Some friends invited my daughter and me to come skiing with them for the weekend and it’s been a lot of fun. Their daughter is the same age, so they’ve been in ski school and I was able to ski with the older kids (17 years old). I’m actually sitting in a ski lodge right now, with a great view of the slopes, and I’ve been watching the kids in ski school.

There are all ages and many different skill levels out there. Same story on the slopes. But everybody out there had to start with the basics. You’d think that would mean learning to stop (“snow plow”), then learning to turn, right? But actually, you have to learn some other things before you can even do that. You have to learn how to put your boots on and adjust them properly, then how to get your skis on without falling…and if you do fall, how to get yourself upright again with those things on. And you have to learn about safety. It’s a learning process, just like anything else we do for the first time.

Divorce is the same way. Like skiing, you want to get to the more comfortable, solid-on-your-feet-place right away so you can actually have some fun and not be so anxious all the time, right? But it just doesn’t work like that. You’re going to feel really awkward and unsure of yourself at first. And you’ve got to fall on your ass a few times to learn how to do it right. Even if other people are watching or telling you different ways to do it. It’s okay to be very picky about who you choose to learn from. You want someone you can trust, that feels right to you, that has proven they know how to do it in a way that keeps you safe and helps build your confidence.

You have to learn one skill at a time and keep building on them until you have a really good foundation to work with, where you know you can make it even if you’re a little shaky.

It’s important to do some initial preparation (learning about the equipment) before you start moving forward. I recommend giving some serious thought to a few key areas BEFORE you get divorced. In fact, the sooner the better. If you’re contemplating divorce or have made the decision, but haven’t actually begun the process yet, that’s a great time to do this. Start with these areas and certainly add others if they pertain to your situation and lifestyle: Finances (and property/assets), Legal, Communication, Child Custody and Care, Holidays and Special Events.

Think about how you want these things to be handled between the two of you and what you expect in these areas. Write it all down so you can keep adding to it (or revising it) as you go, and so you can refer back to it at any time. I know it’s often very difficult to talk comfortably, or even very effectively, with your partner at this time, but the more you can discuss, the better. You really want to minimize the surprises (like moguls or icy patches on the ski slope) as much as you can.

If you think the kids should be with you during the weekdays and major holidays, you don’t want to find out through a lawyer a few months later that your ex wants the kids during the weekdays and wants to take the kids out of town to visit relatives every Christmas. You may not be able to reach an agreement on these things up front, but at least you will know each other’s desires and intentions and maybe you can be thinking about ways to compromise and come up with an arrangement you can both live with. Maybe the kids are with one parent Mondays and Tuesdays and the other parent Wednesdays and Thursdays. Or with one parent one week, and the other parent the next week. And maybe you alternate who the kids are with each Christmas.

Most scenarios are not going to be all or nothing. It’s time to look at it from both sides and, very importantly, from the kids’ perspective. You may not want your kids gone on Christmas (understandably), but you may also know that your kids absolutely love visiting those relatives they’ve been seeing all these years during the holidays. So try to come up with ways to give each person at least a little of what they want most and try not to take away too many things that have become traditions or favorites in your family.

This preparation work will not only help you to know what to expect, but it will allow you to get much more clear on what really matters to you and on all the ways this is going to affect your life. Without any preparation, the divorce process can be a very slippery slope. You want to go down either on your feet, or on your butt, but not tumbling head over heels, totally out of control. And please remember, having some spills is part of the learning process. Just dust yourself off and try again, remembering what you just learned from that fall.