Divorce: Don’t Act Out of Fear
Dealing with your ex as you go through the divorce process and try to figure out how to co-parent now that you’re no longer together, can be frustrating to say the least. You may be asking yourself the following questions: Why can’t (s)he be on time? Why won’t (s)he spend more time with the kids? What is (s)he saying to our children about me? Is (s)he dating anyone? What if (s)he moves in with or marries that person (s)he’s been dating? How do I talk to him/her about financial issues? Should I tell him/her about the event coming up at school?
It has probably crossed your mind that it sure would be easier if (s)he would just disappear and stop interfering with your life, right? Or why can’t (s)he be more like so-and-so’s spouse? Well, the truth is, you can’t change your ex. You can’t control your ex. You can’t really avoid your ex. And you can’t make your ex disappear. Especially if you want what’s best for your children.
Your kids want both of you in their lives and they really want you to get along. They may want you back together, and since that’s not going to happen, the next best thing is to have a good, friendly relationship. No, I’m not kidding, and no, I’m not crazy.
I’ve been there, done that. I have a great relationship with my ex and his wife and their two kids. I don’t tell you that to brag or to make you feel bad, but rather to let you know that it’s possible and you can do it too. It didn’t happen because I’m lucky either. It happened because I chose that path. I made a commitment and I’ve done everything possible to stick to that commitment.
For example, I told my ex up front, when we made the decision to get divorced, that I would not repeat what my parents did. I knew he was concerned about our daughter and I let him know that was my primary concern too. I told him the things my parents did that were the most harmful to my brother and me, and I explained that I wanted us to respect one another and make decisions together about our child. I told him I knew how much he loved her and how much she loved him, and how important that relationship was to me. I made it clear that I would never try to keep her from him or use her as a pawn, because I understood that she needed both of us in her life.
When we separated, I gave my daughter a photo of her with her dad to put by her bed. It’s still there after six years. She wanted to put a photo of the three of us on the fridge (from her first day of school) and I said “sure”. These are simple things that really matter.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the other parent to your child, regardless of what (s)he’s done or not done, and regardless of your feelings toward him/her.
I welcomed my ex husband’s girlfriend when they started getting serious. I asked her to come in when they came over together for the first time to pick up my daughter. I wanted her to feel included and as comfortable as possible because I wanted her to be good to my daughter. I never wanted my daughter to be on the receiving end of someone’s dislike for me. And so I gave her no reasons to dislike me.
I realize how impossible this may sound to you right now, but I can’t stress enough what a difference it will make in your life, particularly long-term. It goes back to the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Imagine if you started dating someone who’s divorced and has kids. How awkward would you feel being the outsider, the new person, spending time with someone else’s kids? How would you feel if the ex-wife or ex-husband was rude to you or said negative things about you to their kids?
Wouldn’t you want a chance to show that you had no ill will toward them? Wouldn’t you want a chance to show that you could be a positive influence in their children’s lives? The fact of the matter is that both of you (the former spouse and the new partner) feel uncomfortable and aren’t sure what to do or say. Make the first move and ease the tension.
Don’t pre-judge and don’t assume. And remember that this person could be sharing a home with your kids one day and have a big impact on their lives. Do you want it to be positive or negative? You could be interacting with them for many years to come. Also remember that they cannot take your place. Your kids have one Mom and one Dad and that will always be true. They may have additional “parents” who care for them (which can be a really good thing), but they know the difference. They know who Mom and Dad are.
Don’t act out of fear. Act out of love.
Choose what’s best for your children and then make a commitment to stick to it, no matter what. You’ll be glad you did.
To learn more about how to deal with your ex in a way that’s positive and benefits everyone involved, check out my new teleclass series that’s starting in mid-September at www.NavigatingMyDivorce.com. Would love to have you join me!