Restructuring a family means change after change. Kids move between two different houses or kids stay put and the parents move. Regardless, each parent will have their own way of doing things, and the kids will need to adjust. Some parents worry that different rules in different homes will hurt the kids. Children can manage a lot and will find a way to cope. The more predictable, the easier it will be for them to adjust. Just because house rules are different doesn’t make them bad. The reality is that at times kids may prefer one house over the other (because the rules are a little more flexible, or because it is consistent and safe.)
Dealing with the co-parent’s house
Change can feel like quicksand. Struggling will take you down. Grabbing onto what you can control can help pull you out of the mud. As long it’s safe for your children, there are three key rules to remember:
Rule 1: You can’t control what happens in someone
else's home. Release the need to try.
Rule 2: You have complete control over the rules in your home.
Rule 3: See Rule 1.
When following Rule 2, get clear about the rules for your house and stick to them (this may take some time. I help families to do this all the time – sometimes a new perspective makes all the difference.)
Wondering how to talk about this without bad-mouthing the co-parent?
“We both love you; we just do things differently. In this house, the rule is…”
If your kids are struggling with something in the other house, you can help them find words to use when they talk about it with the other parent.
You can ask: “What do you feel? What do you need?”
Then you can coach them: “Parent, I have a problem and I need your help. When we are at your house, I feel like this. I would really like it if we could do this. Can you please help me to figure this out so I feel more comfortable here?”
Smoothing the transition between the homes
Separation and divorce are a huge adjustment for everyone in the family, especially the kids. They are dealing with big emotions and big logistical change. These may show themselves in a variety of ways depending on the child and the moment. Loud outbursts may be followed by bouts of silence. There could be anger, sorrow, and grief – or, at times, things could seem pretty laid back. Supporting our kids’ emotions is critical. The emotions may come out as misbehaviors and, while it’s important to keep everyone safe, simply disciplining misbehavior without checking in on the emotions underlying those behaviors may leave everyone more lost than they already were.
Creating as much consistency and support as possible can help smooth the transition from house to house:
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