Is your family struggling to manage chaos caused by a custody agreement? You are not alone in dealing with these challenges. Let these 3 transition day tips for stepparents help you work through those difficulties and focus on how incredibly rewarding it can be to be part of your special stepfamily.
Raise your hand if you ever get excited when your stepchild comes home because you miss her! Or maybe you dislike when she comes home because it disturbs your family’s routine and puts everyone on edge? Perhaps transition days with the ex start fresh drama?
In a blended family, children often move from one home to their other home, as dictated by a custody arrangement. These transition times are stressful for some children, causing them to feel emotional and vulnerable. Even the slightest change in kids’ daily routines can make a huge difference in their lives.
These transitions also take a toll on parents and siblings, often leaving family members emotionally and physically exhausted.
I remember one day when transitioning with my stepdaughter was particularly difficult. Her elementary school years were hard for our family because she was never with us for an entire weekend. This weekend we had been out of town visiting relatives. On Sunday afternoon we needed to leave early due to the parenting exchange schedule.
Before we dropped her off, we were having a great time, bonding as a family. My two boys, stepdaughter and husband were all laughing and singing along loudly to the car’s music.
When we finally arrived at the meetup exchange location, we all started giving her hugs and kisses to say goodbye. Suddenly my son, who was 2 at the time, started crying and screaming “NO… I don’t want my sister to leave!” It was heartbreaking to see his raw emotions about missing his sister. It was then I realized transition days were not only affecting my stepdaughter but also impacting the rest of our family, including me.
Despite everyone’s inevitable emotions, there are things you can do as a stepparent to make the change more manageable for your family. Here are my 3 transition day tips for stepparents:
1. Create Transition Day Traditions
Life in a stepfamily can be hectic, so establishing daily routines gives everyone the comfort of knowing what will happen before and after the emotional roller-coaster of the transition.
In addition, new traditions are important for stepfamily life and not just surrounding holidays. Simple rituals you can do together before or after exchanging your stepchild can relieve stress. This could be something like playing a board game, walking your dog, tossing a ball, making a meal, or snuggling in bed while watching your family’s favorite show. You may also implement something to share while apart, such as sleeping with a special item or siblings writing letters to exchange when they’re together again. Whatever the traditions, they should be enjoyable for your family, not cause additional stress.
You may need to be creative when forming these traditions with older children. For example, some prefer downtime in their room as opposed to family movie night. Communication is key, but with time you’ll find something that works for your family.
This leads to my next suggestion…
2. Give Space to Your Family and Yourself
Knowing that transition day can be exhausting, it can be a good idea to give everyone extra space. Try not to overwhelm stepkids when they come home. Too many questions about time with their other parent could make them anxious or cause them to simply answer with what they think you want to hear. It’s okay to ask if they enjoyed themselves, but let them share anything else on their own time after that. Give them that space to keep those memories with their other family.
Before your stepchild arrives, remember to give yourself some space to decompress as well. As stepparents, we need to brace ourselves for the potential of chaos entering our house when they return. Something stressful or particularly exciting may have occurred during their time away, and it’s best to be prepared to embrace all that returns with your stepchild.
Which brings me to my final recommendation:
3. Establish Your Stepparent Boundaries
As they are settling back into your family, your stepchild may be cold or distant one moment and incredibly affectionate the next. You may not know why they are behaving this way after coming home and likely want to understand the root of their emotions to help fix the situation. But that is not for stepparents to figure out; leave that to their parents.
Many transition day frustrations result from an unstable parenting plan. Some parents do not have equal time with their child, and jealousy or sadness may cause friction between families. Never talk negatively about the other parent in front of your stepchild. A feeling of cohesiveness can help her feel more comfortable with the overall situation.
As stepparents, it can also be aggravating to not have a say in what happens on transition days, even though it directly impacts you. Keep a journal to record your perspective, then troubleshoot with your spouse if something isn’t working for your family. You have the right to say no to being involved with a schedule created before the two of you were married.
Being a stepparent can be hard, especially on transition days. But it is a beautiful opportunity, absolutely worth the effort it might take to get right. Try not to get stuck on how things “should” be working. Instead, take the time to determine what is best for your stepchild and the rest of your family. Traditions, space and boundaries can help your family achieve its goals and allow you to forge an even stronger relationship with your stepchild.