Question of the week: What are you supposed to do when you suddenly have your child full-time for 4-6 weeks?


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Hundreds of children’s ministers, DivorceCare leaders, and Single & Parenting facilitators are being asked this question right now as summer visitation interrupts the lives of many kids and parents.

Let’s clarify what many single parents are worried about. It might sound something like this: “I live far away and don’t get to have my children very much. Now it’s summer, and I just found out they are coming to stay with me for six weeks. While I’m happy about this, I’m very nervous, too. What am I supposed to do with these little kids? I work full time and don’t know anything about child care or babysitters. My house is not equipped for young children.”

Those of us in children’s ministry can help these single (noncustodial) parents. They are geographically separated from their kids and don’t have daily contact, family systems, or routines. This would be an intimidating scenario for any of us!

Invite the parent of these children to have a sit-down meeting with you. Ask questions so you can get a handle on what the living arrangements will be. Then be prepared with the following:

  • Check into child care situations by talking to some of your working families and other single parents. Find out where they take their children, and get information on child care programs and their websites.
  • Pull up simple instructions about what is developmentally appropriate for children of different ages. When parents haven’t lived with their child in a year, they may not realize how much the child has grown and developed.
  • Give the parent a tour of the children’s rooms at your church. In other words, show what kind of toys and equipment a toddler, preschooler, or elementary-school-age child needs.
  • Talk through childproofing the parent’s home. Some parents simply don’t realize that medicines can’t be left out on the kitchen counter or that cleaning supplies need to be either locked up or put on a high shelf out of the reach of young children.
  • Encourage the parent to put together the child’s sleeping spaces. If the child will be sleeping on a makeshift bed, it should be set up before the child arrives. Otherwise, the child will feel like no one has prepared for the visit.
  • Tell the single parent to have food and drinks the children like on hand, or encourage the parent to take the children to the store shortly after they arrive, and let them pick out what they like to eat and drink.
  • Print out some articles on this site that might help the parent make the visit the best it can be. The article “Family vacations for single parents who can’t afford a trip or to get off work” would be a good place to start.
  • Encourage the parent to be natural and comfortable with the children. Kids read the parent’s mood by the parent’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and general acceptance of the children into the parent’s life.
  • Instruct the parent to develop some rituals with the children. Rituals are a key to developing strong bonds between parent and child. Children can suggest rituals, and together, the parents and children can decide what is best for their time in this home. The rituals can be
  1. High five every morning
  2. Fist bump before bed
  3. A prayer before each meal with everyone holding hands and a big “Hallelujah” shout-out at the end
  4. A special wave each time the parent must leave the child
  5. A special hello hug each time the parent returns to pick up the child
  • Give suggestions for summer children’s events at your church, outdoor concerts, or other events in your community.

What parents should not do

  • Be late picking the children up at the airport. (I’ve been with children in these situations, and the parent being late puts the children into panic mode and starts off the visit on the wrong foot.)
  • Send someone else to pick up the children. Unless it is a grandparent or a relative the children know, the parent should be the one who comes to the airport.
  • Drill the children about events in the other home.
  • Go on dates, or leave the children with babysitters while the parent goes out with friends. I realize some single parents may get very upset with the idea of not dating while the children are there. If the parents feel they must date, then take the children along, and do things the kids will enjoy. Remind the parents these children will only be with them for four to six weeks, and in the scheme of things, that is not very much time.
  • Text excessively, be on Facebook, or watch movies and TV shows that don’t interest the children.

A visit of such a nature can be worrisome for the children and the parent, but children’s ministers and volunteers can make things easier by being prepared and helping the parent be prepared. Pray with the parent, and also pray for the parent and children.

What have you done to encourage parents getting their children for a visit of an extended length of time?


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on July 21, 2014.

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