Does it seem like you have tried everything to either prepare your child to go with the other parent or do you do everything you can to make an adjustment home all flowers, hearts and butterflies? Been there! Though we have a set routine now, a routine which generally works for my son because he functions best when he knows what's next like most children do, its never going to be fool proof.
What we have found works before leaving...
I feel it is best when our son knows what's coming if it is out of the ordinary. Since our son only leaves our home one weekend every third weekend I feel that this is "out of the ordinary", because he does not have a good prediction yet of that third weekend. We start on Wednesday with a breadcrumb. What I mean by this is I might drop a line briefly that he will be going to his dad's house for the weekend. Until recently I had no inclination what they would be doing so I couldn't get him excited in that respect for XYZ to be going on. Now, I do get some information, however, I choose now to not tease with what might be happening as I have heard from our son that sometimes those things don't happen. Which leads to disappointment (I like to protect in that sense. I personally would never tell our son we were going to do something then not unless due to behavior or outside circumstances.)
Then on Thursday, I would remind the breadcrumb and add the plan, reminding of the usual drop off time, pick up time, and location. On Friday's when he leaves I always try to get out of work early to spend sometime before he leaves as a family. Generally we would stick to the same routine as any other day. Get home have a lighter than dinner meal (so I know he has ate something good), take a bath, play a bit and then we head to the drop. Do I get push back? 80% of the time. I feel we provide him with a sense of security with a structure.
Another thing we have found is important to the transitions are ALL going to the drop off and ALL going to the pick up. Yes, this means loading everyone up an enduring the ride and the process together. I realize this is a headache, but supporting one another is what a family is and for best results both ways consistency of who is in the car even play a part.
We also use social stories to remind him that though things may be different, they will be the same when he returns. View a great representation of coming and going for a little below:
What we have found works when returning...
Consistency, structure and same expectations. No matter what I want our son to be able to know whats next. We slightly lower our expectations for about 2 days after return. Though we still expect the same listening skills and respect we may give a little grace on discipline as he recovers from an unstructured, fly by the set of his pants environment which can be exhausting. Our son comes home to a dinner or light snack to make sure his belly is full, a warm bath with fresh jammies and he gets to pick his movie. We play and cuddle. Since there is a bit of a struggle coming back to Eric (his step-dad, who has been in his life since 6 months) we really try to emphasize a strong bonding connection with bath-time and play between the two of them. A re-bonding if you will.
Why do we do ALL of this?
We encountered several behavioral issues with return from our son's dad's house. When we came to the realization we have no control over his environment when he leaves us. We have little information about what he is exposed to or what he does when he is gone. What we have came to terms with is we can control what he can expect from being home. We ensure a safe environment for him to share anything openly if he wants to talk, but do not press like a detective. Eventually he just shares and we listen. If there is an issue it is addressed directly with his dad after our son is in bed. Take time to understand what your child needs from you, because you can never control what the other side does after custody is in order.