Your Program and Children of Divorce (continued)
My 12-year-old son returns from a weekend at his dad’s house all wound up. When I try to discipline him, he tells me I am mean and says he likes it better with his dad. I then feel bad and it is hard to stick to the program.
It is entirely appropriate for you to have different expectations for your child in your home and to provide the guidance that your child needs in order to meet them successfully. Since you cannot control the practices at the other parent’s house, much as you might like to, your effort is better spent on making things work in your home. To reassure yourself that your expectations are suitable, I’d suggest that you start by considering whether your target behaviors are reasonable and appropriate for your son and are in his best interest. If you decide they are not, take time to make suitable revisions until you are satisfied. The structure of the program will guide you through the steps to define exactly what you want to focus on in teaching your child responsible behavior.
When you are confident that your expectations are appropriate, stick to them, knowing that working to achieve them is the most loving thing you can do as a parent – though that may or may not make you a popular parent at any given moment. With that assurance, you can be ready to deal with your child’s return from his dad’s house.
The transition from his dad’s to your house may be a particularly trying time for your son. For example, if he has had a fun weekend with few responsibilities, settling into the routine at your home may not be easy, a bit like returning to work after vacations for us adults. Recognizing this allows you to plan ahead and prepare both of you for the transition. A day or two before your son is to leave, find a calm time to tell him something like this:
Zach, you’ll be going to your dad’s Friday night for the weekend. I know you are really looking forward to it. I’ll miss you a lot but I hope you’ll have a great time. Sometimes when you come home you are still excited about the neat things you did with your dad. That can make it hard to come back here and get ready for a regular school week. That’s kind of the same way I feel each week about going back to work, but we each have to adjust and get ready for what comes next . . .
This comment is to focus you both on the coming separation and the on return to follow and to acknowledge that the latter is not easy for either of you. Then, in keeping with our overall approach, continue:
. . . Since coming back and getting ready for school and your other responsibilities is rather hard for you, I am going to help you. I always look forward to your coming home, and I want us both to be able to enjoy it. So, starting this weekend, you’ll have a new item in your program:
Zach, you are successful when you go to your room, unpack your backpack, and have your things put away within thirty minutes after getting home.
I want us to have time for hugs and for you to tell me a bit about your weekend. But within fifteen minutes, you are to go to your room to unpack and put your things away. That will give you a few minutes of quiet time so that you can feel calmer inside and also get things organized for the coming week. When you are done, we can have a bit more time together and maybe share a treat before bedtime.
Finally, if your child is anticipating something special during the week with you, discussing it could help bridge the transition to life back with you.
The specifics of this are up to you, but the idea is to set up a bit of routine in your home designed to assist in the transition, recognizing that some quiet time alone, along with getting organized a bit for the routine, can be helpful. Keeping everything focused on making things better for you and the child will also set a warm, constructive tone.