Now that you’re divorced, your kids may have two homes: yours and your ex’s. Jennifer Gallagher, parent coach and owner of Single Parenting Solutions, is no stranger to this double-home scenario. Having lived it, Jen has developed tips and tricks to ease your child’s “transition” from house to house.
- Transitioning, from a child development standpoint, is when a child goes from one event to another, and usually, the event is going from a favorable event to an unfavorable event.
- The concept of time is different for kids and its difficult for them to stop and leave whatever they’re doing in the present moment.
- The act of moving from space to space destabilizes their sense of place. That’s why it’s important to create stability when transitioning.
- How to help your kids transition between one parent’s house and the other
OUR GUEST – JENNIFER GALLAGHER, SINGLE PARENTING SOLUTIONS
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re Jessica and T.H.
T.H.: Today’s podcast, we have Jennifer Gallagher, Single Parenting Solutions owner and parent coach, but I will say, a fantastic fun dynamic personality on Instagram that makes parenting seem kind of fun at times, definitely humorous. That’s how I found her. Welcome to the podcast today.
Jen: Thank you so much for having me.
Jessica: Thanks for taking the time. Making parenting fun, that’s a real gift.
T.H.: That’s like a superpower. So today, we’re going to talk about transitioning. There are certainly so many changes that go on when you’re going through divorce. You’re focused mostly on kids between the ages of zero and eight years old, so newborn to eight. Why don’t you define what transition in your mind as a parent coach means?
Jen: Transitioning, when we talk about from a child development standpoint, it’s when a child goes from one event to another, and usually, the event is going from a favorable event to an unfavorable event. That’s where you have the challenge, the difficulties with their mood, their behavior, and it also can vary in different degrees. That is just the simple definition of transitioning. But children of two homes and in a co-parenting family, they have more transition than children of a two parent home because of going from home to home. Then also if both parents work, they go to an extended care, so on and so forth.
Jessica: When you say it’s going from a favorable situation to an unfavorable situation, I mean is that meaning that generally one parent’s house is the favorable situation going to the other parent’s house is the unfavorable? Is that always how it is?
Jen: Not necessarily. There is there is some type of I guess, degree where favorable parents come into play. That happens throughout childhood at different times, different stages, [sure, that’s natural] a multitude of different things, but it’s really of stopping what they’re doing to go to do something else.
T.H.: So give us an example. Give us an example.
Jen: If your child–so the concept of time is really difficult for little kids. You can prep them, you can prep them, you can prep them, but it comes to be five o’clock, and it’s time to start getting in the car for drop off. They hear you, they hear you, they hear you, but they have this idea that they have to keep playing or build that Lego tower one more time. They don’t want to stop what they’re doing, even though they love their other parent’s house. They want to see their other parent, but that Lego tower takes precedence over that relationship, because that’s what they want. They’re very egocentric. They’re very in their own world, so they’re not really thinking of the big picture. They’re just thinking of what they’re doing.
T.H.: Doesn’t that kind of safeguard them?
Jen: Oh, absolutely.
T.H.: That’s like almost living in a little bubble of protection if it’s not going to affect you as much if you’re not going to be as in tune with transition and back and forth. I mean, what are the age breaks for when, generally, obviously, every kid is different, every divorce and parent situation is different, but in terms of development between, obviously newborns are irrelevant, but in terms of their developmental sensitivities, where’s the breaking point between zero and eight?
Jen: Well, in general, just if you would have your child come to sit at the dinner table, you might have a very big explosion. But now going from one home to the other home is an extreme degree, because it’s another world. The thing is that children communicate through behaviors, and that also has to do with temperament of a child. Like you just said, there are different degrees and things like that. Then it also could just be based on they’re hungry, they’re tired, they’re overwhelmed, over-stimulated. There are so many different factors, but the whole challenge is that they communicate through those behaviors. It’s a challenge for parents to decode what’s going on and also help them navigate through their distress.
Jessica: I remember when my–so my kids were two and four when we were getting divorced. Navigating some of those typical childhood transition situations were all wrapped up in everything that we were dealing with. I do remember my son definitely had, I honestly don’t even think that it was necessarily divorce related, he was the kid who’d be playing whatever, and you tell him we were going to be leaving at X time, but then when it was time to leave, it seemed like it was so abrupt, then he’d have a meltdown. We always used to have to focus a lot on his transitions from getting ready in the apartment, to going to school, to going wherever it was going to be, all the time. I feel like one of the things that helped us or I’ve led myself to believe, helped us with the transitions from one home to the other was we kept the same nanny. She just would go back and forth with the kids, so whoever’s house they were at, Nory was there. I really think that for them, it was a very calming presence. They never had to worry, it really didn’t really matter where they were going, because she was always the one who was taking them there, and was there, was helping getting them their meals and bringing them to school, whatever the situation was. I feel like we inadvertently handle a lot of the transitional stuff from home to home in a way that I hope benefited. I always joke, I’ll never know how screwed up my kids really are until they’re in their 30s in therapy, but they seem to be pretty well adjusted.
Jen: That is so beautiful that you had that opportunity to do that, because it’s that figure who’s that comfort figure. I mean, it’s almost like, I mean, a person is way more important, but it’s almost like having their baby blanket go back and forth, which is difficult in a co-parenting dynamic, because the grownups are responsible for the child’s things and having those necessarily come back and forth with all the other stressors going on.
T.H.: And if you lose it, you’re so screwed. Oh, you’re the worst parent. You’re going to be the least favorable ever.
Jen: Yes. We had two secure stuffed animals. His Curious George, I had bought one when he was an infant, one for our home, and then one for his dad’s home.
T.H.: So that’s a tip. What are some other tips to make kids feel secure with the transition?
Jen: Because children are visual learners more so than auditory learners, having a visual calendar is very, very important. It’s been very effective in our particular situation with separation anxiety just at different times between my ex and I and then also in just the parenting coach realm and expert realm. This would be taking the actual images, photographs, because it puts the image in their real life situation, taking photographs of the different things that they do. Like we have–
Jessica: Like if they play a sport or something or do gymnastics?
Jen: Exactly. But we even go from the beginning of the day, all the way through the rest of the day.
T.H.: Wow that’s some calendar.
Jen: It’s at a very accessible place. It’s at his eye level on our fridge, and it’s with these little magnets. It takes him from brushing his teeth to getting dressed in his uniform for school, his door to his classroom.
T.H.: Oh my god.
Jessica: You literally have a picture of the door to his classroom on your calendar?
T.H.: Wait, Jen. You’re going to have to take a picture of your calendar so we can share it with this podcast, because that’s like a lot of work, but I guess it saves you a lot more heartache than the amount of time you have to put in to make it.
Jen: Yeah, and the thing too is that because there are more transitions, usually children, young children of divorce and separation have an even more difficult time going to school, which you would think, oh, just school is normal. But because now they’re going from parent A’s house to parent B’s house, and now it’s another place they have to go to, even that in addition, that creates a difficulty. I know we experienced that in our family when it was time for my son to go to school. There was major separation anxiety that just arose from that.
T.H.: Right, because each parent has a different way of getting–you can have all the pictures you want up there, but the way that parent communicates versus another is going to be totally different. Now your morning routine is already different, even though it looks like on the calendar everything should be the same. Well, dad doesn’t make me this, and mom doesn’t do this and whatever. Yeah.
Jessica: So in addition to a calendar, photo calendar, or color coded calendar, I guess, depending maybe an eight year old doesn’t need the pictures, but a four or five year old might. What are other must dos to try to ease all of these transitions for kids, because that really has to be the most difficult part for the kids with divorce?
Jen: Bedtime is an extremely vulnerable point for any child, any young child, and it’s at the end of the day. They’re cranky, they’re overwhelmed, overtired, regardless of how well they ate that day or anything like that. Bedtime is a very vulnerable time, especially if they have separation anxiety, or that preferred parent that they’re not with at the time. Those big feelings and those big emotions come out at a greater extent. What I do, I recommend for my clients, and what I do personally, is having a night night book. It’s just like dollar store photo album, and my son and I went through, and we’ve done this at different stages of development so that they’re more relevant photos. We go through and we pick out all the photos of him and I together, and then I put them all in that photo book, and he keeps it by his bed at his dad’s house, and that if he misses me, that he can look at it.
Jessica: And do you have one at your house with the pictures of his dad?
Jen: I follow his lead, so he chose not to. However, at our home, we have photos throughout his room of him and his dad, and then a few pictures of me, the three of us, and then we have photos in the living room, and then on the fridge, which is our official calendar, there’s a photo of his dad. So we have–
T.H.: Isn’t that hard for you?
Jessica: I did that same thing.
T.H.: Yeah, well, but it depends on the situation. You definitely have an amicable divorce. I’m not sure as much as I would like my kids to be comfortable, I’m happy to have it in their room, and in their space, I don’t necessarily want pictures of him around the house.
Jen: It’s challenging. I also have them strategically placed [so you can’t see them] where I have a gallery wall, and the pictures of him with his dad are at his level.
And then also, the photos in his room have this very artistic filter, where it almost looks like a–
Jen: Kind of. Like an art piece.
T.H.: Yeah. Yeah.
Jen: So it kind of helps–
Jessica: You’re not looking at his face all the time.
Jessica: I’m curious though. I mean, I don’t know that this falls into transition. I was smiling when you talked about bedtime, not because of what you said, and because we had something similar, and I have pictures up, but the whole idea which so many people listening have to be able to relate to. I had bedtime, it was this time, and they would be at their dads, and that’s not when bedtime was. Those kinds of schedules and the idea of the rules being so different in one house to another and us having so many arguments over it, and at the end of the day, who has to give in? I had to give in because my ex husband was like, “You can’t micromanage what I’m doing in my apartment with the kids. I’m a good dad, and they’re not in any danger. And if I’m going to let them stay up until 9:30, I’m going to let them stay up until 9:30.” And it would kill me inside. Does that qualify as transition? And what do you tell people? How do you handle that?
Jen: Absolutely. It also plays into the whole point where house rules and house parenting styles are extremely confusing for little kids. This whole concept of you should know better, really doesn’t necessarily apply. It really doesn’t apply to young kids in general.
T.H.: It doesn’t work. Even on adults it doesn’t work.
Jen: No. Now that they have two different bedtime routines, two different places to maybe garbage cans, or different expectations of everything, it’s confusing. Taking a hands on approach, which is what I help my clients with, is literally just doing in your family and then communicating to your child the different house rules and this is what we do at our house, but in a calm way where if they’re confused, to have more patience with them and just explain, “Hey, this is mommy’s rules. Remember, at mommy’s house we do this and daddy’s house you do that?”
T.H.: That’s the biggest argument though. That’s one of the biggest. “I don’t want to go back to mom’s house. She makes me go to sleep early. She doesn’t let me play video games for more than two hours. She doesn’t let me have Lucky Charms cereal in the morning. She makes me only healthy food, no soda. Who wants to go to mom’s house?” And then I’m the bad person for having rules, which sucks.
Jessica: Right. It’s almost like we always have to be the ones to give in because you have no other option, because you want them to be able to come back to your house, and also I can’t have that conversation in a calm manner.
T.H.: Yeah. And also, the way that I always thought about it was well, they’re with him Wednesdays and every other weekend so still, the majority of the time they’re not eating lucky charms, they’re not drinking soda, and they’re going to bed when I say and they’re whatever, but that pushback even in my own home is annoying.
Jessica: Yeah, so frustrating.
T.H.: It’s annoying.
Jen: For little kids though, if you get creative, you can almost kind of divert the conversation in a playful way to bring up all the points that they have fun with the other parent. So in our particular situation, mommy’s big on dramatic play, so we dress up, we go outside with water blasters, we do all those kind of very big fun things, draw, make things. But with his dad, he does a lot of sports activities, and they go on nature hikes, and they really get [dirty] in the mud and all that kind of stuff. So when I approach it like, “I wonder what type of adventures you’re going to do at daddy’s house?” That helps him transition easier and have that, I guess, sense of calmness by leaving me. Then he becomes excited to go to the next place.
Jessica: Yes, but your answer is indicating that yours is the favorable house. And so what do you do when you’re the unfavorable house, and the kid doesn’t want to come to yours? You can say, well, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do this, and they don’t care, because all they want to do is eat the junk food, play the video games, and go to sleep at 9:30 at night. How do you as the unfavorable disciplinarian parent do–
T.H.: Yeah, and I have an add-on to that, just to make the question even more complicated. Then they’re coming back to my house, after they’re cranky from going to bed late, and being in school day, and then I have to clean up the nightmare that’s come back to my house after that.
Jessica: This was when I would do the *gestures*. Remember? We’re going to flip the bird. Go, Jen, lay it on us and everyone else listening.
Jen: Well, in the beginning of–my son’s turning five. In the beginning of–my son’s dad and I have been co-parenting since day one. We had broken up since I was pregnant, so we’ve been starting this journey from day one. And in the beginning, my son, I guess you would say that I was the favorable parent, so he spent more time with me. I also kind of speak his language, that kind of thing and have different expectations upon him, so I was the favorable parent. However, in the past six months since my son’s dad started dating, and now they’ve become a blended family with a little girl who’s eight, that little girl is also his playmate. And so now, I went from being that preferred parent that, “I want to stay at mama’s house” to now every morning when he wakes up, even though we have that visual calendar, it’s “Is it a daddy day?” every morning, and so now I’m not that that preferred parent.
Jessica: It sucks!
Jen: It sucks and that’s the other thing where triggers come into play and all that kind of–
Jessica: We’ll talk about triggers on another one.
T.H.: So I think you have to get a dog. You have to one up it. He’s got an eight year old? You’ve got to get a super cute dog.
Jessica: Or have a baby, a dog or a baby, one of the two.
T.H.: Yeah, dogs. You can put a dog anywhere.
Jessica: Well, how do you handle that?
Jen: Well, we get to Legoland a lot. We go places a lot.
T.H.: It’s a lot of pressure though to be like what am I going to dream up to trump, sorry for the word everybody and name, the other parent. You feel like there’s a little bit of a competition because you just want to be validated that what you’re doing your child loves. You want them to be comfortable in both homes, but you always, everybody always wants to be the one who’s a little bit better than the other.
Jen: Well, and that’s where that whole shift comes into play within us as parents. I take it as if he, if my son is unloading on me, and if my son is having a hard time with me, developmentally, that indicates that he feels safe enough to release all of his energy on me, no matter how uncomfortable it feels for me, but that I have the privilege of being his safe person.
T.H.: So Jen, I want you to hold on to that for a really long time, because I was rationalizing that for a long time, and I still do hold that true. My children are now 21, 20, and 17. But just remind yourself, or I’ll call you when he turns about 12, then you’re going to be like, you know what, I’m kind of maybe over it. I don’t need to be the safe space. I’m going to teach you how to be the safe space now, okay? So maybe start working on that now, how to train your ex to be that safe person too, because it’s a lot. It’s a lot. That’s all I’m saying. I’m just giving you a heads up for what’s ahead. It’s all good. But those, I just remember very vividly that, well, he’s safer in your home, he feels more comfortable, he’s not going to lose you, and I was like, oh my god, I can’t take it. Yeah, so, but I hear you.
Jessica: It’s something that every parent in divorce deals with. I mean, obviously, no matter what ages your kids are, but these are really like the pivotal years, that zero through eight. Thank you so much for sharing all that information. For anyone listening, if you have questions about this specifically, please send them to us. And if you are interested in reaching out to Jen, we have all of her contact info on the site www.exexperts.com. So it’s Single Parenting Solutions, and she has all of your solutions, so you can blame her if it doesn’t work out all that well.
T.H.: No, but Jen is a real life expert too, so she does get it. She’s coming from that place. There’s nothing like hard knocks training, and living and learning it, and so she’s living and learning it too.
Jessica: And being part of that community. I mean, we’re always asking our friends anyway, advice and different kinds of things, so Jen is definitely part of the community because she really is in the thick of it. So thank you so much for your time today.
Jen: Thank you so much for having me, ladies.
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