Stress-Free Visitation Guidelines
By Marsha A. Temlock, MA
I look at Billy’s young smile and watch him watch Big Bird awhile. His daddy will be here by eight. Seems like the sky’s turning gray.
There’s an overnight bag by the stairs beside a one-eyed teddy bear. I hold Billy and try not to cry and whisper, “Kiss Mommy goodbye.”
And it looks like rain. It always rains on Saturday …
Whenever I hear Reba McEntire sing “It Always Rains on Saturday,” I feel a tug at my heart. Reba, of course, is singing about the pain of a single divorced mother who feels the house grow cold and lonely because she must comply with the court ordered visitation agreement and send her child off.
Let’s face it, even if your marriage has ended amicably, there are bound to be pangs of guilt, uneasiness, fear, even anger that may spill over to your child who is caught in the middle.
In the best of all worlds, divorced couples act maturely and keep the focus on their child. They establish a healthy cooperative relationship by separating their spousal relationship from their parenting relationship. They use visitation as an opportunity for healing, not an opportunity for revenge.
That being said, there will still be times when you and the ex may be engaged in a standoff. How can you make the best of a difficult situation? Here are some tips to help you get through each of the following:
- School conferences: If your child needs special services, arrange for a one-on-one conference and ask that a summary of any recommendations be sent to each of you so you and your ex are on the same page.
- Pageants, plays and recitals: Often there s more than one performance. Communicate the one you plan to attend well in-advance. Try negotiating a trade-off – one ballet recital for one gymnastic competition. Of course, if you can’t agree, you could, of course, sit in the balcony with a paper bag over your head, but that wouldn’t be very adult.
- Sport events: Even if you are afraid of heights, head for the bleachers and surround yourself with other enthusiastic mothers on the team. Sit far enough away from your ex but make sure to cheer loud enough for your child to hear you. Serve refreshments. Keep busy.
- Graduation, weddings, confirmations, bar and bat mitzvahs: These major family celebrations can be particularly stressful for the parents who are still waging World War II. Since this is your child’s special day, you want to keep the focus on your child. Resolve to be civil with the ex-laws. (Grandparents are struggling, too.) If you simply cannot get past the pain, send a stand-in. I recently attended a wedding when the bride’s father absented himself and sent his mother in his place. The bride, though disappointed, made her grandmother feel welcome. Not a great solution, but the day passed without bloodshed.
A Few Basic Rules
- Be as flexible as possible with schedules. When you make a plan, stick to it.
- Treat your former partner with respect. Bite your tongue for the sake of your child.
- Maintain open communication. Use e-mail. It’s a great neutral way to communicate and this way you’ll have it in print!
- Include your child in making plans, but do not use him as a go-between.
If you truly want to make the most of a difficult situation, be the big one and enroll in a course such as Children First that teaches the “art” of cooperative parenting. These courses are mandated by some states for couples seeking divorce, and often there is a small fee. Check for listings in your community.
Credits: Reba McEntire, “It Always Rains on Saturday,” George Strait Lyrics · Brooks & Dunn Lyrics, www.metrolyrics.com/it-always-rains-on-saturday-…
Marsha A. Temlock, M.A. is the author of “Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect … What You Can Do” (Impact Publishers, Inc.) A one-of-a-kind self-help book for single parents and seniors working together to help the family heal at each stage of divorce. The author and her book have been featured on The Today Show, the N.Y. Times, Wall Street Journal and AARP. Visit her web site www.yourchildsdivorce.com