Do you find it takes time for your children to settle in when they come back from the Ex’s place?

If you’re like me, sometimes I wonder what goes on there that means they have to change so much. I mean, they’re only been away a weekend and yet it feels like I get completely different children back. I’ve then got to start again on the ‘house rules’ and try and get them to settle again.

Does this sound like you too?

If it does, I hope this letter will help you because it really made a difference for me. It took me a little while to realise what was going on – before I even started trying to work out what I could do about it.

They’d leave me happy and contented and yet they’re return home as bickering unhappy kids. They’d argue and complain, they’d forget their manners, they’d even try answering back.

I’d start wondering, what does he let them do?, or what’s he thinking?. Then I’d start trying to get answers to things like, what he’s letting them watch, or what games are they playing? Perhaps he’s letting them stay up really late? I still couldn’t work out where they were getting this stuff from – we weren’t fighting or miserable – so why were they?

I didn’t realise that it’s very normal for children to take a little time to adjust to being back home.

Funny thing is, it doesn’t matter who you talk to, both parents will say it happens. Both mum and dad will say it takes a while for their kids to settle after spending time at the other’s place.

The simple thing is, kids need help to make the transition between mum’s and dad’s places.

From my own decade and more of parenting between two homes, and the experience of countless other parents doing the same, it seems there are definitely things you can do to help – and definitely things that make it worse.

Let’s look at the things you can do that help, because these are the most important to focus on. If you do these, the things you don’t want to do will probably just drop by the wayside anyway.

1) Since you usually know when you’re going to have your children back, book in time to spend with them if they’re young. If they’re a little older, some ‘down time’ is important for them to just go ‘phew, I’m here’.

Set this time aside to have a good time of talking about their time away and what things they enjoyed. Take an interest in their world away from you – even if you have to hear stories you’d rather not know about, it helps to build the bridge of confidence between you and your children.

I remember hearing how much fun they’d had doing some activities that I couldn’t imagine being able to afford to do with them. While I internally may go ‘gulp’ or feel the pang that pulls the heart-strings, if you keep with their enthusiasm, it’s goes a long way to keeping the very important lines of communication open between you.

It’s especially important for them to know they can tell you the good – and bad. If you’ve handled the good well, you’re more than likely going to handle the bad okay. This means you’ll feel more confident to talk to you when it really counts.

If you pour cold-water on the good times they have with their other parent, expect it to come across as “sour grapes” and you’ll look like the bitter and twisted one.

2) Here’s another thing that helps if you get them back at say 6pm – since from all the research, 6pm seems a favourite time for handovers.

About 6pm seems to also nicely dovetail in with up-coming dinner times in many households so this is a great way to get your younger ones to have a bath. Water is a fantastic way to sooth and have fun together. Into their PJ’s and they’ll chatter away to you about their worlds until it’s time for the bedtime routine.

If your ones are older, perhaps dinner time is a little later too so an evening walk in the park or at a beach would work well. It’s a great way to defuse the typical ‘what’s next’ thinking that children between two complete worlds live with, and gives you time to bring your family together. Often you can share stories, laugh, or walk quietly and just enjoy being in nature together. Sometimes the ice-cream on the way home is just the trick to muster enthusiasm from those less willing.

3) Remind them on ‘house rules’. If the bickering or moodiness continues, be straight up about what’s acceptable in your home and how this effects us all.

While you need to remind them of the rules, I’d also add, cut them a bit of slack. They need a little time so let them have it. It’s about Reminders, not nagging. Neither is it for you to get into a major debacle with one of them where you both end up feeling like you’ve lost out.

4) If you’ve got a biggy to deal with, another words, a topic that is going to cause upset, put it off until the next full day you have together. It’s probably going to be tomorrow. Don’t ignore it, blatantly say that. Let them know it’s not being ignored, but it can wait till tomorrow and tonight lets just enjoy being together.

Give them time and let them know you love them more than sorting out the issue that’s needing to be sorted. Sure they may not be able to go out, or they may still have limited freedom, but the point is take the attention off the issue and turn it to having valuable time together as a family.

A common question I’m asked is “How long should it take for my kids to settle?”

My answer – it will also depend on how long your children have been transitioning between these two worlds and how different the two homes are.

On the whole, if you’re getting them home on Friday night, and you have a strong Friday Night Ritual, by the time Saturday morning rolls around, you’ll find that most kids will be settling in again.

If this is still relatively new – as in a year or so – you may find it will take a little more time. If they’ve been doing it a while, before they go to bed on Friday night you’ll see the change take place and it’s all natural again for them.

If you’ve got questions, stories, or comments to this email, I’d love to hear from you. Please email me at Questions@ComplexFamily.com


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Jill Darcey (author, parent, founder, and speaker) is a mother of three with thousands of hours of experience as a counsellor and coach, and more than a decade of real-time experience with "complex family" parenting --- parenting through separation, divorce or some other family breakdown. Jill is someone who has both vision and wisdom and has learned a lot of what does and doesn't work — and some of it the hard way!

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Jo Smith

My step daughter has been living with us for 5 nights a fortnight (Fri 3pm until weds 3pm). This has been for about a year now. Change over happens at school. She is always happy and content here so we have no problems. The trouble is when her Mum picks her up on the weds after school, she screams and yells and throws big tantrums for her when they get home. Adjusting to here seems fine, but adjusting back to mums is a nightmare for her and her mum, and we feel terrible! We do everything possible to make the… Read more »

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