The dangers of going off-schedule: The day from Hell

One thing I am learning as a separated / divorcing parent of younger children is the consequence – the really bad consequence – of going off schedule after finally establishing a routine. Today, I’m sorry to say, was the poster example of how family dynamics can add up to drive everyone crazy rather than establish harmony when things get too far off track.
And yet, somehow this is the inevitable result of summer activity, with travel that perforce can’t be with both parents. Ten days ago we were all in a good routine and, at my house at least, everyone was happy, calm, pleasant and we had a good time and fun weekends. Not idyllic, but not too bad, all in all. Made me feel like I was doing pretty well as a single dad.
This week I wanted to take my kids to visit my folks out of state, however, so that ended up where the littlest (4) stayed home with Mom while the two older kids (8 and 11) flew out to LA with me for Sunday-Thursday. Our routine, however, has all three with Mom Monday-Thursday evenings for the summer.

Predictably that was impossible to attain this week and it ended up where my older children have been with me for almost nine days straight. Without a hassle, until today. In fact, really, they were a delight to travel with, considering we all shared a single hotel room.
One huge factor in how today spun out of control is that my 4yo is definitely not used to being a virtual only child with mamma for a week and her behavior since she’s joined us yesterday afternoon has been shockingly regressed and contentious. Like bratty 3yo, not the delightful, smart, fun, loving 4 1/2yo she usually is.
Today was just one of those days you hope you never have, where everything you try to do seems to backfire, the activities you arrange aren’t satisfying for the kids, and there’s just a whole lot of weird energy coursing through the family unit. If it wasn’t one kid having a hard time it was another, and all of my usual tricks were useless.
Finally, we met up with some friends for dinner (via scooters, we’re big on scootering around the neighborhood) and, once we finally got there, things really went a lot better. Having new blood, some humor, and some relief was a big help. Seemed like the evening was going to finally go well.
In fact, K-, my 4yo, had a nice easy bedtime and I was glad to know the other two were outside burning off a little more of their evening energy while I was putting her to bed. They came back in, things were doing pretty well, and then we got to bedtime. Lights out at 9pm, as usual, the kids ask me to tell a story, I do, and then the 8yo decides it wasn’t “exciting enough” and leaves his bedroom to sit defiantly next to me in the hallway and wait for me to tell a better story.
Crack! You could hear my tension finally snap, just for a minute, and I picked him up, placed him back on his bed and said quite passionately “it is time to sleep. I am not going to tell a story. Enough is enough” and, uh, other things in that vein. He, of course, sat on the edge of his bed refusing to sleep at that point.
I went in, apologized, explained what was happening and why I was so upset, we talked for 10 minutes or so, and I agreed he could have five minutes of light to read so he could “change his energy space”. He did, he went back to bed – and lay down – and now, well, now it’s 10pm and he’s just about asleep.
Ah, nope. He just got up and told me “I can’t go to sleep, my mind is still racing”. Will this ever end????
I can only hope that tomorrow is a better day because today was not a day that I want to repeat any time soon.

6 comments on “The dangers of going off-schedule: The day from Hell

  1. Oh ouch!!
    My daughter is so big on routine too that even one day off causes ripples.
    I do know that moment where you just want to snap and scream something about how that child had better be in bed before you count to 3 or…
    But it’s good to know that you do the same thing I do and go in and apologize and explain the source of the parental frustration.
    The last time K told me she couldn’t sleep even after repeated tries, I went up and told her to close her eyes in the darkened room and try to picture what I was talking about. A story about walking down the path to dreamland told in hushed tones and including details of what we were seeing helped. She was still awake when I left, but determined to get to sleep to see what else was down the path and report it to me the next day.
    That said – parenting is immeasurably difficult when there is someone 20 feet away to turn it over to if need be – and 100x harder when there isn’t. Those weeks when one of us is out of town and the other on his/her own are solid reminders of that.
    You have my utmost respect – as does every single-parent out there – in dealing with it as well as you do! 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing your not-so-perfect parenting moment, as well as the amend you made.
    We have difficult moments in our divorced family, but around different issues. Our nine-year-old, Miss Flexibility (at least around transitions from one parent to another), goes back and forth often between houses. And the setup works for all of us. Our daughter doesn’t have to go long without seeing either parent, and vice versa. We don’t see the acting out after a transition that I’ve heard about in other families. And our daughter is fine with variations from the normal routine. We do have a carefully worked out parenting plan. However, the easy transitions are probably as much due to genetics as anything else!
    But when my daughter and I need to be somewhere on time … or when my daughter needs to stop reading a book or stop in the middle of a creative project … or when she needs to start something like piano practice (not that she doesn’t spend tons of time on the instrument playing and experimenting), that’s when we’re apt to see fireworks.
    I’m trying to think what’s helped so far. Recognizing the triggers and anticipating when there might be a problem. Talking about things when we’re in a peaceful place instead of in the moment. Coming up with plans ahead of time for those tricky times. Trying to keep a good balance between activities and down time in general. And, oh yeah, apologizing for those not-so-helpful parental reactions.
    In our case, I actually think it’s less challenging for my ex and me to deal with these issues–in the moment, anyway–as individuals as opposed to as a couple. Since we’ve divorced, our issues with each other aren’t there to get in the way so much anymore.

  3. ‘ momma said there’d be days like this / there’d be days like this / my momma said ‘
    oh i hear you.
    good job handling that disturbance in the force. when my 14 yr old gets home with Gma from his trip i know i’ll have a similar dynamic going on.

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  5. I had that night on the return from our weekend at Grandma’s too (Sunday night). My boys are already both back in school, which complicates matters, but we managed to get through it. I hope your day finally ended. It was such a sucker punch. My eldest was recently diagnosed as bipolar and I’ve been riding high on the successes he’s had since being on appropriate medication. I felt horrible and downright dumb for messing up his schedule and allowing a backslide, but his recovery was nothing short of miraculous. I hope everyone is feeling more themselves by the time I’m typing this. Best of luck!

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