One of the hardest aspects of co-parenting are the frequent and inevitable custody exchanges. The process of transferring your child to their other parent can prove difficult for even the savviest of parents. Especially in high-conflict co-parenting situations, custody exchanges can be extremely stressful and heart-wrenching.
Although your custody transfer days may never become your favorite day of the week, there are some surefire ways to help make them less stressful for your child.#1: Get Suitcase Savvy
If you’ve ever traveled frequently, you know the glorious comfort that comes from knowing that you’ve packed everything you need to enjoy your trip. Kiddos also appreciate the peace of mind that comes from being properly equipped with all that they need while visiting their other parent. Transferring households can be a scary and lonely endeavor for young children, so making sure that they can share the journey with their favorite stuffed toy, ‘blankie’ or favorite toy can be extremely comforting to your little one. Having a dedicated backpack or little suitcase that goes back and forth with your child on exchanges is a great way to ensure that your child will be comforted by having some of their familiar transitional objects while they visit their other parent. -Even sneaking in a special surprise such as a pack of stickers or a pack of fruit snacks is a fun way to help take your child’s focus off of the loneliness and can often put a smile on their face! To decrease stress for both of you, make sure to have their backpack packed and ready a few hours prior to the custody transfer so that you’re not frantic when packing it. Packing ahead of time will ensure that you don’t forget any of their beloved items.
#2: Keep Your Kiddo 'In The Know'
Co-parenting schedules and custody exchange days are hard enough for adults to remember – and are almost impossible for a young child to make sense of. Co-parenting schedules are overwhelming for young children to understand and is thus often the source of a great deal of anxiety and stress for them. One of the ways you can lovingly help your ‘little’ is to let them know what the schedule is. – Switching parenting time between parents is a big deal to your child, and quite frankly they want to know when they will be whisked off to their other parent. In order for my son to understand what was coming up for him in his world, I got him his very own co-parenting calendar so that he could see which day was a ‘Mommy’ day and which day was a ‘Daddy’ day. By visually seeing what is coming up for them in their parenting schedule, they'll feel confident and secure in their Co-Parenting routine because they now know what to expect. For my son, his “My Two Homes” Parenting Time Calendar quickly became a mainstay in our home, and I noticed that when he would look up at his calendar and see that it was a "Mommy" day, he could relax into my home knowing that there wouldn't be a stressful transfer that would interrupt the comforts of home for him that day. Even transfer days seemed a little less stressful for him, since he could see those days coming up and anticipate his routine. Once your child can better understand their routine, they will feel a sense of security and safety knowing that they know what will be happening in their day.
#3: Find Your Zen
One of the best parenting secrets I’ve learned is that parenting is all about ‘the Marketing’. If you present an idea to your child in a fun way, they’ll adopt your fun attitude and perspective about it. For example, a trip to the bank can either be an exciting adventure that ends in a prized Dumdum lollipop or an annoying errand that you have to do today – the difference is all in how you present the activity to your child. If you seem excited about it, they will be too! If you seem stressed about it, they will too. This secret is especially relevant to co-parenting. Even though you may be anxious or stressed about an upcoming custody transfer – do everything in your power to hide your anxiety from your child. Your heart may be racing and you may feel the tears welling in your eyes – but do whatever it takes to appear calm and collected so that your child will feel safe. One of the biggest sources of stress on children in co-parenting families is when they have witness their parent’s extreme anxiety, sadness or anger during a custody exchange. In high-conflict co-parenting situations it’s even more crucial that each parent maintain a calm presence. As hard as it may be to appear calm, your child’s mental well-being is at stake. When they see that their parent is scared, they will feel scared. When they see that their parent is sad, they will be too. When they see that their parent is angry, they will feel that they’re in an unsafe environment. Regardless of how you feel about your ex or that your parenting time is coming to an end – make sure that you put on a brave, calm and stable front for your child. I realize that this is not always easy. -In fact, there may be sometimes when it seems almost impossible. Just remember that by appearing calm and collected during a custody exchange will be giving your child an invaluable gift. You will give them the gift of allowing them to feeling safe, stable and secure in their co-parenting routine. You don’t need to expose them to your tears to let them know that you will miss them. Instead, put a smile on your face, take a few deep breaths to center yourself and tell them that you love them, you’ll miss them and that you can’t wait to hear about all the fun things they did while they were with their other parent.
#4: Be a Parenting Plan RockstarAlthough it’s tempting to be lenient with the terms of the custody exchanges, make sure that you adhere to the custody exchange specifications (dates, times, location) as outlined by your Court Order or Parenting Plan as closely as possible. Oftentimes a co-parent will try to be flexible with the specifics of the custody exchanges in order to appease the other parent but keep in mind that if there is a Court Order or legally-binding Parenting Plan in place, you are legally required to adhere to the Parenting Plan. Although your willingness to be flexible with your ex with custody exchanges is most likely well-intentioned, you are putting yourself and your parenting rights in jeopardy when you don’t follow the Court’s Orders or the Parenting Plan in place.
Whether you have a great co-parenting relationship with your ex or a less-than-ideal co-parenting situation – these tips will help protect your little one from stressful custody exchanges and will go a long way toward relieving their anxiety during exchanges.