In your ministry, it’s likely that you’ve observed single parents and kids who develop a lot of anxiety about the process of shuttling the children between homes. This stress will be amplified during the holiday season.
The switching hour, the time the kids switch between homes, can become less stressful if single parents work at making it normal. I’d like to give you a simple but effective suggestion that you can share with the single parents you minister to. I’ve seen it help dial back stress an anxiety related to the visitation process.
It’s simple but effective– encourage single parents to develop a “welcoming ritual.” Parents need to develop something that is unique to their home environment. In other words, mom can develop one ritual while the dad develops something entirely different.
The single parent can begin the process of creating a ritual by asking their kids for ideas. I like the concept of having a steaming cup of hot chocolate waiting for the children when they arrive home from a visit with the other parent. Everyone can sit down at the table, drink their hot chocolate and take a moment to get to know each other again.
While it might seem strange to think of getting to know your kids again, one must remember that these kids have been living in a different home for the past week or weekend. They may have lived a different life style. In their other home, there might have been other children around. It might be they didn’t get mom or dad all to themselves but had to share her with a man and his children.
It is important for parents to give their children time to relax when they return home (whichever direction they are coming from). Encourage the single parent to talk about what he or she did while the children were away. The parent should not ask questions about the other parent but make small talk about life in their home. If the child chooses to talk about their time with the other parent, the single parent should listen without making comments other than, “That’s nice.” Or “I’m glad you had a good time.”
It is easy to fall into the trap of criticizing the other parent. “What? He took you Christmas tree shopping. Well if he’d pay the child support on time I might be able to buy a fake tree this year.” This will only serve to alienate the child and also it will close up the line of communication between the parent and child.
The holiday coming home ritual doesn’t need to be very long, just long enough for the kids get comfortable at this home. It should be
- Conducted at the same place each time.
- Something the kids can rely on to happen.
- Something the kids can help set up if they prefer.
- Something that is fun and relaxing.
What other rituals would you suggest single parents consider?