Summertime is bittersweet for this single mom. While the warm weather and relaxed work schedule bring me joy, I’m saddened since my daughter isn’t here to enjoy the cookouts, music festivals, waterparks, graduation parties, and more. I share custody with her dad, who she lives with during her summer break. Until recently, my daughter and I suffered separation anxiety during co-parent visitation. Not that we didn’t want the trip to take place–we looked forward to the time she would spend with her family. However, it was hard to adjust to the new normal. Over the years, we learned ways to reduce separation anxiety and enjoy our temporary time apart. 

Reduce separation anxiety during co-parenting visitation by acknowledging that your child's feelings are normal.

How To Reduce Separation Anxiety During Co-Parent Visitation

Make a Slow, Smooth Transition 

Instead of heading immediately to her dad’s house in another state, we spend time together. This year, we made sure she hung out with not only me but also family and friends. That way, she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out when she’s away. She went to her cousin’s high school graduation, an amusement park school picnic with friends, and a party. We also planned a “favorite things” day. She did all her favorite activities, ate her favorite foods, hung out with her favorite people, and went to her favorite places. This break between school and travel gave her time to transition smoothly. 

Celebrate Your Child

While most kids have big birthday parties to celebrate milestone ages, we throw one every year. My daughter loves to shop and plan fun things for her family and friends, so this is an exciting way to spend time with each other. This year, she wanted to have a beach picnic with friends. When the event planner and caterer were unresponsive, we decided to buy almost everything at Amazon and Target! I definitely went over budget, but I justified it since I’m not paying for summer vacations and camps. Two of my closest single mom friends came to the picnic to chaperone.

The kids had a ball at the lake, the hotel pool, and the mall. My daughter planned the entire party, including an all-white photo shoot at sunset. And it’s humbling to see how far we’ve come on this single-parent journey! A journey that started with a bank account in the negative and us living between my sister’s and parents’ houses.

celebrating your child and more tips for reducing separation anxiety during co-parent visitation.

Make Goodbyes Quick and Positive 

The following week she headed to her dad’s house. We meet in the middle of our two states of residence. In the beginning, the custodial exchanges were filled with tears. My daughter bawled when she had to go with her dad. I waited until I drove away to tear up. Then it repeated in reverse–she cried to leave her father, and they had long, drawn-out departures. Now that she’s older, the exchange is far less dramatic. As a mom, put on a happy face. Smile, hug, kiss your child, and reassure them that you always come back and will see them soon. When she was young, I would buy little trinkets and games at Dollar Tree to keep her busy (and distracted) in the car. 

Reassure Your Child That It’s OK to Be Anxious 

Don’t pretend that nothing is wrong and trivialize their feelings. Let your child know it’s normal to feel a bit anxious or upset. Give them tips to manage their anxiety, such as breathing deeply, journaling, or drawing. Let them know that you will miss them. Also, remember that kids of all ages can exhibit signs of separation anxiety, like crying, frustration, fear, and increased irritability. These reactions do not mean they should skip staying with their other parents.

Most importantly, don’t put your feelings on your child. Let them tell you how they feel. Don’t just ask about the fears, but also inquire about what they are looking forward to while with their dad. Therapists say separation anxiety is an emotional reaction, not a behavioral choice. So don’t punish or reward your child for how they feel. And remember, if the anxiety becomes too extreme to manage, be sure to seek professional advice. A therapist could give you tools to help.

Keep in Touch 

Be sure to keep in touch, but don’t smother your child while they are away. I used to talk to my daughter daily. Now, we skip days from time to time. And that’s OK! We always check in via text to say good morning and good night.

How To Reduce Separation Anxiety During Co-Parent Visitation

Maintain a Routine

Be sure to share your child’s routine with your co-parent. Of course, they will do something different than what happens under your roof, but some things can stay consistent. Little ones can keep the same bedtime routine, like night lights, stuffed animals, or security blankets. Older kids can continue playing a sport or an instrument. And teens may need additional screen time to stay in touch with their friends. If your child has their own room at their dad’s house, encourage them to take some of their things from home to decorate. 

Enjoy the Summer

Sometimes moms and kids feel guilty having fun away from each other. I did! I missed my daughter dearly and was fixated on what she was doing without me. Then my friends and family helped me snap out of it. The temporary break is now welcomed! Although I miss my daughter, I know she is in good hands. I use this time to get ahead with work and travel. Now I take annual solo vacations and dates. I no longer need to secure a sitter to do these because of our co-parenting schedule.

And probably the most enjoyable part–I sleep in a lot. She’s also having the time of her life. She’s taking swimming lessons, reading books, and playing with her little sister and pets, neither of which we have in my house. She’ll also go on two vacations, so I don’t have the pressure of planning one. I spent that money on her beach birthday party!

Hey mamas! How do you reduce separation anxiety during co-parent visitation for you and your children?