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Changeover through the child's eyes

Updated: Jun 9

Maddy is 9 years old, and she dreads changeover days.

It’s not because she doesn’t want to see her other parent, it’s because she doesn’t like to see her parents be mean to each other. Maddy feels guilty about her parents fighting over her or leaving a parent who will be left on their own. She feels a big sense of responsibility for her parent’s happiness. It just seems to Maddy that they are always arguing about her, so she feels it is her fault that her parents are angry and sad.

It is Friday after school and Maddy will be going to her dad’s house for the weekend. Maddy is looking forward to seeing her dad but feels uneasy as her stomach churn’s anticipating the changeover experience.

Mum seems anxious, as she hurriedly stuffs clothes and shoes into Maddy’s backpack to take to her dad’s.  Maddy watches her mum frowning and biting her lip, which mum does when she is stressed out. Her mum often stops, gives Maddy a lingering hug and says “Aw I’m going to miss you” as though she is sad Maddy is going away for the weekend. Maddy replies “I’ll miss you too mum. What are you going to do this weekend?” worried whether her mother will be OK on her own.

Before mum could answer, they both look up as they hear Dad’s car pull up on the driveway. Maddy’s face lights up with a big smile but she catches herself quickly so as not to upset mum. Mum’s face frowns and mumbles “I wish he wouldn’t come onto the driveway, like he still lives here” Maddy’s heart starts to pound, and her stomach feels like it is flipping over, as though hurtling down the side of the rollercoaster track. Maddy grabs her backpack and starts walking towards the front door but before she gets there, mum has taken up the whole doorframe, blocking her way. Mum throws open the door yelling at Dad “Your 15 minutes early, you aren’t supposed to be here until 4pm”. It’s as though those 15 minutes is time lost with Maddy she won’t get back, like it has been stolen. Her mum marches down the front steps with hands on hips snapping at everything dad says as he explodes saying “I can’t help it if I had no traffic today, you would complain if I was 15 mins late as well as complain I’m 15mins early, I can’t win with you, you are so bitter and resentful” Mum goes bright red in the face and her eyes are glaring at Dad as she says “You just don’t respect my time, think you can come and go as you please, so selfish! Always was and still are now” Mum then turns and sees Maddy standing there, but that is all she sees as she hurries into the house and slams the door. Maddy stands there frozen full of sadness having to leave her mum angry and upset apprehensive whether to go with Dad or stay and comfort mum. Dad says, “come on Maddy love, let’s go”. Maddy jumps in the car still shaking and sits quietly the whole way to Dad’s place feeling very unsettled and anxious. Dad says, “Your mother is so unreasonable” Maddy sits silently. Dad looks across and tries to reengage again, "So how is netball going?" "OK" replies Maddy. Her mind is racing, unable to emotionally regulate to feel calm and relaxed to engage in a conversation as she is consumed with sadness.   

Maddy gets to Dad’s place and goes up to her room and lays on her bed, telling her dad she will be down soon.

Maddy lays looking up at the ceiling and closes her eyes replaying the changeover in her mind of how she would like it to be……she sees mum packing Maddy’s clothes and shoes into the backpack smiling at Maddy saying “I wonder what fun you are going to have at Dad’s this weekend”. Maddy replies saying “Dad said we are going to go to the beach, and he is going to teach me how to surf” beaming with excitement. Mum says, “Oh wow, that will be fantastic, you best go and grab the sunscreen from the bathroom, so you don’t get sunburnt” Maddy pops the sunscreen in the backpack and asks mum “what are you going to do on the weekend?” Mum replies, “I’m going to the movies and lunch with my friends on Saturday and going to relax and read a book on Sunday” Maddy is happy her mum has nice things to do over the weekend, so she doesn’t feel worried about leaving her.

They hear Dad pull up on the driveway and they both walk to the front door and walk down the steps towards the car. “Hi Tom, how are you going?” says mum. “I’m great thanks” replies Dad, and you?” “I’m good too thanks. Just letting you know that Maddy has a school concert in two weeks, do you want me to get you a ticket?” Dad says, “Yes please, wouldn’t miss it for the world”. Dad turns to Maddy and says, “I can help you practice your lines this weekend if you like?” “That would be great Dad!” replies Maddy.

Maddy turns and gives her mum a hug and kiss and says, “Love you mum, see you Sunday”. Mum hugs Maddy and says “Love you too, have fun. See you Tom”

On the drive to Dad’s Maddy is chattering away how excited she is about learning to surf and asking Dad when he started surfing. Lots of laughter was had on the journey as Dad told of how he would end up in the water more than on the board and get dunked by the waves………. Maddy opens her eyes and has a big smile on her face then realises her reality.

Dad knocks and comes into her room and says, “How about we shoot some hoops while dinner is cooking?” Maddy jumped up from the bed yelling “yay I’m going to score more than you today Dad” laughing and poking dad in the stomach as she runs past him squealing as he chases her into the garden.

The changeover experience for the child can be very distressing and upsetting. Parents need to look through the child’s eyes to see what their changeover experience is and reassess how they can make it a pleasant experience as they transition between two loving homes in a peaceful and calm way.

Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, NMAS Mediator, Divorce Conflict Coach and Parenting Coordinator.


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