“But, Mom! At Dad’s I don’t have to do the dishes. I don’t have any chores because Jayme does everything for us,” my daughter said with a huff and a hand on her hip.
“That’s OK if that’s how your dad and Jayme want to run their household, but at our house everyone pitches in,” I replied.
Such are the conversations that result when a child’s family life is split between two homes — each with different expectations, rules and guidelines.
Imagine going to a different country and learning the language and culture. After being totally immersed, you’re abruptly uprooted and taken to another country that has different norms and values. This is sort of what children experience when shuffling between two homes. And just as you would need time to transition, your kids do, as well.
Here are some ways I have found to help kids adjust:
Co-parent the differences
If possible, have a discussion with your co-parent in the other house — without the kids overhearing. Attempt to clearly understand what is different at the other house regarding each child: chores, bedtime, homework, media, social life, spiritual activities, cellphones and discipline. Clarify that your motives are not to control or be intrusive, but to gain an understanding about the differences so each family can help the children be successful in both homes.
Once you gain an understanding of the differences between the two homes, it’s often not hard to figure out what might be confusing to your kids. Clarify any unclear expectations during family meetings. Afterward, you can post goals, event calendars and chore lists so that your kids have visual reminders of important information.
When privileges or boundaries are vastly different between homes, don’t talk negatively about the other home. Expressing to your children neutral information about differences may be necessary, but maintaining a positive tone is the most productive approach.
Provide a buffer
Giving your kids a 24-hour transition period allows them time to decompress before engaging in your household’s unique rhythms.
Provide a mentor.
A trusted adult from outside the family can serve as a sounding board for your kids. Some concerns are easier to discuss with an objective outsider than with a parent. Enlist a mentor to spend time with your children.
Tammy Daughtry is a co-founder of the Center for Modern Family Dynamics.