Helping Your Child Transition Between Homes During Visitation
When divorcing in a home with minor children, every good parent’s primary concern is the well-being of their child. But in the anger or sadness of a divorce it can sometimes be easy for a well-meaning mother or father to lose sight of the fact that children are the “innocent parties” in a divorce, who may be suffering the most.
As an experienced family law attorney, I have seen many divorces in which it was very stressful for a child to move between each parent’s house for visitation / parenting time and/or joint custody arrangements. In this article I am addressing some well-established “tips” – developed by child psychologists and family law experts – to help make your child’s transition from one parent’s home to another happier and less stressful for them, and you.
1. Do Not Ask a Child to Choose Sides
Often, a child may resist leaving one parent’s home to spend time with their other parent. Contrary to how this may appear, this does NOT mean your child loves the other parent any less. Nor does it mean that it is cruel or unfair for the child to have to visit the other parent.
A child’s reticence to visit another parent is simply a very natural response, when they are seeking security during a time of transition or uncertainty.
Other than cases of abuse, neglect, alcoholism, drug usage or other extreme circumstances, it is a well-established psychological fact that a child benefits from spending more time with both parents. So it is crucial for both parents to create a schedule that lessens the likelihood that your child will feel like they have to choose sides.
2. Help Your Child Anticipate the Visitation
One of the biggest keys to helping a child feel secure is to help them anticipate the transitions between their two parent’s homes. Remind children ahead of time that they will be spending time at their other home, so that they are emotionally prepared and not taken by surprise.
If possible, try to ask the other parent what plans they have made for the child’s visit. This way you can even help your child have something to look forward to at their other home, such as “Daddy is taking you to the park on Saturday!”
3. Show Enthusiasm – Not Disdain – for the Visitation
Attempt to show genuine enthusiasm about your child’s visit with their other parent. This will not only increase the child’s level of security when transitioning – but will also prevent them from being worried about you being “upset”. Remember, children often feel responsible for their parents’ happiness!
Even if you do not approve of your ex-spouse’s lifestyle, values or identity, it is in the child’s best interest to show enthusiasm for time spent with their other parent. Bad-mouthing your ex is proven to have a negative psychological impact on children.
As your child eventually matures into an adult, he or she will make their own decisions – and develop their own values -based upon the love and guidance you have shown them. Handling visitation with dignity, integrity, respect and a positive, loving attitude not only makes children’s lives happier now – it will foster these positive characters in them as they grow up.
4. Cooperate with the Other Parent
Modeling cooperation and polite behavior sets a positive tone for your child and their visitation experience. In spite of any “bad blood” between you and your ex-spouse, try to recognize that they are your child’s parent and deserve respect for that reason alone.
If your child hears you expressing doubts about the other parent – or being uncooperative with visitation arrangements – it can have a detrimental impact on the child emotionally, because it will cause them to feel that they are “in the middle” or that your unhappiness is “their fault.”
5. Develop Consistency Between Homes in Visitation
Both parents should try to work together to jointly decide upon schools, bedtimes, homework, manners, activities, social calendars (and even consequences for bad behavior or poor grades). This fosters a secure and cohesive daily experience for the children – regardless of which parent’s house they are at on a given day.
Setting routines and boundaries for daily life at each home creates a secure and safe-feeling environment that will help the children more easily transition back and forth between parents’ homes.
Also try to plan ahead when helping your child pack for a visit, so they are bringing important or necessary items with them to the other parent’s home. Having their boots with them when it snows, the books they need for school, or their uniform for after-school athletics, goes a long way toward reducing chaos – and increasing a child’s security and happiness during visitation.
Oakland County Divorce & Visitation Attorney
By providing loving encouragement and remaining positive (or at least neutral) about the other parent, you will help make adjusting to post-divorce life easier for you and your child. Putting your differences aside with your ex – and modelling cooperation, respect and a positive attitude – will help your child or children negotiate the stress of transitioning from home to home.
Experts agree that children who are confident in the love of both of their parents, will have an easier time adjusting to a divorce – and develop into happier and more secure adults.