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10 Ways to Maximize Overnight Visits

Practical Tips for Making the Most of Your Time Together

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Overnight visits don't always go as smoothly as you would like. In addition to the logistics of transportation and sleeping arrangements, it's challenging to balance having fun with setting a consistent tone for behavior and expectations when your time together is brief. Here are ten guidelines to help you maximize your time together and start creating overnight visits you can all enjoy.

1. Take the Visit Seriously

Mother and kids baking a cake.
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Taxi/Getty Images
The first thing you can do to ensure meaningful overnight visits with your kids is to take them seriously. As soon as you know your children will be coming, write it on your calendar and make a commitment to keep the date. When your kids know that nothing will get in the way of your time together, they'll realize how important the visit is to you.

2. Plan to Do Something Fun

Sit down together with your kids and make a list of twenty things you'd like to do together this year, and use that list to begin planning some fun weekend outings. You can include simple outings like going to a park or the local library, as well as a few more involved day-trips, such as going hiking or visiting a children's museum.

3. Develop Family Rituals and Routines

Work with your kids to create routines during your weekend visits. For example, some families eat at a favorite restaurant or share a "Family Movie Night" together during weekend overnights. Also, consider the regular routines you might expect of your children if they lived with you full-time, such as cleaning up after themselves, helping with meals, or doing chores. Especially if your custody arrangement could one day change, it's helpful for your kids to learn what living at your house is really like. Part of this is establishing regular family routines they can expect and anticipate.

4. Share Your Expectations Up front

When your children arrive, review your general expectations together. This may sound simplistic, but the rules at your house may be slightly different, and it will be helpful for your kids to fully know and understand what you expect of them. In addition, this exercise helps to set the tone that you are indeed their parent; you're not a fun aunt or uncle they're visiting.

5. Discipline Your Kids

It's understandable that you might let some things go because, after all, you only have a short time together. But in the long run, ignoring repeated poor behavior or disrespect will work against you. Instead, develop a game plan for how you'll respond to your kids' misbehavior. If you have a good relationship with the other parent, ask him or her to share some strategies that have been working well. The more consistent you can both be, in terms of using Time Out or a warning system, the easier it is for your kids to comply with your expectations.

6. Give Your Kids Some Space

Don't be offended if your kids need a little space while they're at your house. It's normal for kids of all ages to need breaks where they can just play, read, or unwind. So let your kids know that you understand, and ask them to let you know when they'd like some space.

7. See the Visit From Each Child's Point of View

Try to imagine what the experience of visiting your house is like for each of your children. Also, let your kids know that you can see how this experience could be hard for them, especially if you've recently remarried or moved to another town. Just empathizing with what it's like for them can be a powerful way to open the doors of communication between you.

8. Allow for Some Downtime

Don't make the mistake of thinking your entire visit needs to be packed full of fun activities. You also need some time to relax together, to talk, and to be in one another's presence during some quiet moments as well. The special outings you'll plan together are important, but your most meaningful conversations are probably going to happen during pockets of downtime, where you're simply taking a walk, playing a game, or hanging out together.

9. Run the Majority of Your Errands Before the Kids Arrive

On one hand, you want your kids to have a realistic view of what life at your house is like; but on the other hand, the purpose of the visit is to spend time together. So to the extent that you can, make the effort to run errands before the kids arrive. There's nothing worse for your kids' impression of your relationship than feeling like they're nothing more than an interruption to your everyday life.

10. Put Other Engagements on Hold

Put work and social engagements on hold for the 48 hours that your children are visiting you. After all, the purpose of the visit is not to give the custodial parent a break; your children are visiting because they need to spend quality time with you. They love you and need you to be an active participant in their lives, so do everything you can to focus your attention on being together while they're visiting you.

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