How fun would it to be to pack a bag and move temporarily into a different household every two weeks or so, and to have two people who really don’t like each other transport you back and forth? It’s frustrating how the kids’ viewpoint is overlooked in so much discussion about visitation, and even the word “visitation” is insulting to the kids’ relationship with the parent with whom they are spending time that weekend. Do we really believe kids shift easily from living full-time with both parents to blithely “visiting” the parent they don’t live with now?
I could find article upon article with advice for when the kids don’t want to go to “visitation”, but what about when they are not ready for that time to end? For some reason this isn’t as popular to talk about.
Article Alley offers some tips for parents to make “visitation” easier for the kids:
* Speak positively about the other parent and the time that children will spend with the other parent. For example ,” I know that you are going to have a great weekend with your Dad because he has special plans”, is much more positive than “I know you don’t want to go, but the court papers say you have to”. In the first sample the child is clearly hearing that you know Dad is a fun person to be with, and has spent some time planning a great weekend.
* Avoid discussing any sensitive topics during the pick-up or drop-off of the kids. Remember that this is a tough time for the children, and parent conflict or emotional tension will just make it worse.
* Keep basic supplies at both houses. Avoid having to pack a suitcase for the children; rather, have socks, underwear, pj’s, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, brushes and other personal items at both houses. This helps children understand that they have two homes, not just one home and a place to visit.
* Avoid using the term “visitation” or “access” with your children. This is a court term, not a child-friendly phrase.
Again, the writer has the ever-present assumption that the kids don’t want to spend time with the non-custodial parent, which I find odd, but I was relieved to see the suggestion about keeping items at both houses so the kids feel like they have homes, not guest rooms. Gary and I enjoy shopping for the kids’ clothes together, and the kids enjoy having a closet and dresser full of their own personal items when they are with us, instead of tearing through a suitcase to get something. A suitcase is a reminder that their time together will be abruptly cut short within a day or two, while pulling something from a dresser or closet feels more permanent, more home-y, more comforting that they will be back.
Divorce Mag also offers the suggestion to keep basic items at both households, to ease the awkwardness of living from a suitcase at one home. The article also suggests:
* Don’t shoehorn your child from one parent’s car to the other’s. Spend a few minutes somewhere before popping him or her back in a car.
* Keep your thoughts or complaints about the other parent under wraps. Don’t use transition time to have a discussion.
* Be polite and friendly to the other parent. Smile!
* (For custodial parents, obviously): When the court gave you custody of your child, the judge also gave you the responsibility for making sure your child continued to have the other parent in his or her life. …If you think that you “win” by keeping your child home, you’re mistaken. You’re effectively denying your child his or her right to have two parents that love and care for him or her — through good times and bad times.
To me, feeling like you “win” about anything in such a situation is childish and places the focus on you, not the kids…and probably a really good sign that you need to shift your priorities and grow up a bit. Kids certainly deserve nothing less.