The excitement and anticipation of having your child return home after vacation with your ex is a feeling most of us would probably choose to avoid if it wasn’t a necessity.
Knowing that your child will again be under your roof and in your care, after a period away, offers an immense sense of relief and security. It’s actually a feeling that’s not quite like any other.
No matter how much you know and trust that your child is safe, loved and well cared for with your ex, it can be difficult having your kids away for a week or many weeks at a time. Being able to walk into your child’s room and see them sleeping or to be able to give them a hug whenever you feel like it – is a good, good feeling.
However, handovers involve at least three people’s feelings and sometimes can be difficult to manage.
Below are 6 tips to make the transition as smooth as possible:
1. Be real:
The tummy flutters, eagerness and excitement you may be feeling about the upcoming reunion with your “comeback kid” isn’t always shared by everyone else in your family – including the comeback kid. As you, your ex and potentially your new partner, stepkids and grandparents, all converge at the prearranged handover there is bound to be emotional baggage in tow. Recognising and validating that everyone may experience the handover in different ways is not only necessary, but also smart!
Approach the reunion with a healthy dose of realism. You know those times when you are deep in conversation with a friend and someone else joins in halfway through the discussion? That bit of awkwardness when the dynamic shifts from two to three? That same type of thing can happen at handover with your child. A shift occurs and it will take time for everyone to adjust back into a routine.
2. The less the merrier:
While you all may be very eager (or some not so much!) to see you child, it is appropriate to limit the number of people that accompany you to the handover. Limiting the amount of baggage – literally and emotionally – that is present lessens the load and ensures what is in reality both a reunion and a separation becomes more manageable for everyone. Your side of the family will have opportunities over the next couple of days to reconnect with the child.
3. Handovers are bittersweet:
Children of different ages respond to, and behave differently, at handovers. Transitioning between homes even under the most optimal of circumstances can be difficult for children, no matter what their age. For your child, every reunion is also a separation and therefore every transition can be bittersweet.
Remaining sensitive and giving your child ample time to adjust after returning back home is prudent. It’s okay that your child may feel sad at having to say goodbye to their other family or that they may be upset or anxious at changeover – it doesn’t mean they are not excited or pleased to see you!
Keep in mind your child may be trying to manage a wide range of competing and conflicting emotions that could be threatening or overwhelming to them – even more so if they are tired, a tad disorientated and potentially frustrated that the fun of vacation is over. Recognize that emotions, both positive and negative, are especially intense at reunion time. As the parent (or even step parent) it is more important than ever that at vacation handovers, the adult’s need to be immediately loved and welcomed is put aside.
4. It’s sad on the other side:
In your anticipation of the reunion and the excitement of your family being back together, it’s easy to ignore the other side. Whilst you are feeling elated at being reunited with your child and hugging them hello, your ex is likely wrangling with their own emotional reaction and feeling sad and disappointed at having to hug that same kid goodbye.
You lose nothing by showing a bit of empathy for your ex. Try not to take it personally if they happen to come across as gruff, frustrated or even angry. They are likely already missing their child and their behaviour most likely isn’t about you.
Keep your feelings in check and exchange polite greetings. Step back so your ex can say a heartfelt goodbye. Encourage your child to appropriately say goodbye those that have delivered them back to you, safe and sound. At the same time maintain balance and don’t let the handover drag out. Keep it as relatively short as possible.
5. When you got to go, you got to go:
Don’t forget the practicalities. If everyone has arrived at the changeover point after a long journey the squirming and fidgeting may just mean that your child needs to use the bathroom first prior to receiving the affection you are desperate to bestow on them!
6. Lose the bells and whistles:
It’s a good idea to have a plan in place for what you are going to do when you leave the handover point. Asking an already overwhelmed child what they want to do could be a recipe for disaster.
Having a low-key first night (or couple of nights!) back can help everyone to settle and adjust. Leave the bells and whistles for another time. A favourite home cooked meal, movie and bedtime story are in order. Get straight back into a familiar routine – with a bit of flexibility where needed. Try not to get overly concerned with behaviors that seem unusual during the initial period after the handover. Make sure you take some time to reconnect with the comeback kid on an individual level. Something low key – like talking a walk, playing a board game or driving them to a favourite activity – can be just the thing. If your child seems to need some space, give it to them.
With a little bit of sensitivity you can get back to your normal routine in no time!
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