It’s painful to watch families go through the early part of settling in to a post-divorce co-parenting routine. Whether you’re an A-list celebrity or just plain suburban somebody like me, it’s not easy.

For me, the hardest part was the backpacks. I never realized how much I would hate backpacks until my divorce. After my 2 or 3 days with my kids, it would be time to pack up and send them to their dad's. I hated the pack-up part. Watching the kids hunt down their favorite toy or school project to make sure they were ready and packed up for the hand off. I hated those backpacks. I hated what they represented.

They meant the end of my precious time with my kids.They meant my kids would be headed off to their other life— the one I wasn’t part of. They represented my failure.

With my divorce, reconciliation wasn’t going to be an option so I had to find a way toward a peaceful co-parenting situation that hopefully would help my kids find their own paths forward. Here’s some tips I learned to help me get to a much better place:

I tried to find a way to model acceptance
Divorce was never my “plan A” and emotionally, I hated the concept that this would be our family’s new normal. But I had to start to help my kids learn to embrace this. I tried to help them accept their new normal by modeling this acceptance which I didn’t truly feel at first. Over time, I saw that when I could find a way to swallow the drama, it made everything so much easier for them. And that’s all that mattered. 

I got really good at the schedule
Typically, there’s a schedule to these handoffs and the transition takes time. Packing the backpacks, tracking down all of the things, getting to the handoff location on time. I learned to give myself and my kids plenty of time so that we wouldn’t arrive at the handoff upset or stressed out. I tried to make sure that last hug and kiss before that hand off was a happy experience—for me and the kids.

I learned not to sweat it when things got off track
Kids are kids and life is life and issues will surface. Your ex will be late on occasion (mine was). You will be late on occasion (I sure was). I learned not to let that trigger old emotions. 

I tried to really use the alone time to focus on me
This is likely new territory for you—it was for me. Full days to focus on just you in some ways feels luxurious and in other ways feels selfish. I learned to set goals. I revisited old hobbies. I started a new one: writing! I invested in myself. I didn’t get it right every time. Sometimes, I let myself wallow in self pity for a minute. I’m pretty sure this is why ice cream was invented. But I’d try harder the next time. Try to turn this time into a gift of self discovery. You may not feel like it, but in the long run, I found strengthening my identity in this way helped make me a better parent and also helped me stop obsessing over my ex.

I had to define my boundaries with my ex
For me, it was just too painful to see the ex during those first hand offs. If that’s you, please be gentle with yourself and let that be OK. I found that my neighbor was willing to help. She provided a safe and loving neutral place where my kids could be safely dropped off then picked up without drumming up old emotions that were hurtful to my healing.

This was the big one: I had to accept that there are parts of this process that were going to be out of my control
My ex was involved with a new person in the early stages of my co-parenting journey and I just wasn’t comfortable with that person being part of the hand-off process. At first, I fought to say that this new person wasn’t good for the kids. But when I really dug deep, I had to face the fact that my concerns weren’t truly for my kids. The kids were fine. Truthfully, this new person was lovely. My issues were about me and my feelings. 

I had to learn and accept that there are limits to my power over determining who was and wasn’t going to be involved in the pick ups and drop offs of my kids. And while it hurt for a bit, it absolutely wasn’t worth the drama. l had to learn to let go what was beyond my control and remember to see everything through the eyes of my children. They needed to know they were safe in the hands of loving and caring adults, which they were. Your ex may not make every decision exactly as you would (mine certainly didn’t), but in this new world, you just have to let some things go to be able to help your children embrace their new world safely.

I had to find outlets for my feelings away from my kids
At the end of the day, I know the very best thing for my kids is to be able to love both parents freely and confidently. Any negative feelings I had about my ex needed to be expressed, but not to them. Thank god for my girlfriends who somehow never got tired of listening! They were also extremely good at the gentle redirect, which I needed. 

In the end, I learned we all can adjust
If you’re at the very beginning of this co-parenting journey, mama, please know this: This is just a part of your journey, not the end destination. You are stronger and more capable that you can ever imagine. I hope like me, you’ll find this part of your experience, while super hard, will also be something you’ll look back to with a kind of gratitude. You will get through this and so will your kids!

You may even enjoy shopping for backpacks again someday.