The divorce papers are signed. If you have no children you’re home free. You’ll hardly ever deal with your ex again. When children are involved, you’ll be forced to interact with your co-parent for the rest of your life.
Logistics and finances will be the main topics of any conversations with your ex, but occasionally parenting issues need to be discussed. We religiously kept to our 50/50 custody agreement, so beyond a quick text or email, we rarely needed to talk.
Emails were curt and informational. The kids “switched houses” every week, but we never interacted in person. It was a “drop off and go” situation. We preferred it that way. In the early acrimonious days, it was better not to ask for special favors or heaven forbid switch weeks. I had to travel for work and the amount of calculus that went into equalizing the days spent at either home boggled the mind. Still, we successfully avoided interaction.
Then came the first “post-divorce” parental event. It was our son’s 8th grade graduation at our small parochial school. Who would sit with whom? Would we take pictures as a family? Which families would be nice to my ex and not me, or vice versa? Our poor son. I’m sure it made for an anxiety ridden day. We did our best to be gracious, but it was terribly awkward and often sad. These poignant celebrations dredge up images of the loving family you once were and the broken family you are now. I remember thinking we’d had a lot more “family” events to share in the future, so we had to figure out a way to do it gracefully.
Since then, we’ve attended confirmations, school plays, sports events, and graduations. We haven’t even started on weddings and grandchildren. While it will never be totally comfortable, we have actually shared a few laughs and agreeable moments celebrating these milestones. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Keep the focus on the child for whom the event is being held.
- Your children want to enjoy their special moment. Don’t show your feelings of distain for your ex or sorrow for your loss in front of them.
- Don’t bring a date to a family event until you’re sure the relationship is fairly serious.
- Take pictures as a group. You can always get a picture alone with your son or daughter as well, but kids still want a family picture. Don’t make a big thing about it.
- Find humor in the awkward moments. Recently we were at a memorial which both my long term “significant other” and my ex attended. We sat together cordially. A guest started taking pictures and somehow took one of my boyfriend alone, then asked me and my ex to pose together. After an uncomfortable moment of silence we laughed and rectified the situation. I was heartened that we could all laugh together afterwards.
- Keep the kids out of your arguments. Do we still disagree about money and who pays for what? Yes. Do we always take the same approach in how we deal with the kids? No. But your children don’t their divorced parent bickering during special occasions in their lives.
- Older children will make their feelings known. When we’ve had parties for the kids at the house, I’ve asked them if they wanted me to invite their Dad. They always say no, that they’ll celebrate separately with him later. I leave it up to them.
Civility is often greatly lost in the process of divorce. Once it’s over, do your best to regain it. It will serve you and your children well.