If I were to pinpoint the one thing in co-parenting that causes the most stress for the kids and me, it’s the exchanges. I’m talking about moving my kids from my house to their mom’s house. Why do you ask?
This simple act is what typifies every aspect of the co-parenting experience.
As most of us know it is equivalent to passing the baton and speaks volumes of what the situation may be between the two houses. For example, are you dropping off the kids and one is barefoot, and the other is crying his eyes out because he doesn’t know where his jacket is and the other one needs to finish their homework? Do they have all the clothes they need? Do they have their sports gear and everything else they’re going to need for the days ahead? There are so many details in kid exchanges and so many chances for miscommunication, that’s why I feel it sums the whole co-parenting relationship up.
I have developed a checklist to help me and my little ones remember what they need. It may take them a few trips back and forth from the car to remember it all before we leave the driveway. That okay, they know how sour I can get if I need to turn back to fetch something.
In the car I tend to remind them of one detail from their stay I liked (a good memory) and one thing coming up I am looking forward too (ex. an upcoming soccer game, a trip or simply hearing from them) so they can feel the connection. It may be mostly insignificant but as a dad raising boys, I need to ‘use my words’ to ‘share my feelings’ as much as I can so that (perhaps) they can grow up with a healthy emotional IQ.
Smooth transition for the kids
Speaking personally, the most important thing to a solid kid exchange is mostly about pre-announcing the transition to my kids. They’re 10, 12, and 14 yrs. The night before I remind them they’ll be going back to their mom and let them know when I’ll see them next. The day of, I remind them and when and how they’ll go to their mom’s house, sometimes it is simply after school but I try to make sure they are clear on when, where and how they’re going to mom’s. Psychologically, you’re allowing them to prep for the exchange knowing their kid experience a dad’s house is probably different than mom’s.
When exchanging them I make my best effort to make sure they’re fed, dressed clean, handsome and ready to go. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always that easy and I am totally comfortable with three out of four.
If there is a history of drama and conflict in your co-parenting team, set yourself up for success when doing exchanges, find a neutral place or a place in public where you can make the exchange to lessen the chance of a blowout. You know what I mean. Remember that snarky text remark she made a couple of hours ago -now is not the time to respond (in front of the kids) about how you didn’t appreciate her tone. Even if you feel you’re right… save it for later. Not in front of the kids.
Smooth transition with the co-parents
Communication comes into play here, of course, but it is a little different. For some reason when I drop off the kids it can quickly turn into a 15-minute standing meeting where we’re going through scheduling issues and logistics meeting. I’m not opposed to it most of the time, I just don’t always have the time, interest or energy. My fix is to anticipate this and connect (usually) the day before so I can check in with her one-on-one.
In the early days of co-parenting, this was the time when being ‘business friendly’ was always top of mind. Understanding that our kids are looking and listening for clues between us (mom and dad), we were keen to keep clear and cordial communication. This means it may not be sweet or sour but it is short and focused on the kids POV.
Consider it the golden rule of co-parenting, be nice, be respectful and keep it to the business of parenting and focus on what’s best for the kids. Do everything in your power to keep it upbeat and focused on the kids’ experience.
So what should a perfect child exchange look like? I’m sure it looks different to everyone. While plenty of details can be pardoned since much of life is messy and unpredictable, the exchange should be comfortable for the kids. They know they’re loved and appreciated and their parents are working together as ‘smoothly’ (whatever that means in your world) as possible.