Offering consistency at home as children move from one parent to the next can help with stability.
Divorce can be messy, stressful and difficult for the entire family.
I know of only one amicable divorce where both parents agreed to disagree, dissolved their unhappy marriage and have always behaved in the best interest of their children. That’s quite unique, as hurt feelings can easily evolve into rage and revenge.
Revenge has an official name: Parental Alienation.
Simply put, this occurs when one parent sabotages or speaks badly about the other parent in the presence of their child with the intent of convincing him or her to take sides. Even subtle comments like, “Well, if your mother had dropped you off on time…” can be damaging.
Parents who criticize each other may not realize they are jeopardizing their own relationship with that child. Unkind remarks rarely convince children to choose the blaming parent. Instead, it will cause unnecessary emotional distress.
Many children display transitional behaviors — which I call “changing uniforms” — where they are emotionally unsettled before leaving and for up to two days after a visit.
Yelling, defiance, sadness, crying or picking fights, may appear as children move from Mom’s team to Dad’s team.
The rules are different on each team, the environments are different, and the expectations are different.
As you ready your child for a visit, provide natural teaching consequences that teach, not punish. Support your child’s emotional needs while providing understanding and necessary boundaries.
It can be helpful for children to know when visits are scheduled. Color-coded dots on a calendar help with visualization.
Preparing the same favorite meal before leaving for a visit signals a non-verbal pattern, and offering a favorite upon his return provides reliable comfort.
Many children also transition better when the same activity is planned each time upon their return, such as playing board games or baking cookies together, because they learn to rely on their anchors for comfort and security.
In the best interest of your child:
Don’t criticize the other parent or involve your child in adult conversations.
Don’t say “your father.” Refer to him as what he was always called, such as daddy.
Investigate support or therapeutic groups for children of divorce.
Offer reassurance. Tell your child that this is not his fault and that he will be okay.