I don't know if I've mentioned here before that I'm a step-kid. My parents got divorced when I was 3 and they both re-married when I was 5. From my mom's marriage I gained not only a new step-dad but also a step-brother and step-sister. From my dad's marriage I gained a step-mom and eventually, a half-sister. Are you confused yet? As a kid I used to joke that I needed a map to help navigate my family...especially considering my dad and step-dad share the same name.
Is that helping?
Anyway, I grew up like a regular old step-kid. I spent time with my mom and my dad and shuffled back and forth between two sets of houses, two sets of rules, two dogs and two sets of parents. As an adult I would tell you that it was no big deal, I got used to it, it started when I was little and it was just how it was for me. It was my normal.
But then something happened. I became a step-parent and I started to remember things that I had somehow or another chosen to forget. One of those things was the transition. When I say "transition", I'm talking about the time surrounding each exchange when I would switch from one house to the other.
Now as a step-parent, watching The Munchkin make the transition week after week, memories of my own transitioning have surfaced...and I must say, it's a hard thing for those little kiddos. I have clear memories of being that step-kiddo and really not wanting to make the switch. Not because I didn't want to see my Mom or Dad but because it was just a plain and simple interruption to my activity. And of course there were times when I really missed one or the other of my parents when I wasn't with them. Imagine if you switched houses and families every week. Yeah, maybe you don't need to bring clothes and maybe your other house is in the same neighborhood, but it would still be difficult, even as an adult.
Although it's sometimes painful to watch The Munchkin have a difficult transition and remember my own hard times of transitioning, I believe there are a lot of ways to make this process a little less difficult for those little ones.
1. Co-Parenting is key. Even when parents aren't together we should still work together for the sake of the kids, it really, really does make a difference. I can't stress that enough. Co-parenting though, is a whole different post that I hope to share in the future. I will say we are thankful for our co-parenting situation and pretty darn proud of it too. Or at least, I'm proud of all of us.
2. Talk to your kiddo. These seems pretty obvious, but what I'm saying is, be clear with them about the day...start talking to them hours before the transition is going to be made and keep talking up until the time of the switch: "hey Munchkin, you get to see your Mommy and other doggy today", "your Mom is going to be excited to see you later", "OK, we have about a half an hour left to play and then we're going to take you to your other house". Clearly this doesn't have to be a constant thing but just dropping those little nuggets in their mind leading up to transition time does help to ease them into it.
3. Share. When I was little I didn't bring anything with me from one house to the other. No toys, no games, no nothing except for what I came with. It's probably not that big of a deal, but I remember feeling sad that I couldn't bring certain things to my other house. So as an adult, I say share. If the kiddo wants to bring a stuffed animal from one house to the other, let them do it. I think if what they want to bring is reasonable it should be no big deal. Now, when The Munchkin wants to bring his enormous Hot Wheels ramp, that is a little much, but a car? Sure. I feel like if it makes that switch a bit easier, or if they feel a little more comfortable because they have some favorite thing with them, then that's OK.
4. Behavior issues after transitioning. I'm hesitant to use the term "behavior issues" here because I feel like it is eluding to some major problem. What I'm actually talking about is behavior being a tad worse than average. That first hour or so after the transition can sometimes be trying. It almost seems like a test period where that little mind is thinking "what can I get away with now that I'm at this house?" What works best for me here is to just try to be very patient. I don't necessarily think it's a good idea to let your normal punishment slip just because the kiddo is in that transition window....if they are doing something they'd normally get a time out for, then they should probably still get that time out. That said, I feel like as parents it's a good idea to be prepared for that first couple hours of change. Remember that this is a little bit of a hard time for the kiddo and when they are young and lacking the communication skills to say how they feel, sometimes it instead comes out in not so great behavior.
5. Talk to your kiddo. I'm repeating this on purpose. Just like talking to them before the transition is important, talking to them after the transition is important too. It obviously won't be some deep therapy session with your kid, but I really believe just by asking, "hey, what's going on?", even when they are too young to have the ability to really communicate an answer, it makes it OK for them to express things to you in ways that they are able. In addition, I really feel like it should be OK for the kiddo and adults to talk about both houses. Having two houses is the normal for kiddo's in this situation, they should feel free to talk about goings-on in both places they live, with their parents, no matter where they are.
So, before I end this post, let me add a few things. I'm not an expert, by any means, with regard to children, step-families, parenting or anything else for that matter, except for maybe chocolate and snow-cones. I'm just a step-kid who is now a step-parent and the things I write here are purely my thoughts on the matter. Everything is open for discussion.
Also. I hope no one reads this and gets the idea that I had a bad situation as a step-kid. I didn't. I love my weird, mixed-up, not-nuclear family. I got extremely lucky in the step-parent and parent department. My thoughts here are my perspective now, having been the kid and now the parent in the step-situation. So, Mom and Dad I am not permanently scarred because you didn't let me bring Rocky Raccoon back and forth. You will probably be happy to know that Rocky Raccoon now belongs to The Munchkin and he has happily overnighted in both of The Munchkin's houses. Rocky Raccoon wants you to know that he enjoys traveling.
Do you have a step-kid? What's your transition like?