Q: My son and I have barely seen each other since the beginning of the pandemic and it has really put a strain on our relationship. Being that I live a couple hours away, I held off seeing him on weekends because of the lockdown.
Summer is right around the corner, and his mother and I have agreed he could stay with me for a month to make up for our not seeing each other. He’s 9, and he’s never been away from his mother for that long. I sense a little apprehension when I talk to him on the phone. Can you give me any tips to make all this easier on him? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: I want to congratulate you and his mother for openly communicating on his behalf. This COVID-19 lockdown has affected all of us in ways no one anticipated, and you and mom working together will certainly take the pressure off your child (and both of you!).
You are probably right — your son will most likely be a little anxious about leaving his mom for so long. It's great you understand that and are looking for ways to make the transition easier on him. It will help if mom openly supports the time with you rather than says how much he will be missed. This approach will reduce his anxiety and ensure he will want to return.
My first suggestion will probably seem obvious. If you haven’t been seeing him on a regular basis, I hope you have Zooming or FaceTiming him regularly. If you haven’t been using some sort of online video chat, start now. There’s a little over a month before summer vacation starts. That will give you ample time to hang out virtually, plan your outings, etc.
Next, in terms of preparing your home — this will be quite the juggling act, particularly if there are other children living with you. If there aren’t, it will be a little easier to merge your time with his, but if there are, make some special considerations.
Kids are on the lookout for what they perceive as favoritism. It is a natural inclination to sort of spoil a child you think of as visiting, especially if you feel guilty for not living with him full time. The key is to make him feel like part of the family while not alienating the kids that already live there. No small feat, but you can put some things in place before he gets there that will make things run smoother.
First, lay the groundwork by talking to everyone in the family about what is expected and what constitutes the workings of your family.
Next, make sure he has a place all his own to put his stuff. If he doesn’t have a room in your home, clear a corner or assign a wall area and space in the closet. Just as important, don’t forget to check in with the child(ren) already there. Get them involved with assigning him space. Any child will be more cooperative and accepting if they volunteer space in their room rather than instructed to give up space without weighing in.
I’m also in favor of assigning responsibilities to children during their stay with their other parent — simple things like feeding the family pet or taking out the garbage. Let me caution you, however, I don’t suggest you adjust chores already assigned to other children. It wreaks of favoritism and kids get very possessive when their chores (even if they hate doing them) get assigned away. Find something else — make it up if you must. Do your best to get everyone involved and coordinate efforts. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.