When you have a child together, the final divorce decree does not even begin to cover what you’re going to face after the judge declares your marriage officially over. I divorced in 2013, and my daughter was 5 years old at the time. I thought we covered everything during the divorce process: custody, child support, general schedule, holiday schedules, school schedules, living arrangements, general communication, pet and asset division, exceptions to the rules and a host of other potential landmines. I could not have been more wrong.
As I draw upon my own experience for future writings, I’ll cover some of the landmines that have blown up in our face. Basically, I use the term “landmine” to describe a situation that could threaten to cause you – and most importantly your child – a large amount of anxiety and stress. There are huge mistakes just waiting to be made. I know because I’ve made many of them.
Landmine #1 – “The Handoff”
I don’t care how well you think your divorce proceeded, it’s still a divorce. There’s no such thing as a good one. Yet, you went through that hell because it was best for the two of you and for your child. Now, after all that sweat and worry and pain, you have to deal with each other – every damn week. As they say, out of the frying pan and into the fire. Only this one is burning in a dumpster.
I never anticipated how stressful the transition of our daughter from one parent to the other would be. We’d quietly approach each other and stare like we had three eyes, four legs and didn’t know which of us would lose our shit first. We were married for years and now had no clue how to act towards one another or communicate effectively.
Should I pull all the way up in the driveway or park out on the street? Do I get out and knock on the door, or do I just sit in my car and wait like some kind of stranger casing the joint? Should I ask if our child has had dinner and risk my ex thinking I’m questioning her abilities as a parent? What happens if my child doesn’t want to go with me? Do I force her, or do I just load my feelings back up in the car and drive away?
Do you know what it’s like to be on a “hair trigger”? You do if you’re recently divorced with kids.
The worst part is that your child is right there! They’re witnessing and even participating in the madness right along with you. They see every murderous look, catch every murmured insult and know sarcasm and venom when they hear it. They don’t know who to run to, because they’re afraid of hurting one of their parents’ feelings. Your child is torn between latching onto the parent dropping them off and running to the parent they finally get to see again. These are dangerous waters and you better be prepared to be your child’s life preserver.
It should be obvious to you that your child is far less capable of dealing with this new situation than you are. Remember that. Always.
So how do you avoid hurting your children during this new, dreadful experience known as “The Handoff”? You suck it up buttercup. Sure you hate your ex. Sure you’ve thought of multiple arguments you want to finally have now that you’re face-to-face. Sure you’re already on a hair trigger due to the stress of this new challenge. None of that matters. What matters in this moment is you have a scared and apprehensive child who needs you both to shine so she can sleep peacefully that night.
Here’s my advice on handling the handoff. Just follow these steps:
- Meet each other at the door with your child in tow. Make sure you are fully prepared with all the items that child needs to take with them to their other parent. Delays and a lack of preparedness are like gasoline to this smoldering dumpster fire. Avoid them at all costs.
- Say “Hi, how are you?!?”. Brief pleasantries, no matter how hard you have to work to make them come out, puts your child at ease and lets her know this encounter is not as bad as she envisioned. When you’re comfortable, she’s comfortable.
- Smile at your ex and smile at your child. Everyone get your damn picture-taking face on and let your child know this is not a bad situation.
- Say “Thank You” whether your child is being returned to you or you’re returning her successfully to her other parent. Basically, this could go into any list anywhere. Just always say “Thank You” and trust me – things will always be easier.
- Get the hell out of there. This goes back to #1. Don’t delay. Don’t linger. The longer you stand there with that frozen grin on your face, the faster your child will sense something’s up. If you do have something you need to discuss with your ex, simply ask if it’s ok if you call them later to talk about some co-parenting topics. On second thought, don’t say anything. Just text or call them later. Then give your child the biggest bear hug, plant the biggest kiss on her and get out of dodge.
I hope you found this information helpful, and please feel free to ask questions.
Warning: I do not have a fancy degree in psychology or any other ologies. I am not licensed to give advice about co-parenting or raising children. I’m simply a divorced parent living in the trenches with real-world experience that might benefit others with similar situations.