Getting divorced is never part of anyone’s five-year plan. How many women have walked down the aisle, gazed at their handsome groom, and thought, “I can’t believe I am going to be the future ex-Mrs. Jones? He is going to be a great ex-husband!” How many dads have locked eyes with their newborn sons in the hospital room and thought, “That’s my boy. I can’t wait to throw the ball around with him every other weekend.”
Zero, I imagine.
Divorce was never supposed to happen to us or to our kids. It takes us off the path we envisioned for our families. Once we get through the initial shock and awe that follows the divorce, divorcees struggle to define the new family relationships, including the ones with our ex-spouses. We are also left to learn new ways of co-parenting and to create a new village, or rebuild our existing ones, to help us care for our families. Co-parenting is no simple task.
I have had periods of extremely successful co-parenting with my ex. So much so that other parents are shocked to learn that we are indeed divorced. I have also been that mom who has been (embarrassingly) engaged in full-on verbal battle with my ex at a school event. There is no miracle solution to co-parenting after a divorce, but a good place to start is consistently treating your ex with respect and love. Not romantic love, of course, but human-to-human, parent-to-parent, we-share-amazing-children-and-always-will love.
How do we accomplish this post-divorce, even in the most contentious relationships? We keep it simple, start small, and remember it is all for the children. As you continue on your journey of co-parenting, consider adopting the following behaviors:
1. Accept what is
“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” – George Orwell
We must accept the end of the marriage before we can enter into a healthy co-parenting relationship. This means no more what-iffing, no more blaming, and no more hating. If you are still trying to figure out why or how the marriage ended, it will blur your ability to treat your ex in a loving way. Do not rush yourself through this important process. You will come to acceptance at your own pace. When you are at acceptance you will feel it in your soul. Your children will mention something about your ex-spouse and you will not shudder at the sound of their name, you will not feel defensive or competitive, and you will recognize and appreciate the love in your child’s eyes for your ex.
2. Make a conscious decision to put the children first every day
“That was the day she made herself the promise to live more from intention and less from habit.”
– Amy Rubin Flett
Live with intention. Find a way to remind yourself that today you will put the children first and you will treat your co-parent with love and respect. Create a mantra and repeat it as needed. “Model loving behavior” is my newest mantra and I repeat it to myself over and over throughout the day. It is a simple reminder that I want my children to see me as an instrument of love.
3. Compliment your ex
“Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one that finds the gold.” – Proverbs 11:27
When your children share a story with you about your ex, challenge yourself to complement your ex’s parenting. My son shared a story with me about a fun game he played at soccer practice. His dad is the coach and I took this as an opportunity to model loving behavior. “Wow, Dad seems like a really fun coach. You are so lucky to have such a great dad.” Emmet’s eyes lit up. There are so many opportunities to show your kids that you see good in their other parent.
4. Say sorry
“Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.” – Ezra T. Benson
If you mess up and talk down to or about your ex in front of the kids, do the right thing and apologize. The ego must be set aside when co-parenting. My children recently witnessed me yelling at my ex about the soccer uniform he forgot to pack for the upcoming weekend. I later said to my ex in front of the kids, “I am sorry I lost my patience before and talked to you disrespectfully.” I apologized for one reason and one reason only: the kids. It did not matter who was at fault. I wanted to set a good example for my children and ease any tension that the previous argument may have caused their adolescent, yet complex minds.
5. Keep some pre-divorce traditions
“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.” – Susan Lieberman
My ex and I still celebrate our children’s birthdays together. We meet up in one of our homes to celebrate the birthday child together with smiles, laughs and memories. It is a priceless gift to the birthday child. It offers a full family tradition for their memory bank and it models loving behavior and well-placed priorities.
6. Learn from your mistakes
“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intellectually.” – Henry Ford
It is okay to mess up as a parent and an ex-spouse. It is an opportunity for growth. When you find yourself breaking one of you own personal co-parenting commandments, hold yourself accountable. Spend some time before bed reviewing your behavior for the day. Where did you go wrong and how do you feel about it? Acknowledge it, determine how you could have handled things better, and let it go. Be aware and be willing to change, but do not beat yourself up.
My 13-year-old daughter recently commented in the car, “Mom, I feel so lucky because even though you guys are divorced, you are still good friends.” This simple comment serves as concrete evidence that we have been doing something right for the past six years. Behind the scenes, we are not actually the best of friends and there is a lot of tension and conflict regarding finances, rides to sporting events, and medical and educational decisions. Children are resilient and their love is unconditional. They hold on so tightly to the positive and are quick to release the negative. They love us for us and they forgive fully and easily with a heart full of love. We can learn so much from them if we remain open-minded.
Post-divorce parenting is a challenge, but it sure does build character, strength, and resilience. No matter what, you are doing something right. And if you begin to question that, look at those beautiful children. They are that pat-on-your-back that you so deserve. It is not easy, my divorced comrade, but remember, you are not alone and it is worth it!
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