Are Your Kids Often Combative Or Whiny After Returning From The Other Parent’s House? How A Simple Analogy Can Help You Solve This Common Co-Parenting Problem

Are your kids out of sorts when they return from spending time with the other parent?

Maybe they’re not only on edge, they misbehave. Maybe they “forget” to do their homework. They whine about not wanting to eat their vegetables at dinnertime. They don’t want to get ready for bed when it’s time and beg to stay up a little while longer to watch videos. They don’t pick up their toys and clothes off the floor as they usually do. You even have to remind them several times to get them to just brush their teeth.

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Does it feel like after they’ve spent time with the other parent that it takes a couple of days for things to settle down and get back to “normal”? And once they do finally get back to normal, it’s time for them to go back to the other household, and it starts all over again.

It drives you nuts!

You suspect this happens because your ex has different rules and routines than you do—you might be imagining that the other parent offers an endless supply of indulgences. They allow kids to eat junk food, watch too many videos, and stay up late, just to name a few. Maybe your kids even tell you as much, and then argue with you about how YOU should let them do the same.

You hate hearing, “But mom/dad lets me…(insert ridiculous indulgence here).”

You’re not sure what to do.

Should you talk to your ex? What if every time you do, it ends up in a fight because your ex doesn’t like being told what to do?

Should you double-down on your kids and make sure they know the consequences of not following your rules?

Should you just give up and let them do whatever, because you feel guilty anyway for how their lives have been disrupted after the separation?

Here’s the truth:

The solution to this problem is not cracking down on your kids or confronting your ex. Instead, it’s all about you shifting perspective.

Let me explain…

How Kids Experience Going Back And Forth Between Households

As a parenting coach for separated or divorced parents, one of the biggest challenges I help parents handle is managing their children’s behavior after they come back from spending time in the other parent’s home. Believe it or not, meltdowns, temper tantrums, and not following rules after being with the other parent are very common. And LOTS of parents struggle with it.

They claim that the lack of rules or different expectations at the other house wreak havoc at their house.

It’s understandable that as a parent, you feel undermined and frustrated at your lack of control over what happens with your kids once they leave your house.

But have you ever stopped to think about what your kids are going through?

Imagine if suddenly, you had to share time between two households. Every few days or every week, you had to pack up your things—making sure you didn’t forget anything important—and go live with a different family for a while.

There you had a different room with different toys. Maybe your room was smaller, and there was no yard. Maybe you had to share space with step siblings.

The family had different expectations, too. For example, they didn’t like it when you listened to music while doing homework. They expected you to eat dinner earlier than you’re used to, when you weren’t all that hungry. They didn’t allow you to watch TV or play video games on school nights, even after doing homework, the way your other parent did.

Or…maybe it was more free-flow than you were used to. They didn’t sit down together to dinner and everyone in the house fended for themselves with leftovers and frozen food. They didn’t check to make sure you did your homework, so you often forgot or chose not to do it. They liked to watch TV in the evenings together as a family, and often didn’t mind if you stayed up late to watch it with them.

Then, every time you got used to the routine, you had to go back to your other parent’s house, where everything was different again. Eating later, going to bed sooner, having to stay on top of your homework, being able to relax more with videos and TV.

And every single time you switched houses, while you were saying “hello” to one parent, you were having to say “goodby” to the other.

How would that make you feel? My guess is you’d feel pretty frustrated and overwhelmed, and you’d probably have troubles shifting gears just like your kids do.

Now imagine a kid or maybe even a teen who doesn’t have the awareness, emotional intelligence, or skills to regulate their feelings and yet they are expected to handle these transitions with maturity and ease?

Can you see how it’s perfectly understandable that your child may be edgy, distant, or upset when they walk through your door?

That’s not to say that there’s no hope, and that your children are doomed to feel disrupted and unsettled and you have to continue to manage the chaos.

There IS hope and things CAN get better, and it all starts with understanding an analogy that can help you create a plan to deal with some of the problems that stem from different rules and expectations between households.

A Helpful Analogy For Thinking About Two Households

Whenever parents complain about how different rules at the other house are the cause of all the chaos at their house, I suggest they ponder how their children are able to handle school.

How are rules and expectations set up there, and how do they deal with it?

At school, your child has several teachers and maybe even more than one classroom they go to throughout the day. Even if they stay in one classroom all day, they may have recess or after school daycare programs they attend where there are different teachers. Or they may have substitute teachers once in a while.

Each classroom may look and feel different and they have to sit in a different location in each classroom.

Every teacher has different rules and expectations. One teacher may be more strict than another and doesn’t accept assignments late. One may expect your child to sit quietly the entire class period, and another may encourage questions and interaction.

Different teachers, different personalities, different expectations. And yet your children can deal with it quite easily, for the most part. They learn, they get their assignments done, and they don’t feel unsettled. They’re able to navigate between teachers.

The school itself has its own governing rules, such as a dress code, suspension guidelines for excessive tardiness, or zero tolerance for bullying or violence. These rules are like the value system for the school.

Now consider that when your children go between your and your ex’s households, they are going from classroom to classroom. There may be different expectations, but the value system, which is like the school’s rules, is the same.

You and your ex may not agree on all the small stuff like whether to allow junk food in the house, what bedtime is appropriate, or whether or not Olivia or Thomas gets a cellphone when they’re 12 or 14.

Step back and take a look at the bigger picture—your values, or the “school’s rules.”

You want your kids to be respectful, you want them to have a good education, you want them to have strong family connections.

Start with those bigger picture items, or values, instead of focusing on all the nitty-gritty.

That way, there aren’t arguments with your kids or your ex about what’s “allowed” at one house versus another, or why the other parent is wrong and your way is right.

Your kids can negotiate school with different teachers and expectations, and they can negotiate two households with different parents and expectations, too. It may not always be smooth sailing, but now that you have a different perspective on what your children are going through, you can focus on how to make the back and forth a bit easier for them.

The main thing is you’re adjusting YOUR expectations, which can help how your children feel about the situation.

What Matters Most For Your Kids, And How To Give It To Them

Every parent has unique situations around their separation or divorce. Every child has different needs.

What matters most is not what rules you’re setting with your kids or how much time you’re spending with them, what kind of lifestyle you can give them or how “fair” your co-parenting schedule is.

What matters most is how you and your ex relate to each other and whether or not your child feels supported, empowered, and secure in each household.

When you’re more relaxed about the daily grind, your children will feel more relaxed, too. When you stop stressing over the small stuff, and focus on the bigger picture, your kids will feel less emotionally burdened and anxious.

My video program, Co-Parenting With Purpose: How to Raise Happy, Secure and Resilient Kids After You’ve Split Up, will show you how to make the transitions between households less stressful for both you and your kids.

You’ll get helpful tips on rituals that help your children better regulate their feelings around having to shift gears and go to a different house. You’ll also get real-world advice on what you can do to make your children feel more welcome and at ease at your house (you’d be surprised at the little things that make kids feel more like visitors instead of family members).

You’ll also learn how to communicate with your ex about the values you want to instill in your children (the bigger picture), even if your previous attempts at talking with him or her have resulted in arguments and name-calling.

Plus, you’ll get even more valuable insights into how your children experience life after a separation, based on my 20 years of experience working with families, which will allow you to be more compassionate and therefore, parent more effectively.

Start Watching

Co-parenting after a separation can be fraught with challenges.

It can be a contentious and confusing time. That’s why I’m grateful to be able to offer my very best resources and advice to make this transition easier for you AND your kids.

Getting started isn’t as hard as you think. To get the ball rolling, commit to just 15 minutes a day of watching the program, and before you know it, you’re going to feel so much more confident and capable.

Wishing you and your children the very best,

Christina McGhee

P.S. Sometimes when our children are upset, all we want to do is make the pain go away. When things go wrong, we may tell them that “it’s not so bad,” or that they should “look on the bright side.” Unfortunately, telling kids this stuff can invalidate what they’re feeling and cause them to shut down and not want to share in the future.

In Co-Parenting With Purpose, you’ll learn how to talk to your kids about their feelings in a way that makes them feel heard and understood, so they’ll open up to you more and therefore, get the support and validation they need to feel loved and secure.

Tools For Bringing Up Secure Kids

Parent Without Yelling, Power Struggles and Guilt

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  • Co-parenting secrets to help your kids thrive
  • Common parenting mistakes you must avoid
  • Less tantrums and tears, more snuggles and laughter

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