Do Your Children Live in Two Homes? 11 Strategies to Ease the Transition Between Mom’s House and Dad’s House

by Janice Ferguson Pugsley

According to Christina McGhee, a leading authority on parenting and divorce and author of Parenting Apart, “shifting back and forth between homes has the potential to create some serious emotional angst for kids.”  Transitioning between two homes can create angst for even the most well-adjusted children sometimes taking anywhere from half an hour to several hours before you see them settle in.  Follow these strategies to ease the anxiety associated with this transition from mom’s house to dad’s house and vice versa.

  1.  Little girl with a bagBack and Forth and Back and Forth!!!   Minimize the number of transitions between dad’s house and mom’s house per week.  Each transition brings with it settling in time and adjustment time, two factors that will escalate a child’s stress level.  If transitions are creating angst in your child it makes sense to set up a schedule that reduces the number of transitioning periods per week.   Ensure each visit is long enough and includes at least one over night.
  2.  Parents Pick Up, Never Drop Off.  Avoiding sad good byes is key for easing the transition for children between mom’s house and dad’s house.  If possible, neutralizing pickup and drop off locations is preferred.  Your children’s school is probably the ideal place: pick up at school when the bell rings, drop off at school in the morning.
  3. Minimize the Distance.  Whenever possible, mom’s house and dad’s house should be within a reasonable distance, easing the strain of long drives.  Drives of more than 30 minutes complicates established extra curricular schedules, car pooling arrangements, socializing with friends, attending birthday parties, and commitments to part time jobs for your children.
  4.  No Suitcase Required!  Your children have two homes:  mom’s house and dad’ house.  They are not guests in either home and should not be arriving with a suitcase in tow.  Stressors associated with transitioning between two homes escalate drastically when children are expected to continually cart their clothing, toys, games, books and all that is precious to them between two homes.   Both mom’s house and dad’s house should be fully stocked homes for the children.  They should feel a sense of belonging and ownership at both homes.  They are not visitors.
  5.  Tired Children are Anxious Children.  Sticking to similar sleep routines between dad’s house and mom’s house will go a long way to keeping your kids on track, healthy, and well rested.  Come to an agreement with your ex-spouse about what is an acceptable bedtime routine for school days, weekends, and summer holidays.  Discuss the appropriateness of sleepovers with friends.  How frequent?  During the school year?  Consistency in sleep routines goes a long way to happy, well adjusted, and healthy children. Rested children are happy children.
  6.  Homework Anxiety:  Best practices have children completing homework assignments the first evening they receive the work.  It stands to reason that homework is completed with whichever residential parent receives the homework.  Your child will return to mom’s house or dad’s house filled with angst knowing they have lots of homework to do last minute when they return.
  7.  My Friends, Please!  Regular playdates, attending birthday parties, having neighbourhood playmates should all be fundamental elements at both mom’s house and dad’s house.   Taking children out of their usual social routines at any age creates tension,  and loneliness, and is not conducive to developing well rounded social people.
  8.  No Micro-Parenting:  Respect between co-parents is vital to reducing the distress experienced by children of divorce.  Giving space and respect to the residential parent eases tension for everyone, most importantly your children.
  9.  Buffer Zones!  Kids still having trouble transitioning from one home to another?  Try a buffer zone.  A buffer zone is a neutral place like school, restaurants, ice rinks, parks, or any other places you find your kids can be more engaged.  A buffer zone allows you to spend some time just together, and allows children to ease into the change from one home to another.
  10.  Take Care of Yourself!  A well rested, happy, undistracted parent will transfer these vibes to their children.  Your children will take your lead.  Your anxieties will escalate theirs, and your calmness will settle them down.

Recommended Further Reading:

McGhee, Christina. (2012). Get back to calm and carry on: helping kids transition between Mom’s house and Dad’s house. Parenting Apart. Retrieved from

McGhee, Christina. Parenting Apart, New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2010

Ricci, Isolina. Mom’s House, Dad’s House.  New York: Fireside, 1997.

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