All too often we hear about separated parents arranging to meet at petrol stations or train stations for ‘handovers’, which sounds very bleak and perfunctory for children. From a child’s perspective, experiencing their parents’ separation is such an emotional journey in itself so we don’t want to create further trauma during handovers. And things are already strained at best if parents cannot comfortably meet at each other’s homes. Here are some tips to help you make ‘handovers’ more pleasant for you and your child/ren.
Agree to meet somewhere child friendly
There are so many child-friendly handover settings that can make it easier for them and detract from all the parental tensions. Your child’s favourite shop would be a much better place to arrange to meet. Or a play area or park that they like could help make them more relaxed.
Try to choose a handover location that they associate with happy, positive thoughts and feelings.
As parents, you can also focus on the activity at hand which provides a good distraction for you both. Meeting at someone’s house that you both trust is a good idea. Perhaps a friend of the family or a relative, like a grandparent, could be the helpful, friendly face for facilitating handovers? Choose someone impartial who is not fuelling any fires between you as separated parents.
When meeting up in a child-centered, public place or other neutral space, you are less likely to start raising any contentious or pressing issues that have the potential to lead to an argument in front of children. These matters should be discussed together in a more adult setting. Try to smile and greet one another in a civil, courteous manner. Remember that your children are observing your reaction to the other parent and will sense an awkward atmosphere!
Be mindful that your child is likely to be experiencing a lot of mixed emotions…
…feeling sad as they leave one of you; happy to see the other; worrying about adjusting to contact arrangements and overall confusion as to why they are having to go through this. It’s good to prep them with plenty of reassurance before they leave for handovers. Understand that it is an emotional upheaval for them to adjust and adapt to being in different homes. It means getting used to your routine and parenting style and it can feel like a kind of emotional ‘jet lag’ as they need time to get into your parental rhythm. Making the emotional journey between you as pleasant as possible for your child will smooth out the transitional wrinkles and any ‘jet lags’ for your child.
Handover practices should be all about children and their welfare, it’s important to do everything you can to make them feel safe, secure, relaxed and confident as they move between you.