I grew up in a divorced family with every other weekend “hand offs” as part of my life routine. Sometimes they were quick and easy; sometimes they were long and drawn out because my parents tried to talk about co-parenting business or schedules or financial matters. Some hand offs were at the 7-11 parking lot and some were at the front doors of my parents’ homes. I can’t say that there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the hand off process, but I want to share ideas that are in the best interest of the children when parents are divorced.
I found myself facing divorce 15 years ago with a one-year-old daughter. I knew, because of my own childhood routines, that we would have hundreds of hand offs in her lifetime and I wanted to do them a bit differently than my parents had done. I wanted them to be fun and happy and easy for our daughter. I did not want to have them long and drawn out or ever to feel like a negative experience. When we were reviewing our parenting plan, I suggested we never have co-parenting discussions at the hand off. Instead, I suggested we talk on the phone when our daughter is asleep, we meet in person in a public location, or we use email to discuss important matters.
We created a process of having co-parenting meetings and that has served everyone very well for all these years. This way, Angelia never has to wonder what will happen at the weekly hand off; she is not stressed, we are not stressed, and everyone interacts positively and peacefully.
A co-parent meeting is a compartmentalized time that biological parents meet and discuss important topics and make decisions for the child’s best interest. The meetings are the place that the hard conversations can happen without the children overhearing or seeing their parents interact with each other. Keeping the peace is important for kids of divorce and by handling the hand off in a positive, quick and affirming way our kids can grow up with more stable and healthy interactions between their divorced co-parents.
With our co-parent meetings, we meet 3-4 times a year in a public restaurant and bring our daytimers and our spouses; together we all discuss life details that impact our shared daughter and we work out all the hard stuff in private. We don’t always agree and sometimes the topics have to be tabled for future discussion; however, by doing this hard work away from her ears and eyes, our daughter lives in more peace and we do as well.
When we are all at school functions or volleyball games, we don’t discuss co-parenting business, we simply show up and support our daughter and act positively for her best interest. For 15 years, I have found that this was one of the best decisions I ever made in my post-divorce parenting.
Here are some other tips for a smooth hand off:
- Prepare the child with affirming words about the hand off before the other parent arrives.
- As a parent, prepare yourself for the time you will be alone so when you wave goodbye, you are emotionally strong and grounded. Don’t make kids feel guilty for leaving and going with the other parent.
- Keep hand offs brief and focused on transferring the child(ren) and their belongings.
- Use a positive tone of voice when talking to the other parent or stepparent.
- Be aware of your body language during the hand off. Kids will pick up on your stress or your positivity.
- Verbally support the process with excitement, even a happy wave as the kids drive away.
- For young children, consider meeting at a McDonalds’s playland or a neutral location where there is a fun distraction available.
- Give kids some time to transition emotionally. It may take them an hour or so to adjust to their new surroundings and re-engage with the family.
- Allow kids to take something special with them between homes: stuffed animal, blanket, pillow, an item that will bring comfort to them.
Prepare the child with affirming words about the hand off before the other parent arrives.
What can you do to be proactive about handling the hand off?