See Part 2 for 11 Tips for Dad.
(Because the primary residence for children of separated parents is usually with the mother and the overnight access is with the father, this is written from that perspective. But, obviously, if the primary residence is with the father and the access is with the mother – reverse the language.)
- Remember that the “overnight” visit isn’t about you – it’s about the child. Focus on them. Don’t tell them how sad you are that they’ll be away or how much you’re looking forward to Sunday night when they’ll return. Don’t tell them you’re sure they’ll be safe with Dad but to call you if there’s any problem, or give them a cell phone to call you whenever they want. Let them know you support the visit, have your own plans for the time period, and encourage them to have a good time with their Dad. Leave it at that.
- Encourage your children to think of this as a learning experience and remind them of other situations they were worried about but that turned out okay.
- Make sure to pack the familiar things the child uses during the day or to sleep with. Discuss this with Dad so he knows which things you’re sending, and why, so that he can know the degree of attachment the children have to them and that they’re to be returned to you.
- Don’t tell Dad what to buy to keep at his place.
- If this is the first overnight, depending upon the age of the children, you may want to set up an overnight with one of their friends or a close member of your family in advance so they can see that being away from “home” works and is fun. That will make it easier for them for the first overnight at Dad’s as both you and he can refer to how that other overnight went.On the other hand, if that’s a disaster, you can warn Dad what to expect and see if he wants to change the plans.
- Arrange with Dad a time for you to speak with the kids so that everyone knows when to expect your call and so that they’ll be there when you phone. Some parents find it best not to call the kids during a one-night overnight, as this is disruptive for them.
- Keep the calls short – really short. Even if the child wants to talk longer.
- Don’t go ask any questions about what’s going on at Dad’s.
- Tell the kids you love them but not how sad you are that they’re not home with you or that their pet dog or stuffed animal is lonely without them.
- Don’t talk about you being lonely or that your place is empty without the kids – talk about the things or activities you’ve done and enjoyed.
- Don’t let the kids get sad or weepy with you.
- Be cheerful and brief.
- Don’t let the kids use the call as way to delay going to bed or getting a bath.
- Don’t let the call become a complaint session.
You want to signal that both their Dad and you thought it was a good idea for you and the kids to touch base and that’s it.
- Remember that kids are sensitive to your moods and feelings, both generally and in regard to the overnight visit with their Dad. They’ll often tell you something they believe you want to hear, even if it’s not true. They may tell you during an access period phone call, or when they return, that they were sad to be away from you, that the didn’t have a good time, that their Dad didn’t do this or that, etc., etc. But the odds are that this is just because they think that’s what you want to hear.It’s very, very common that lawyers hear from their clients that the children said this or that about the visit but that the other parent says that’s not at all what the kids were saying to them. That’s because the kids often say one thing to one parent and a different thing to the other parent.Just as the children may be telling you what they think you want to hear, they’re probably doing the same with the other parent.
- Make sure to pack appropriate clothes for the weather. Check to see if there’ll be any special event requiring something that’s not “normal”. Going tobogganing or skiing, or hiking, or swimming all require special clothing. If you know what’s going to be happening, make sure the kids have the right stuff. Don’t send the kids with only the clothes they’re wearing and leaving it up to Dad to buy anything else.
- Send a note listing the clothes and items you’re sending so Dad will know what should be returned. While it’s a decent thing for the clothes you send to be returned cleaned, don’t make a fuss about it. Sometimes there isn’t time to do washing for a brief overnight. Other times, it’s a control thing to push your buttons. Let it pass and don’t make your annoyance with the Dad interfere with ongoing communications between you.
- If there is homework to be done, or a school project to be completed, let Dad know what it is and be sure to send whatever the child needs so it can be done at Dad’s place.
- Be business-like. Keep your language on the phone and in emails or notes to Dad civil and to the point. Don’t be sarcastic or insulting. However badly you feel towards him – even if he deserves it – your own life will be a lot better if you can keep communications about the children all about them and not about your complaints about his conduct. You and the children’s Dad are going to be connected for a long time and it’s best to take the high road. It’s way better for the kids and it helps keep you calm.
Keep in mind that there’ll be ongoing visits unless there’s some major reason to convince a judge to stop them. So it’s better if you can keep your communications and relationship with Dad on a civil and respectful level. This also helps if you need to go to court and can show that you’ve been reasonable throughout and focused on the kids and not your complaints about Dad.