I was at my sister’s house the other night peacefully sitting in her backyard with a glass of wine when I had a flashback to many years ago, being in this same backyard in a drastically different state (and it wasn’t the Zen one I was in at the moment!). I saw an image of myself pacing back and forth behind the kids’ trampoline as I screamed into the phone at my ex-husband over some snarky text he had just sent me that put both of us into a tailspin.
It was one of many screaming matches between us in the early days when emotions were high and there was so much anger and bitterness, we could hardly look at each other when we exchanged the kids.
Now, the two of us chat on the phone regularly just for the sake of catching up. Sometimes we spend an hour talking about everything but our kids, sharing what’s going on at our jobs, what our social plans are for the weekend, and even about our love lives.
How did we get here, you might ask? How do you get there if in this moment the two of you are at war and literally hate each other’s guts and have zero desire to ever be friends?
My philosophy is, if you share kids, you should do everything possible to try to become friends and if that seems too much of a stretch, at the very least, you should be working toward being amicable and having mutual respect for one other.
Divorce already sucks. It’s doubly sucky to be a single parent and have to navigate the challenges of raising your children without your significant other. Why throw in screaming matches, name-calling, legal costs, and lingering feelings of anger, hostility, and resentment when you can have peace?
Believe me, I did many things wrong in the beginning. But my ultimate goal for myself was to be at peace, find acceptance in what now was, and work toward the best co-parenting relationship possible for the sake of our kids and for my own sanity. The two of us worked hard to get there.
These are my five tips for getting yourself there. You may not like them or think they’ll work for you, but trust me, neither did I and yet here I am:
1. Stop making your ex “pay” for something they did.
There’s a reason you got divorced. Someone did something, didn’t do something, continues to do something, or will never do something and therefore you’ve decided to call it quits. Maybe you split up after one of you was caught cheating or your ex committed some other betrayal that broke your trust. In these cases, we want our ex to pay for what they did. Literally.
I get it, trying to take him/her for every cent they’re worth may make you feel better and somehow in your mind even the score. But does it really? Throwing what they did in their face every chance you get in an effort to remind them you’re the victim and they’re the big bad wolf eventually gets old and tired. Trust me when I tell you, even when people feel horrible about the bad things they did to another person in their relationship, they stop feeling badly altogether when they’re constantly being reminded of it day in and day out. So stop trying to make your ex pay for their mistakes. Forgive them and move forward.
2. Consider that the way you parent isn’t the better way.
Couples that continue to pay lawyers and go to court to fight over the tiniest shit regarding their kids make me sad. The biggest complaint I hear from couples I work with is how the other parent is parenting when the kids are with them and what they feel they need to do to change it.
Here’s the thing…you guys probably had different parenting styles when you were married. Most happily married couples have different styles of parenting. They disagree and argue over discipline, how much screen time their kids should have, what sports/activities they should be involved in, and how much money to spend on those activities. You can continue to spend a lot of money in court fighting over this stuff or you can be willing to compromise and accept that sometimes your ex is going to do things differently than you that you may not like or allow in your house. As long as your kids are safe and being taken care of, consider that the mix of parenting styles can actually benefit them in the long run.
A close friend of mine often talks about how strict her mom was versus how “fun” and lenient her dad was after the two of them divorced and that it was like living in two different worlds. “One wasn’t better than the other,” she says. “In fact, the balance of having the structure my mom provided us with the more casual, carefree, atmosphere at dad’s house made me really appreciate them both. I saw that neither was a better parent no matter how different their rules were. I felt loved and taken care of in both homes.”
3. Be flexible with the custody schedule.
Here’s one thing my ex and I do that most divorced couples don’t; we are consistently flexible with each other about when the kids are with each of us. We did not have the court mandate our custody schedule. We both work and like to travel so we wanted to ensure we could attend events or go away for a few days if the opportunity came up and not have to work around set weekends or days.
We came up with a 50/50 split schedule that worked for us when the kids were little. Then let it ebb and flow as their needs changed. If I wanted to swap my Tuesday for his Thursday because a friend was having a birthday party, my ex was always accommodating and vice versa. If one of us wanted to go out of town for a special event like a wedding and it was a weekend we were scheduled to have the kids, we simply swapped weekends. Even when we didn’t like each other and were barely speaking, we had an agreement to have each other’s backs because it is always about our kids and what’s best for them. There were months I had the kids more days than him and other months he had the kids more days than me. We never kept score. It all evens itself out in the wash and we built up goodwill toward each other by saying “yes” and being willing to accommodate each other’s schedules.
4. Focus on what they do, not what they don’t.
This goes to the glass is half full as opposed to half empty theory. Where your attention goes, energy flows. If you want to spend your time focused on what your ex doesn’t do, then that’s all you’ll see. You’ll never see the small things they do that help you out or make your kids happy because you’re so focused on whatever it is you feel they don’t do.
Find one good thing about them and acknowledge it. Do that as much as possible. If they drop the kids off at your mutually agreed upon time every week consider telling them, “I really appreciate that you’re always on time.”
The little acknowledgments are everything. You’ll start to see more and more of the good things your ex does. And when you take the time to thank them, they will eventually start noticing things you do and maybe, even acknowledge you. And if they don’t, who cares? You’ll never regret being the bigger person.
5. Be vulnerable and talk about the hard stuff.
You are both going to go through hard times after you split up. One of you may lose your job, get sick, or experience depression. You may experience the loss of a family member or loved one and be grieving. All of these things will impact your ability to take care of your kids. When that happens it can be really helpful if our partner can take on a little more of our kid’s care for a short period of time so we can focus on whatever we’re dealing with even if it’s a weekend or a day here or there when we need it.
Asking for that help from your ex may be hard but it’s also an opening to creating empathy for each other. You may have moments where you wish bad things on your ex, but the reality is, you should want the very best for them for the sake of your children. My ex and I talk to each other when we’re going through something difficult and we did this even when things weren’t good between us. Many times he’s offered to take the kids on days I had them to allow me time to myself to deal with whatever was going on and vice versa. It was what was best for the kids.
You may say, “My ex would never do anything for me!” Well, start asking anyway! If they refuse to help you, that’s on them but it’s worth asking. It’s also worth offering. Something along the lines of, “No matter what our custody arrangement, if you ever need me to take the kids on one of your days, I’m here.” I know some of you are rolling your eyes at the mere thought that this is possible but someone has to extend the olive branch to begin to heal the relationship no matter how awful it may seem right now.
Divorce sucks. There’s no way around it. But we’re in more control than we think. Give yourself and the relationship between the two of you time to diffuse and settle. Nobody becomes instant friends when they’re going through something so volatile and emotional especially when kids are involved. But you have to want peace more than you want to be right. Even when I thought I was right, I gave into things and compromised for the peace.
I’ve never regretted it a day of my life and my kids are all the happier because of it.
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