A single, co-parenting dad who goes by the TikTok handle @wiccantrash recently got massive props from the TikTok community and went viral after sharing how he prepares for a weekend with his kids. He made clear that with some thoughtful planning it’s very to not only make the most out of the time he has with his kids but also make it fun for them.
This is not your stereotypical divorced McDonald’s dad, slapping together a visit with the least amount of effort. And according to Family Law Attorney Sabrina Shaheen Cronin, founder, and managing partner of The Cronin Law Firm, the viral dad is doing some things that she’s seen really make custody weekends go smoothly for everyone involved.
The way a kid enters a weekend is going to set the tone for the days ahead, and @wiccantrash totally stuck the landing in that regard. And there are also some practical considerations parents can implement to make the transition process more comfortable for kids. Helping them know what schedule to expect ahead of time and then honoring those time commitments can smooth the adjustment, similar to how having clear directions or a good map can make for a better trip.
Create a Comfortable Environment
When a child splits time between parents, emphasizing they are a member of the home instead of making them feel like a guest can ease the transitions back and forth. “Each home can be made more comfortable for weekend visits by dedicating a private space for the child,” Cronin says. In addition, making sure each home is furnished with appropriate bedding, the child has outfits in both locations, and keeping other age-appropriate items like toys and games gives the child a chance to feel settled.
Limit Outside Distractions
In addition to the physical space, Cronin stresses creating an environment that is as free of outside distractions as possible (think: contractors, repair people, a parent’s significant other, and any other people that may take the parent’s attention away from the child) so that the parent can focus on their child. This, stresses Cronin, “will also make a home—and overall environment–more comfortable for the child.”
Besides, kids like it when parents make simple things fun. The drink dispenser and snack baskets @wiccantrash prepared ahead of time for his kids had to have gone over well. It’s certainly more exciting than pulling snacks from the cabinet.
Keep it Simple
With limited time together, dragging a kid around to social events full of people they don’t know should be avoided if at all possible. And prioritizing a child’s extracurricular activities should be a focus of the secondary parent’s time. “The child’s life must maintain normalcy, and in fact, the more ‘normal’ the second parent can keep their child’s life even during their parenting time, the better,” says Cronin.
Make Time Management Collaborative
Parents may find that making time management collaborative can help ease transitions. That transition is improved even more when parents take a child’s wishes into account as well. “This may include having the child’s friend over, doing something special the child may want to do, or performing simple and fun activities together such as playing ball outside, going on bike rides, playing games, baking something the child likes or reading together,” Cronin says.
But Be Sure to Provide Options
Open-ended discussions can be overwhelming for kids and left to their own brainstorms, they may fail to nominate activities that parents find appropriate and doable. Sure, an all-day video game marathon sounds excellent to a middle schooler, but it squelches opportunities for interaction. Instead, consider presenting them with a few options they can choose from, which are also options you can live with. It cuts down on how often they have to hear “no” and provides them with some agency. The treat basket @wiccantrash provides for movie nights is a great example because his kid gets to make a fun decision from options that his dad has already vetted
Primarily Focus On the Here and Now
Transitions may also be made easier by not interrogating the child about his visit with the other parent or complaining about the other parent’s choices during parenting time. When his kids walk in the door, @wiccantrash places the focus on what they are going to do together, instead of what is going on at the other parent’s house.
“Additionally, both parents must allow the child to take his or her personal belongings to and from each residence, regardless of who purchased that item,” Cronin says. Withholding technology, security items, or even outfits when the child is at the other parent’s house can increase angst around transition times. “Nothing is worse for a child than not to be allowed to take something that he or she uses, wants, or needs.”
Take a Diplomatic – Or Better Yet Collaborative – Posture With Co-Parents
The fact of the matter is that if parents are splitting custody, there has been a series of substantial differences before getting to that point. And most likely hurt feelings on both sides. So one of the most helpful things a parent can do when their child isn’t with them is to do the personal work of learning to cooperate with the other parent to whatever extent possible.
Cronin explains it as a matter of transference. “If a parent’s tension is reduced or eliminated during transitions, so too will the child’s tension,” she says. “Do the right thing, and do not be vindictive, petty, or jealous. Nothing is more transparent to the child than a parent who is not kind.”
“If you feel you have been wronged by the other parent, preventing the child from taking the items you purchased for him or her to the other parent’s home will not make your hurt feelings go away,” she continues. “You are simply transferring all your hurt and anger onto your child and making your child feel terrible about something for which they had no control. In the end, your child will end up resenting you.”
It’s a tricky balancing act. It takes time and effort, and at times may feel untenable. But remember that even though a child shares time between multiple homes, the goal for one parent isn’t victory over the other parent. The goal is to provide home environments where the child can thrive.