Divorced Parenting: Rules of the Exchange

Often, divorced parents rarely communicate outside the drop-off and pick-up of their children during visitation times. No one wants to take more time than necessary out of their lives to voluntarily communicate with someone they don’t get along with.

But, beyond simple pleasantries, communicating at the children’s exchange is never a good idea. Often, simple communications turn into larger disagreements and it is inappropriate to use a time that should be happy and relaxed and child-focused as a convenient platform to spur an argument. The exchange is hard enough for children. It is typical for children to have difficulty transitioning between parents. Making things more stressed, tense or negative can only have a detrimental effect on children. Children should never hear conversations about child support, custody, visitation disagreements, etc.

Here are some basic rules for the exchange:

  • Look at it like a business transaction. You are there to get the children. Do your job and hit the road. Be on time. If you are running late, call. Don’t take time to talk about future plans, to argue about differences, to comment on the children’s clothing, cleanliness or behavior. Just get in and get out.
  • Fake it. Pretend to be happy and kind, even if your relationship with your ex is high-conflict. Kids will dread the exchange more than ever if they know they can look forward to one, or more, cranky, irritable parents as part of the deal!
  • Stay Neutral. This is a two-parter. First, if your relationship is high-conflict, meet in a neutral location instead of one person’s house or the other. We’ve noticed that this, alone, defuses some of the transition problems the kids have had in the past. It also puts both parents on neutral territory so neither is a guest in the other’s new space. The second part of staying neutral is to watch your reactions to your children’s recap of time with their other parent. It may be tempted to judge, criticize or share other negative emotions if the experience was less than stellar. Keep it to yourself, stay neutral. Children learn quickly to use the exchange to whine about even the smallest of issues with the other parent and the reality is that rarely are the visits as horrible as your child wants to make you think.
  • Do It Yourself. Don’t send a relative, a friend or your new spouse to pick up or drop off the kids unless your relationship is very amicable. It is a recipe for accusation, resentment, blame, hostility and miscommunication.
  • Cut ‘Em Off. If your child’s other parent tries to make the exchanges about more than dropping off or picking up the children, cut off the conversation. Walk away. Be the bigger person, no matter how tempting it may be to have the last word. Continue the conversation later, when it is appropriate and the children aren’t waiting underfoot or in the car. Eventually the other parent will likely get the message and stop communicating inappropriately, as well. Because it does take two to tango.

By following these few simple tips, you can make the exchange a pleasant reunion with your children instead of a stressful situation for children and parents, like.