Kids in Two-Home Families (Often) Need More R&R!
Really? Is two-home family life that much more stressful than a one-home family? Well … it can be.
R&R for children in two-home families refers to “Routines & Rhythms.” Children learning how to live across two homes are busy mastering many changes: Accepting the differences between their parents new found autonomy, navigating new environments and sometimes new people. Parents now freed from the constraints of parenting under the nose of another adult get to set their own schedules in their own homes, provide the structure they believe is necessary for their children and oh-so-many-other liberated desires now fulfilled. Others struggle with finding a structure, a method of getting everyone up in the morning and ready for school (and work) without a fall-apart… a raised voice, a stressed out trip to the bus-stop — packed lunch still on the counter.
Healthy routines and predictable rhythms prepare children for success whether living in one home or across two. Skillful co-parenting means both parents work together to give kiddos what they need to develop confidence in themselves and competence as they master life skills.
Now, I want you to think for a moment that you have two equally important bosses overseeing your job. One expects you to be at your desk at 7 AM on Mondays and Tuesdays and other prefers you come in when you’re ready, but that you remain fully available to your team until 7 PM on Wednesday and Thursday. One allows you to eat breakfast at your desk, while the other wants you to take a full-lunch hour without any technology. On Mondays and Tuesdays you’re setting an alarm for 5 AM to accommodate your “Monday/Tuesday” boss, but then you sleep in on Wednesday/Thursday to try and catch up on your sleep. But, even with that luxury of sleeping in, you find getting home after 7:30 PM on Wednesdays/Thursdays leaves you incredibly hungry and cranky — and in no mood to cook. Getting to bed late, after a rushed dinner in a cranky mood … you don’t sleep as well as you need.
The lack of any sort of rhythm across your week and the differences in expectations are frustrating. You adapt because you want and need your job! But, secretly, you long for a work environment where you can adjust your sleep patterns, allows you to be rested each day … eat meals on some sort of schedule that reflects your hunger pangs … and feel satisfied in your ability to work smart, feel good, and take care of yourself.
We maintain our daily circadian rhythm through the “rhythms & routines” we practice. Predictable sleep schedules, typical meal schedules, exercise, learning, socializing, moods and emotions … all unfold inside the natural rhythms set by our internal body clock. Ever notice what happens when you cross time zones? For some, crossing even one or two time zones throws off mealtimes … you find yourself laying awake even though the clock says it’s time to get to sleep or waking up before the birds unable to sleep any longer.
When parents insist on different routines & rhythms in each of their homes, it’s like they’re asking their children to cross time zones multiple times a month (sometimes in a week!).
Both morning wake-up and bedtime routines help children develop constructive life-long patterns for healthy sleep, learning, working, exercising, socializing and self-care. When parents agree on the basics of those routines, mornings go smoother, bedtime is more relaxing. When daily routines are more similar, children develop the ability to meet their parents’ expectations and be successful in both homes, get to school on time and ready to learn. When parents agree on bedtimes and morning wake times during the school week that are less than 30 minutes discrepant in each home, they help children prepare for academic success and the satisfying experience of being comfortable in their own rhythms throughout their school days.
So, what’s best for kids?
Talk with each other about the age-appropriate amount of sleep for each of your children. Work together to target bedtimes and morning wake-ups that can work in both of the children’s homes. Let go of any baggage around “my-way-or-the-highway” parenting. This is not about who’s the best parent!! The best parenting is when co-parents work together to help children establish routines & rhythms that reflect their needs.
The best parenting is when co-parents appreciate that “what I do on my parenting time will bleed into yours in terms of handing off over-extended, tired, or disorganized kids – so, don’t worry, ‘I’ve got your back!’ The kiddos will come back to you ready for a smooth transition, because they matter to both of us.”
If you need help with these conversations, contact a parenting or co-parenting coach – or talk with your child’s healthcare provider for recommendations.