Stepfamily life is hard sometimes. There’s just no other way to put it. The good news is, you’re not alone trying to figure this out. In fact, more and more stepfamily topics are coming to the surface and being discussed. These “hot button” issues are my favorite items to guide stepcouples through.
One particularly hard topic to navigate is what most parents call “stepfamily switch day.” It’s the day when the kids pack up their belongings and switch from one parent’s home to the other parent’s home.
Two of the top reasons “switch day” is such a challenge include:
1. It is yet another “negotiation” that ex-spouses have to work through.
2. The kids have to remember to pack their belongings, school work, and extra activity equipment to shift locations. This list can go on and on, but I’m going to briefly touch on each of these points with some suggestions on how to improve the situation. Of course, the success of each of these tips depends on the willingness of everyone (bio parents, kids, stepparents) to participate in developing and following through on their part of the solution.
Tips for Stepfamily Success
Due to unresolved emotional issues, exes can bring out the worst of us. It’s important to keep the main goal in focus. In this case, it’s our child’s emotional health. When we concentrate on the end result, it is easier to overlook the pettiness for a greater cause.
For blended families, the top priority of switch day is to safely transfer the child from one home to the other. I suggest keeping the day child-focused. How can you do this while harboring negative feelings towards your co-parenting partner?
Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to make this an easier transition for my child?”
If you have unresolved issues with your ex, for your child’s sake keep it between the adults. Kids who are put in the middle of feuding parents experience higher anxiety, struggle with loyalty issues, and don’t perform as well in school.
The best gift you can give your child is to not put him in the middle of your arguments. It’s not fair to him, he can’t fix any of it!
Put a plan in place and try to be good stewards of the agreement. Being a bit flexible helps as well (things do come up!) Putting adult egos aside for the sake of your child will help smooth out this challenging stepfamily situation.
Remember, your child has already struggled with big changes in his life. He really doesn’t need every single switch day to be awful as well.
As for the physical shifting from home to home, again ask yourself, “How can I help my child with this?”
Take a second and put yourself in your child’s shoes. Imagine how hard it would be to have to pack your work clothes, laptop, toiletries, pajamas, etc and move to a different home every three days. Oh, and in the meantime, you also have to get your work done for your boss, hit deadlines, and follow a new set of rules when you change locations.
How are you feeling after reading that? Anxious? Frustrated? Exhausted?
Now imagine you’re an eight-year-old and this is your life every couple of days. You have no control over any of it.
A-B-C’s of Parenting
So what can you do to help your child?
Use the ABC’s of Parenting that I teach all the time!
1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. Allow your child to vent if he needs to. He didn’t choose this lifestyle. He didn’t choose to have to live in two homes. He has the right to feel unhappy, frustrated, or tired. He didn’t get a vote.
2. Be clear about the expectations. Of course, the expectations should be age-appropriate. Younger children may need help in packing and remembering all of their items. Teens, for the most part should be expected to do this on their own, but some may need reminders. Make it clear, “When you pack your stuff to go to Mom’s house, I expect you to have all your things in your duffle bag and for the room to be picked up.” When kids know what the expectations are, they’re more likely to meet your goals.
3. Choose Options. One of the most successful techniques I teach parents is the ABC’s of Parenting. Why? Because of this last step! Kids are engaged in the process of brainstorming and problem-solving. Sit down with your child and ask, “What are some things you could do to help you remember everything you need to pack?” Giving your child an open-ended question and then listening without judgment will help the process along.
Together you may decide on creating a list of necessary items. I suggested to one stepcouple that they use a “to-do” list app with their kids. Each child helped to create their own list, parents added a few things if needed.
The beauty of this idea was that it ended parental nagging! We set up a family agreement that looked like this: If a parent/stepparent remembered something, they could add it to the list no later than an hour before the “switch” time and the kids agreed they’d double-check the list prior to pick up.
If the child forgot to check the list, then forgotten items were not the responsibility of the parents. This was hard to follow through on at first, but after a few times of suffering the consequences of not having their iPad for a few days served as a lesson learned.