This article is inspired by the work of Tammy and Jay Daughtry, founders of One Heart Two Homes: Co-Parenting Seminar.
It seems clear that parents and children alike have a hard time with the hand-off of the child. If the parents cannot agree on anything else, a common thread and agreement of the divided parents is the love for the child. However, a pattern of families struggling with the separation develops: the child is caught in the crossfire.
Monthly Co-Parenting Meetings
Questions and comments fly in front of the child about money, new partners, dissatisfaction of the other’s ability to care for the child, disagreements with discipline, and the list continues. While these questions spark appropriate conversations for separated parents, the delivery of concerns in front of the child is often what becomes inappropriate. Even if it doesn’t appear to affect the child, the child is absorbing this information and becomes more agitated, conflicted, and torn between the two homes. One Heart Two Homes founders suggest that these discussions are held privately.
It is ideal that the two parents (or the variation of newly introduced parents) meet monthly to hash out issues, without the child being present.
For example, a meeting at a neutral place of all involved parties would be ideal. This could occur in several different ways, but a meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant every first of the month for an hour and a half could be the new routine. To improve the flow of the meeting, parents are encouraged to bring an agenda of things they would like to discuss. This could give the meeting a more intentional and organized feel, and a list of things to be covered could help prevent otherwise unwanted argument.
The Elements of A Successful Hand-off
Tammy Daughtry explains it as clear as this: the hand-off should be peaceful, simple, and positive. What does this mean? And what can you try if you have found yourself in the unfortunate routine of stressful exchanges?
The hand-off needs to be neutral. This eliminates the child’s worry of what may explode during the next exchange. This also means that the conversations mentioned above are withheld until the next parent meeting that you have previously established. The bottom line is that the child should not hear the parents discuss logistics or witness distress between the two people they love most. It is not their responsibility or duty to juggle all of the emotions of the people they expect to care for them. The Daughtry’s explain that even if you are angry at the other person, save that for the private co-parenting discussion, not for in front of the child.
The hand-off is the least stressful when it happens simply. An example of a simple hand-off could be a seamless exchange in the driveway or in an otherwise designated location (bonus points for a consistent location). For example, the parents meet, exchange kind and casual remarks, the child is walked to the receiving car and greeted by the receiving parent, and the child is driven away after simple and appropriate goodbyes. The less children have to witness or referee during the hand-off the better.
As Tammy Daughtry puts it, “The child needs emotional validation and permission” to enjoy their time with the other parent. An idea of validation and permission can be as simple as encouraging or cheering them on for their time away from you. Following are examples of positive remarks: “Your mom says she has lots of fun things planned, I bet you’re going to have so much fun this weekend,” or “Your dad mentioned that he was going to cook your favorite meal when you get there tonight, that’s so thoughtful of him! I know you love his cooking.” When your child hears statements from the delivering parent that celebrate their time with the receiving parent, the child learns that it is okay to enjoy the other parent’s care and company. All too often, one parent makes dreadful statements about the other’s parenting or activities or new partner. This discourages the child from relaxing into the other parent’s care. It also restricts how much your child is willing to tell you when they come back as they are nervous about what is or is not acceptable to share.
The Harm of Silence
Another component of a positive exchange is the presence of conversation. Many parents may think, “Well, if I don’t talk to my ex, we won’t argue and my child won’t witness anything gone awry.” However, for the child, this is just another symbol of divide and separation. Tammy Daughtry states powerfully, “Silence screams to the child.” There is no harm in faking pleasant interaction. You never know, maybe you’ll “fake it til you make it”, and interactions will truly become simple and positive. Again, simple, casual statements to the other parent are ideal: “Hi so and so, good to see you! I hope you had a good day. I know he’s so excited to spend the week with you,” or “Hi, how are you doing? I know you had a busy week at work.” (note: these conversations should not be used to make subtle stabs at the other parent, such as, “Hey, nice of you to show up on time. I guess you finally scheduled time away from your new girlfriend.”).
Choosing the Right Words
Another way to increase positivity in general is a change of language. Consider the way the prefix “ex” makes everyone involved feel. Replacing “ex” with words like “my child’s father” or “her other parent” may work to repair animosity. No one wants to be exiled.
There's an App for That!
Several parents share that one of the hardest things to work out logistically is the scheduling of the child’s events, the parent’s unreliable work schedule, or that one parent does not share all of the events and information with the other person. Luckily, there’s an app for that! Download AppClose to share schedules and events through a shared calendar so that all parents and caregivers can be on the same page.
This app also offers features to eliminate the discussion of sticky situations in front of the child. You can scan receipts, share documents, or request compensation through the app. For example, did you agree to split the cost of a birthday party? You can upload what you paid for and request the remainder from the other parent. Even better, you can pay the other parent through the app’s financial feature. You can also make requests to reschedule or adjust time together, and you can privately message the other parent through the app. You can also add people to “circles” in the app, inviting other caregivers or grandparents to be involved with what you allow them to be. See the website for more information.
Asking for Input
Lastly, One Heart Two Homes encourages that the parents invite the other parent in. This is done through positive “communication, joint decision making, and sharing time” with the child. Simply asking the other what they think about decisions, issues, or celebrations can bridge the gap between two divided parents.
For resources and more information on the incredible work that Tammy and Jay Daughtry are doing for divided and separated families and parents, visit their website:
If your child is currently being affected by a divorce or you and your child’s other parent would like help with co-parenting, we at Sunny Path Counseling can help. See our Services Page for more information.