Transitioning from romantic partners to parenting partners is difficult for many divorced couples. Some of the most challenging moments may occur during the custody exchange.
Custody exchanges, while necessary, can still be difficult. You realize that it is in your children’s best interest to have both parents active in their lives. You know that you both have parental rights. Still, being in the presence of your former spouse can be uncomfortable or even volatile. What can you expect?
From your ex
In an ideal exchange, you and your ex will be polite to each other and exchange pertinent information about the children. Kids will get hugs and remember their backpacks. The exchange will be quick and pleasant.
In the real world, that may not happen. Your ex may be rude or cold to you. He may bring up old hurts or try to renegotiate child support. She may pry into your personal life by asking questions that have nothing to do with the children.
In such cases, it is imperative that you set firm boundaries and follow them yourself:
- Be civil
- Limit conversation to child-related matters
- Do not bring up the past
- Avoid discussing money and other hot-button issues
From your kids
The custody exchange can be confusing to children. They are happy to see one parent but sad to leave another. Handling conflicting emotions may bring about moodiness, clinginess, regression to younger behavior, and disobedience. Your children may display physical symptoms such as headaches or nausea. In extreme cases, children can develop an adjustment disorder. To make the exchange easier on the kids, try the following:
- Be cheerful and relaxed; kids take cues from their parents
- Know that your children rarely see both parents in one place at one time, so they may try to prolong the exchange
- Allow downtime before or after the exchange so children can process their feelings
Old feelings — positive or negative — may resurface when you see your ex. That is perfectly normal. Remember that you do not need to express those feelings nor act on them. Focus on your children and try to make each exchange a positive experience.