Children of Divorce and the Every Other Weekend (EOW)
To some extent, we're all creatures of habit. I think it's just human nature. But some of us are more so than others, and I have to admit that I abhor change, almost to a fault. So getting married and dealing with figuring out how two different people can live in one household was challenging in and of itself. But throw in the fact that my new husband had a son from a previous marriage, and our life was instantly filled with constant change. Every weekend was different, sometimes we were newlyweds, sometimes we were parents. Throw in two of our own children a few years later, and we're constantly working to make our blended family work.
The good thing for me has been to learn that I'm not alone. Half of all children will witness a break up of a parent's marriage by the time they reach age 18. Which means that in your child's class at school, a good number of kids are traveling from one parent's house to another on weekends, maybe seeing half brothers and step-sisters just some of the time, and trying to keep up with different rules and expectations at every turn.
While it's comforting to know that you're not alone if you're a single parent or a step-parent, it's hard to generalize what the kids are going through. Some live with a single parent, whether it's mom or dad, and the other parent isn't involved much in their life. Others might be shuttling from mom's house to dad's, and neither is re-married. While still others are spending part of their time with a step-parent and possibly step-siblings or half-siblings. It's no wonder that dealing with the typical every-other-weekend schedule (EOW) is sometimes challenging!
I surely can't claim to be an expert. But with 10 years of step-parenting under my belt, I've found some ways to help make the EOW schedule go a little smoother for all parties involved.
* Create a Routine.
Whether it's for you the parent or for the kids involved, keeping to a routine schedule can help ensure everyone knows what is expected subtract some stress from the situation. For example, after the Friday pick up we always come home to a family dinner. This gives everyone a chance to chill out and relax, and also get used to the different make-up at the dinner table for the weekend. You might choose to use the pick up night as a night to take the whole family out for dinner, or make it game night. But having a routine, and staying with it as much as possible, helps the child who is coming to your house from a different house ease into the transition.
* Be flexible.
Routine is good, but there's always a good reason to change schedules as well! It's important to celebrate holidays and special events together as a family, even if you can't do it on the exact day of the event. Sometimes this means that half brothers and sisters might have to wait to celebrate their birthday when their "divorced" sibling will be at the home. It might even mean more work talking with extended family to make sure events are celebrated when everyone can be together. But in the end the hard work will pay off. And I can't speak from experience, but hopefully learning that special events don't have to be celebrated on specific days will be a good lesson for children of divorce to have learned, once they become adults and it's up to them to decide where to go for holidays and weekends.
* Strive for Consistency.
If there are other children involved in the blended family situation, this tip is crucial. Kids who live in one house on a regular basis don't need to witness a "special homecoming" for the child of divorce every visit. Sure, it's a big deal to have all the family together. But it helps to try to keep the attitudes similar for each child, whether it's one you see every day or every other weekend. Even small children will notice if one of the other kids is getting away with misbehaving in ways that they're not.
* Schedule One-on-One Time.
Especially for children of divorce who also have step siblings or half siblings, it's important that they get some alone time with their parent. While the kids who live in the house consistently need to be reassured that the child of divorce isn't special, the child of divorce needs to be reassured that he's still an important part of the family and can maintain a strong relationship with his biological parents. If you can't do this one-on-one time on weekends, maybe there's a time during the week you can fit it in.
* Don't Put Your Life on Hold.
If you find yourself turning down social engagements on the EOW and feeling resentful, it's time to realize that it's okay to have an adult life as well. It's okay once in a while to get a babysitter and go out with friends. And on the weekends when your child is not with you, it's a great time to set up a regular date night with your spouse, or a night out with friends if you're a single parent. Even if you have children that aren't shuttling back and forth, find a babysitter for them on these weekends or send them to Grandma's, and enjoy a childless night once in a while.
Hopefully you will find something here to help make the constant upheaval less stressful. And remember, even in the best of situations we parents sometimes feel frustrated and out of control. Just remember, this too will pass.