5 Tips to Ease Transition Days for Stepfamilies

One day that’s tough for everyone is Transition Day, the day when your stepchildren will be either coming to your house or transitioning back to Mom’s house. Emotions run high because your stepkids are adjusting to different rules or possibly even a different role. They might be a younger sibling in one household and an only child in the other household. Or they could have more power in one household than the other. Transition days are an emotional time because they feel conflicted– on one hand, they will miss Mom, but on the other hand, they’ve been looking forward to seeing Dad.

Also, keep in mind that the intensity of the transition varies depending on how long your stepchildren are at each house. When my stepdaughter turned 10, we switched from a 2-2-5 schedule (2 days at Mom’s house, 2 days at Dad’s house & alternating weekends) to a week at Mom’s house and a week at Dad’s house. This helped reduce the number of transition days, but it increased the intensity of the transition.

So, how can you ease the transition?

1. Don’t pepper the children with questions when they first arrive.

Instead, let them volunteer information. Share your news and give them an opportunity to share theirs. Just be aware that they may be hesitant to share because their mom could have told them not to talk about her household. This puts your stepchildren in a loyalty bind, which is tough for them. Instead, be open to what they want to share, but don’t probe.

2. Think twice before planning a family outing that day.

Your stepchildren will need time to decompress and will probably want some alone time. (See Tip #3 below.) If you plan a family outing that requires pressure to communicate and be “on” all day, the day might be ruined if your stepchildren are not interacting with the rest of the family. This happened to my husband and I when we planned to go to a fall festival as soon as my stepdaughter returned from her mom’s house one weekend. My stepdaughter ended up crying several times before we left and was uncommunicative during the day. Finally, she said she missed family members who were visiting from out-of-town on her mom’s side. In hindsight, a low-key day watching a movie or doing a side-by-side activity, such as baking, would have given her more time to adjust without a lot of pressure.

3. Give your stepchildren time to decompress and recalibrate.

Your stepchildren may want to spend some time in their rooms. Don’t take it personally. They might need some time to readjust and to put some of their things away. If they are upset when they get home, have them take a shower or a bath to calm down and reset their mood.  

Express empathy. “I bet it’s tough to switch houses. If you want to talk about it, your Dad and I are here.” Once again, don’t probe, but let them know that you understand it’s tough, and you are open to talking about it.

4. Stick to a routine, so your stepchildren know what to expect when they return.

This could be something as simple as a family movie night with pizza on transition days. You can have everyone make their own little pizzas or you can order one. A night like this brings the family together but doesn’t require a lot of conversation. Bonus: it also doesn’t require the effort of cooking a homemade meal.

Another routine that could help you (and your stepchildren) is writing in a gratitude journal before bedtime. Expressing gratitude has a wide variety of benefits, including lowering stress levels and improving sleep, according to researchers.

5. Recognize that transition days could be hard on everyone, including you.

Be a little more forgiving and give yourself time to adjust. Don’t feel like you have to be “on” as soon as you get home. Take your dog for a walk or spend 10 minutes in your room to decompress before the evening activities. It’s okay if you need some time to adjust- your stepchildren and your partner also need that time. While transition days are tough, with a combination of love, compassion, and understanding, transition days will get easier.

What do you do to ease transition days? Share below in the comments!