Most mothers recall the "Witching Hour" between dinner and bedtime during those toddler years. Little ones are tired, but mama doesn't want to wake at 5:00 am, so it's a little early for official bedtime. Thus begins the witching hour: where we try to entertain, but they are just fussy, easily frustrated and extra tired. We are also at the end our days, depleted of reserves and often simply worn down.
Ten + years later, I see the same sense of anxiety as we approach the "Switching Hour" in our post-divorce normal life. My three children don't have the normalcy of having all their possessions in one place or sleeping in the same bed every night. While they are excited to spend time with dad, it means saying goodbye to mom and their family here. I'm sure they face emotional conflict when they return to me.
Eight years after the divorce, I still get weepy. No longer am I tender for my own sake, the divorce is part of my past. But it is part of my children's lives everyday. It will be a part for years to come. It is a pain that I cannot erase. Questions like, "Where will I go for college breaks?" "Who should we spend Thanksgiving with this year?" "Are we all going to Mom's for Christmas? Dad's?"
I am confident that each one is resilient and strong. They will survive this and as parents we are doing our best to ensure they aren't hindered. But no wonder those transition days are tough. I witness the tension, the struggle and the insecurity as they try to anticipate what they might need or want during the days away. The mental list of things they need to remember to bring is a drain on their brain power. The emotional drain is a challenge as they say goodbye, hello and are expected to quickly acclimate to a different environment.
It's a downer when your favorite hat is in another car during crazy hat day at school. It's hard to remember to bring the gear for spirit day from one home to another. My children don't always know if a parent has signed the permission slip or paid fees. The reality of children switching between homes is not easy.
If you have someone in your life who lives in this reality, be gentle with him or her. Try to accommodate for the extra number of goodbyes experienced by the child each week. When difficulties arise on transition days, respond with calm instead of frustration. With the current cultural standard for children to move between two homes, this is the norm for so many. I don't think we fully understand the sacrifices they are making for our shortcomings.
Since it is our reality, I'm doing this:
1) Making sure my children know they have access to mom and dad whenever they need or want.
2) Keeping those transition days low-key. We try not to plan for big outings or events (although this is more and more challenging as they get older and their schedules are more full).
3) Providing as much as possible in both homes - duplicates when needed. I don't want them to have to "pack" or remember to bring toiletries, pajamas or other basics.
4) When I get a text or a call asking me to bring something forgotten, I'll do it.
5) Respond with compassion instead of frustration during those difficult hours of transition. I will be the stable, consistent and predictable adult regardless of his/her outbursts or anxiety.
These children are such unique individuals. My heart beats for their success and joy in life. I want to help each one navigate the difficulties that come with our family dynamic. I will send them off with a smile and security that they can handle the challenges they are facing.
Further Reading: The Huge Challenge Faced by Children of Divorce