Transition is a word we all know. It means that something in my life is changing and I am in-between what-used-to-be and what-is-to-come. Transition means I don’t know how long I will be in-between. Stress is another word we all know well. Most of us understand that there is helpful/positive stress, and hurtful/negative stress. The in-between of transitions is stressful, and the longer we are in-between the more stressful it is on us, at every level.
Some transitions are a normal part of life and there are social/cultural rituals that support those transitions and the people going through them:
1 Birth of a child and every single thing that child learns to do for years to come!
2 Child starting pre-school and each significant transition through the academic years!
3 Engagement and marriage
4 Death of parents and grand-parents
Some transitions are unplanned, unexpected, shocking, and traumatic. These are transitions that do not happen to everybody. These are transitions that are often accompanied by a sense of isolation, judgment by others or fear of that judgment.
Divorce, separation, the break-up of a family…this is one of those unexpected transitions that don’t happen to everybody. This is a transition that changes everything in our lives. Just the logistics can be overwhelming.
1 Someone has to move.
2 The legal system gets involved.
3 Extended family and friends take sides.
4 The division of labor in the household no longer exists – both parents become single parents.
5 There is not enough time, not enough energy and not enough money.
This list is endless and truly includes almost every single aspect of who we are in our home, in our families, and in our communities.
Regardless of the trigger, transitions have three basic components.
The fears and worries you have are real. Others may want to minimize your anxieties in an attempt to reassure you, and to reassure themselves. The shock of our family breakup may hit too close to home for some of our family and friends. Despite their best intentions, the advice they give us is often designed to help them feel better not necessarily to really help us learn how to deal with our transition. It is so important that we find people who understand that this transition is going to last a long time and who understand the you need to be able to feel the fears that go with that.
Seek information from many sources! Don't just take that referral for a go-for-the-throat family law attorney because you are feeling afraid. In fact, don't take impulsive actions and don't make big decisions when you are overwhelmed with emotions. Take a deep breath, calm down and slow down, and honor yourself and your children enough to do some research. Find out everything that is available. Don't stop exploring until you are sure you understand all of your choices. Don't stop exploring until you feel calm enough to connect with you inner self.
Once you understand your choices, it's time to make a decision. Your first decision should be about just one small piece of the huge set of tasks in front of you. Don't try to solve everything at once because you will quickly dissolve back into a jumble of emotions. Instead, make a decision about just the next small thing you absolutely need to address. If you can calm down and slow down and take it just one step at a time, you will be less likely to make mistakes that will add to your stress.
Transitional coparenting often begins long before the household breaks apart into 2 separate homes. Tension, fighting, betrayal, fear – these feelings are usually part of the coparenting relationship even before the parents live in 2 separate homes. Bad habits, automatic actions and reactions are created before either parent is even aware that it is happening.
Very few families break apart easily. New hurts occur in the process and intensify the old ones. This happens to everyone in the family. Unfortunately, the focus is all too often on the experience of the grown-ups. The parents are so focused on each other that neither is really protecting the children. More likely, the parents are competing to look as if they are protecting the children, usually out of desperation and fear.
Sadly, both parents are probably focused on protecting the children from the other parent and not focused on protecting the children from the trauma of the parents not being friends anymore.
Transitional coparenting means:
1 keeping your own feelings about the other parent to yourself.
2 never saying anything negative about the other parent to or in front of the children.
3 reassuring children that both parents will always love them.
4 explaining that both parents have figured out that they just can’t live together anymore and it has nothing to do with the children.
5 saying “mommy” or “daddy” when referring to the other parent
6 communicating with your coparent only about the children if the email or text is focused on coparenting
7 asking for support and change from your coparent, rather than making demands
8 honoring the choices you made together, for the sake of your children.
Transitional coparenting is hard work. There will be many times when you want to explode or scream or rant in pain, hurt, or anger. You will have to delay, restrain yourself, and wait until the children have gone to bed or gone to be with the other parent.
Transitional coparenting means taking advantage of every moment you have when the children are not present, to take a deep breath and feel all the feelings about your marriage or relationship, your life, that other person who hurt or disappointed you.
Transitional coparenting means preparing for reuniting with your children every single time they come back. You want to be ready for them, welcoming, and as emotionally clear as you possibly can be.
You chose to create a child with the other parent. If you have changed your mind about that choice, DO NOT let your child know that. Don’t hurt your child by letting them know that you have changed your mind about having children (YOUR CHILDREN) with the parent you chose. Reassure your child every day in every way that you love him or her just the way they are., half Mommy and half Daddy. Cherish the wonder of the child you and the other parent created and find ways to cherish the ways that child is like the other parent.
If you reject the other parent, you reject your child.
If you pretend to be "neutral" toward your coparent, you are pretending to be "neutral" toward half of who your child is. It is your responsibility to love ALL of this child you chose to create. If you try to love only the part of the child contributed by you, then you are choosing emotional and psychological challenges for your child on a daily basis that they may not be able to overcome.
Find a support group for Moms or Dads of 2-home children. Start therapy. Take a coparenting class. Take a parenting class. Take care of yourself in some way every day, or you will not be able to take care of your children.
Bottom line: The transition of restructuring a family from 1 home to 2 homes takes 2-3 years and tremendous resources. It's a marathon, not a sprint. And you are in this for the long haul, right?
Acknowledge the 3 components of transitions and think about those every day. The research makes it clear that if parents can tend thoughtfully and lovingly to the multitude of small transitions that happen every day in the life of the child, the child will cope much better with the huge transition going on in the family.