As I entered the front door, I felt my stress level rising. The house was in absolute disarray. Toys were all over the floor. The kitchen sink was still full from breakfast. Kids homework was spread all over the dining room table. I am not the most organized person (my friends know) but I have my threshold for messiness, and it had crossed it.
I had a choice before me during this moment of transition. Do I address the chaos as soon as I put my bags down or do I greet my husband and family with warmth and kisses?
We go through multiple transitional moments in a day. Our day begins with it. We transition from sleep to waking-up. Then it’s one transition to the next as we get dressed, eat breakfast, get in the car, drive to school, to work, and other activities for the day.
Then, it continues throughout the day. Every time we are moving on from one activity to next, we are in transitional moments. For many of us, these transitional moments are fairly predictable. But life happens and unexpected things come up that affect our transitions.
As you are heading out the door, the baby has an explosive bowel movement. Your spouse is running late from work, your babysitter cancels at the last minute, and the list can go on. For parents, we know that a lot of meltdowns and “power struggles” happen during moments of transition. Why? Because it requires change and this can be difficult.
Five Guidelines for Smoother Transitions in the Family
What are the secrets to managing all our transitional moments well? What can we do so that we move from one thing to the next without stress, misunderstanding, and unnecessary escalation of emotions and words?
1. Pay attention to transitional moments.
Pay close attention to how transitions happen in your house. Are people always hurrying one another? Are there lots of yelling, bickering, and elevated emotions? Take some time to ask yourself why. What are the most stressful transitional moments in your family? Is it in the morning or after school or is it right before bedtime or dinner time?
How we do transitions affect the level of connection, cohesiveness, and happiness that our family feels at home.
2. Put connection above task.
This is hard. Why? Because usually we are in a hurry and we are trying to transition as quickly as we can from one activity to the next.
But, connection trumps task when it comes to having good transitions.
Let’s say your child walks in the house, drops his backpack on the floor (and you had told him over a “hundred times” to hang it up) and stomps off to his room without a hello. Rather than addressing the backpack first, or addressing rudeness, seek to make a connection. (Believe me, the temptation to address the backpack first will be very high. But resist it.)
This is a key moment of transition. Even if your child doesn’t make the transition as well as you had hoped, it is our job as parents to make sure there is a good transition back into the home. It will set the tone for how the rest of your afternoon and evening goes.
For example, we can go to the room and say, “Honey, I’m glad to see you home. I hope you had a good day. Do you want to talk about your day or do you want some space?” As we leave, we can remind him that you’d like for him to put away the backpack when he comes back out.
Connecting with our child will increase the odds that our family will tackle the rest of the afternoon successfully. Connection during transition doesn’t have to take hours. A few minutes of connection will save us hours of unnecessary grief.
3. Don’t listen to what feels urgent. Do what is important.
This practice requires some self-awareness. Addressing the messiness of the house might feel urgent because it reminds you of how full your plate is right now. But, you see that the kids are happy, they have completed their homework, and dinner is ready. Take a step back so that you can do what is important — which is to connect with your family after a long day away. We need to stop for a moment and not get swept by our feelings of urgency. Urgency kills good transitions.
4. Communicate your desires and expectations with kindness.
Sometimes taking a few minutes to touch base with your spouse as you get in the car to head home can make a world of difference. Perhaps, it’s communicating that you had a hard day and when you get home, you will need 15 minutes for decompression. Or maybe it’s the wife calling the husband to give him a heads up that it’s been a long day at home and she needs him to take over the moment he walks in. Taking the time to communicate your needs, desires, and expectations with kindness will help your transitions to go well. Be proactive and let your needs be known.
5. Build in margin for transitions and be generous.
Transitions take time. This is especially true if we have children. Make sure to be intentional about creating enough margin for transitions. Sometimes we as parents have unrealistic expectations that our kids will transition from one activity to the next without a need for some margin. The lack of built-in margin creates unnecessary stress in our families. Make sure your structure includes built-in margin and be generous with yourself and with your kids in regards to how much margin you give.
Transitions are part of life.
Good transitions help put back the right things in its rightful place and set us up for success. It is worth our time to make sure that transitional moments throughout the day are handled well. Try giving some thought to your transitional moments and see how they affect your family’s life for the better.