Handovers can be fraught with anxiety and stress for both parents and children alike.
The more often handover is stressful, the more apprehensive everyone becomes in anticipation that handover will be an unpleasant experience. This is extremely upsetting for the children as they need to feel safe, relaxed and calm at handover as they go from one loving parent to the next.
Sometimes, children can be very distressed at handover due to the hostility and tension between parents. It is perceived that the parent handing them over is anxious so there must be something for the child to fear. Obviously, if there is a history of family violence it is important to keep the children safe and seek advice from Domestic Violence Agencies on how to do that.
Children have had a lot of upheaval during separation and therefore it takes some time to get used to handovers as it can be disruptive to their routine. Helping the children to have smooth handovers helps them feel it has become part of their normal routine.
Planning handovers with the child’s experience in mind will help create a more pleasant experience.
There are 3 tips to avoid having a stressful handover;
Saying to your child “I’m going to miss you” or “Oh no it’s time for you to go back to mummy or daddy already” This can invoke guilt in the child that they are leaving you feeling sad.
Raising an issue at handover with your coparent which escalates into conflict in front of the child. Instead of raising the issue at handover, advise you will call them later as you want to talk to them about something. Ensure it is out of earshot of your child.
Calling your coparent on the day of handover to talk to the child to see if they are OK. This can trigger the child to become upset. If you both agree, you may consider sending a text an hour after handover to reassure the other parent that the child has settled and are happy.
There are 3 tips to help make handovers less stressful;
Each parent should engage in some form of self care prior to handover to ensure they are calm and relaxed when they are due to drop off or pick up their child. This could be journalling, exercise, meditation or a warm shower to help relax.
Talk to the kids about what fun they are going to have at the other parent’s house, who they might see, what activities they might do etc. Conversely, don’t tell them what they are going to miss out on whilst they are away.
Ensure the handover location is a child friendly environment ie; McDonalds, playground in a park, etc It helps provide distraction and an opportunity for the child to play with the other parent before heading to their place.
It can be a big adjustment for a parent to be without the children for any extended amount of time, because let’s face it, you have seen them every day of their life and all of sudden that’s not going to happen anymore. This can be an even more painful adjustment when you didn’t want the separation to occur in the first place. It’s important that you don’t allow your pain to be inflicted onto your children. They want to have both parents in their lives, to love them both and be loved by both parents. All they want is for their parents to be happy and create a safe, calm environment for them to thrive in.
So, make sure that you help yourself adjust to the new family structure by planning post handover activities such as going out with friends, going for a massage, going to the gym or walking by the beach. If you are struggling to cope, see your doctor to gain some professional support.
Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Mediator & Author