors during this time, maintain your rituals of goodbye and hello to maintain consistency, predictability, and a sense of normalcy and safety for your child.
Preparation for the return:
When your child returns to your care, remember that she may need time to readjust to your home setting. It is common for your child to seem distant or not as chatting or her usual self. At this time, grant your time some space to gather your senses mentally, emotionally, and overall understanding of the present.
Establish a return-home "hello-ritual." This can be an enjoyable and creative process. Ideas such as baking cookies and watching a favorite t.v. Episodes play a game and even a video game to promote a sense of bonding and joy to be reunited.
Build predictability and security in both households:
Communicate with the other parent to establish and maintain consistent routines and structures such as bedtime, homework, chores, and morning and evening rituals.
Continue this rule by use of consistent rules and discipline. Agreeing to rules and discipline will provide a sense of expectations -a.k.a. predictability, for your child. Providing consistency allows your child to experience being a child rather than dealing with the uncertain outcomes of a parent's inability to maintain decisive authority in working together.
Create natural quality time with your child. You sometimes want to make up for lost time or guilt that your child deals with ongoing transitions, which can lead a parent to overdo it with too many special or exciting events. Remember that the most memorable and deepening experiences are the regular ones like bedtime, homework, dinner, playing outdoors, and good old fashion conversation.
Encourage your child to form and maintain friendships with neighborhood friends. This will contribute to a sense of belonging, normalcy, and predictability.
Build continuity in both households:
Please ensure your child has a personal space in each home. Whether it be a special play space, bed, sleeping bag, storage space, or dresser, as well as articles such as books or colors with which your child has a special association.
Promote a sense of security with his supply of socks, pajamas, undergarments, school supplies, clothing, toothbrush, hair accessories, and other items that will encourage consistency and reliability in each parental home.
Allow your child to maintain active communication with the other parent, and your child is given private space during this time.
Allow your child to maintain a picture of the other parent (despite your feelings about the parent) to honor your child's love and affection for that parent. And again -and most importantly, to avoid making your child the third party -i.e., to feel responsible for fixing the health of the parental dynamic or issues between you and the other parent.
Maintain ongoing communication with the other parent regarding your child's well-being during their time with you: report cards, school pictures, doctor visits, recommendations, medications prescribed, dance/sports/school performances, or events.
Take the time to review and share these suggestions with the other parent to encourage practical tools both can utilize for the benefit of your child and how they manage transitions. In addition, maintaining useful and consistent tools will help to reduce parental stress in communications and increase a sense of clarity, confidence, and reliability as co-parents.
Cooperative Parenting and Divorce, "Shielding Your Child From Conflict." A Parent Guide to Effective Co-Parenting. Susan Byth Boyan, M.Ed., L.M.F.T. and Ann Marie Termini, M.S., L.P.C.