My husband and I recently separated and are going through a divorce. Do you have advice to ease the transition to two homes for my preschool child?
Divorce is difficult for everyone involved. It is good to see that you are thinking of ways to help your child through this difficult time. As adults, it is easy to get caught up in the hurt of a relationship ending. The marriage to your child’s father has ended. In this time, it is helpful to stop thinking of him as “your former spouse” and start thinking of him as a “co-parent”. Framing the relationship in this light will remind you that your life-long connection is your child and that he/she should be the primary focus.
Some helpful suggestions that we found for easing the transition are:
• Create a visual schedule/calendar for your child. This calendar should include parenting time as well as activities or events in the child’s life. It might be helpful to color code the calendar so the child can easily see where he/she is sleeping that night.
• Allow for the child to take a transition object(s) between both houses.
• If possible, keep a set of essentials such as toothbrush, pajamas, pillows and bedding at each house in order to minimize packing. If finances allow, having clothes at both houses is helpful, but remember that they belong to the child and don’t get caught up in who bought which article of clothing.
• Consistency is essential. When possible try to have similar expectations in both households. At the preschool age a consistent daily schedule helps to add structure and normalcy.
Another key factor in how your child handles this new way of life is how both parents treat each other. Being respectful to one another makes a big difference in the way the child views the separation. This can be extremely difficult given the emotionally charged situation that you are all facing. A time when it might be particularly difficult to stay collected is transition day. Seeing your former spouse face to face when exchanging your child might elicit many emotions. Here are some helpful tips to consider when dealing with a co-parent:
• If possible, always drop off a child on transition days. Picking up a child from the other house can be seen as “taking”.
• Try not to refer to your former spouse as your “ex” and avoid name-calling. If possible keep others who are close to you from doing it too. When speaking to your child about his/her other parent, try to use the name that they call him/her such as “Mom” or “Dad”. When speaking to other adults or directly to your co-parent, using their first name is always a safe bet.
• Exchange a greeting with the co-parent at drop off. It does not need to be lengthy, but demonstrating communication between the two of you can be reassuring to the child.
• Do NOT handle other business such as finances at transition time. Keep it about the child.
• Keep your body relaxed. Changing your body’s state can change your frame of mind. Try to stand up straight, relax your muscles and focus on breathing. It might sound silly, but this will help you to have a calm and clear mind.
Overall, the most important thing to remember is that it takes time for everyone, adults and children alike, to adjust to a change. There will be challenges, but keeping your child at the forefront of your decisions will minimize the turbulence and insure that you are making good choices. Your child might experience some unrest in their emotions or behaviors, especially initially, but this is normal. Not over-reacting to these shifts in behavior is important as an over-reaction might lead to feelings of guilt or shame about the emotions that it is natural for him/her to have. Remember that you and your co-parent have a common interest and love of your child. As long as the child is reassured of that love, you will all make it through this difficult time!