There are several defining moments in the early stages of a divorce. One spouse decides to end the marriage, an attorney is hired, paperwork is filed…and then the children are told. But there is an important moment that many divorcing parents miss:
That moment when you go to war or choose to be friends for the sake of your children.
Usually that moment occurs when an affair is uncovered or a divorce negotiation goes south over money. She files for full custody; he swears he is never going to pay alimony.
And rather than make a conscious decision to be reasonable and choose peace for your children, heels are dug in and both parties want to get their way.
One party refuses to be reasonable and the other refuses to bend.
At this point, the divorce becomes a fight with both sides fueled by hurt and anger determined to win and punish their soon to be Ex. A precedent of “we will not be friends” is set since both sides feel justified.
The reality is this: in that moment you have a choice. You can choose to be friends with your Ex, even though that choice may be hard. When a marriage ends there are hurt feelings as hearts, bank accounts and dreams are all crushed. When one party is unreasonable and feels “entitled” just to take from the other, friendship can break down rather quickly. You may feel it is your right to take, or not to give, or unnecessarily drag out negotiations.
But the unintended consequence of your self-righteousness is the war your children see.
For the sake of your children, I ask that you consider a peaceful way.
Why your kids deserve peace:
Let’s face it…divorce sucks - really sucks. And it sucks even more for the children, especially if they are young. They didn’t ask for the crazy world of divorce - to live between two homes, to meet mom’s new boyfriend or to blend families. But, it can actually be better for the children NOT to live in an atmosphere of fighting and resentment.
However, when divorced parents carry hate forward and do not establish a positive co-parenting relationship, the children are caught in the middle of the crosshairs of battle which is both unfair and unhealthy for them. They see their parents talking through gritted teeth or giving each other the cold shoulder. They see bitterness. They do not see kindness and collaboration to model later on in their own lives.
If their parents do not talk, the children are left to negotiate between Mom and Dad, figuring out schedules, activities, and which parent should pay for what. This confusion places an unfair layer of responsibility on their little lives.
This is why there is no greater gift that divorced parents can give to their children than peace.
Imagine if your children were no longer in the middle of your fights and tension – if they knew that both parents were actively working together for the sake of their upbringing. Imagine doing all of this so your kids look out from the stage at the band concert and see their parents sitting together. They hear that both of you are attending their parent-teacher conferences together and are discussing cheer schedules, sporting activities, and field trip payments.
Imagine that you can have peace in your life as well. You know schedules and when they are signed up for activities. You can ask your Ex for help when you want to move around the custody schedule to accommodate a vacation. When there is a problem…with a grade, and iPhone or inappropriate behavior you have the support of the other parent to handle it. You can work with the other parent rather than feel alone like you do now. You and your Ex might even share pictures of the kids, so when you cannot attend an event you still get to see the highlights.
So, how do you become friends with your ex-spouse and move to a co-parenting relationship?
It is time to lay down your sword and be reasonable.
If you are negotiating your divorce stop fighting for money you do not need or should be earning on your own. If you cheated on her, bankrupted him, refuse to pay your child support on time and/or sued to take the kids to the other side of the country, well, this is going to take time. If you were unreasonable, greedy or feel entitled, you cannot expect she is going to open up her arms to you for a big hug on the soccer field. If your divorce is finalized and there is nothing but bad blood, high legal bills, and a trail of drama caused by you – then you are going to have to make amends.
So what do you do?
Start slow, with no expectation of a response. Maybe you could send an email… “Hey, there is this crazy woman who wrote in the Huff Po that we should be friends for the sake of the kids. Peace between us is what is best for little Susie and Michael. Can we start by attending parent teacher conferences together in November?”
If you receive a positive response then great. If you do not then keep going. Continue with communications via text or email “Timmy just got out of the dentist and has a cavity,” Send a text with Susie at the top of the cheer pyramid. Start sending your support checks on time. Do not expect the other person to forgive you or even be nice at first. It may take the intervention of a therapist, time, or a bolt of lightning, but there is a chance so keep going.
When you get frustrated just ask yourself, “In order for my children to have peace in their lives how hard am I going to work at this?” The answer from your heart will keep you going.
While I give you every good wish and hope in the world I do not want to mislead you. Sometimes miracles cannot be worked. Some people are broken, entitled, or lack the ability to even feel remorseful for the way they treated you during the divorce. They feel “entitled” to have cheated, left you with the kids, sued you for half your savings, your pension, and refuse to support the children unless it is on their terms. When someone continues to be selfish and completely unreasonable, then I understand you may not be able to find peace.
My Defining Moment:
The details of that moment for me are personal, but I will share this - it happened early on when emotions were still raw. A line was drawn in the sand by one of us and the other stepped over demanding peace for the sake of the kids. Since that time we have taken many small steps learning to work together as co-parents.
We have weathered the storm of divorce, found happiness in our lives and a friendship with each other to raise our three daughters. At times our kids have commented that this friendship is weird because we are too good of friends. After all, they see other divorced parents who do not speak at all.
My co-parent and I aren’t always singing “Kumbaya.” We both had to suck up a lot for the sake of this peace and back down on more than one occasion to treat each other as a friend. But he has been at my house on Christmas morning and shakes my husband’s hand whenever we are all together. We can all sit together at a swim meet and when our daughter looks into the crowd she sees her family…a united front, cheering for her. We have celebrated the kids’ birthdays together and agreed to take away the iPhone when warranted. When one of us has a problem with the kids, the other receives a call ready to offer support. I know he’s got my back and have tried to show him in ways big and small that I’ve got his as well. We model peace, friendship and kindness for our daughters.
Life is nothing more than a series of choices and actions. You can choose which will define you – especially to your children.