Parents: 5 steps to a friendly(er) divorce

Tree For ThoughtDivorce is a slippery slope. Now there are such things as “friendly divorces”, but we all know  3 people who have successfully pulled this off and  50 more, who have not. Inevitably the tension between divorcing partners spills into the environment and can create anxiety and and guilt in their children . Me ask them to behave like gentlepeople. We correct them for bad language, and urge them to resolve problems rather than fight. So when it really counts, don’t do that either. To achieve a friendly divorce you have to create the perfect storm, but if you can only muster a light sprinkling, at the very least, have a friendlier divorce. Your children will thank you later.

These are my  humble tips. I give no statement on whether I achieved any or all of them, but rather I offer them in hindsight.#divorceewisdom

1) Accept that the way that you parent them separately should have some semblance of the way that you parented them together.

Sometimes, two (or more!) partners fundamentally disagree on child rearing. Sometimes, this is even the cause for separation or divorce. While it is certainly acceptable to enjoy your new parenting liberties, fundamental ideas that you held as important to your family before the divorce should be respected and given a safe place. While they may no longer be important to you, they may be part of the fabric of your children and a part of their identity. Your reality has changed, but give them time as they grow and develop a sense of themselves before you throw out all of the “other parent’s” rules in an act of defiance and celebration. If Sundays have always been an important family day – honour that in your new dynamic – whether you keep the old rituals or create new ones. If you have always had a special bedtime routine, your new life should also be able to accommodate this. Don’t punish the child for what makes them feel safe. Don’t dishonor the past traditions and make them feel “disloyal” if they crave some of that old stability. All transitions take time. We don’t always get to choose how much.

2) No matter how bumpy the road, don’t throw your ex under the bus and expect a smoother ride.

Anyone who has children and has weathered a rocky separation or divorce knows exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes it’s really subtle “it’s too bad your Mother doesn’t take you to the movies” or blatant “Your father is a terrible father. It’s his fault we divorced”…As true as that may feel, as righteous and proud as you may wish to trumpet, these words will not hurt the intended target. You will almost always end up in a friendly fire situation. Even if your ex is a bona-fide narcissistic twerp – when you tell a child that someone they love is a zero, they question themselves. They feel terribly guilty for feeling love toward someone who so clearly causes you angst. You transfer your frustration to the child who has far less tools to manage with than you do. You will tell your child to “suck it up” many times throughout their lives. Let this be the moment when you model it.

 

3) Don’t sabotage your future, by being stuck in the past.

You have the ability to right some wrongs when you leave a relationship that has turned toxic on some level. There is a time of reckoning when you acknowledge the role you personally played in the demise of the marriage. In healthy circumstances, that is followed by a “letting go”. If you decide to introduce a new partner to your children, and you truly wish to model “healthy love” amongst adults, don’t drag the demons of your crumbled marriage in for another partner to deal with. This will serve only to undermine your new partners’ worth. It will make them question how you could possibly be in love with them when you are so clearly still hung up on your ex. It will demonstrate to your children that change is almost impossible and that fixating on the past is healthy. You will know when you are ready to bring a new person into the scenario when you can wish your ex well, have a civil conversation and no longer lay awake at night plotting new ways to reign misery in their life.

4) Forgive yourself, forgive your ex.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s not my favourite F word either. The truth of the matter is, no matter how painful, traumatic, life changing or full of sacrifice your marriage was. It was. No amount of frustration, score keeping, lamenting or remembering will ever change the events that have already happened. No one has ever successfully wished the past untrue without deluding themselves. There’s good news however, that secret weapon that is forgiveness is exactly that. It’s the moment you realize you can’t change the events. It’s also the moment you realize you can change the way you feel about them, how often you think about them, and the story you attached to them. Look back as you may, you will only ever see your side. If you can imagine a reality where your partner “just could not see your point of view” then you have to accept that the same may also have been true for you. In a very rare instance, one partner single-handedly destroys a relationship, but it is rare indeed. More frequently, a disconnect in communication or desires goes unspoken, conflicting ideologies arise – sometimes we decide not to make a big deal out of it but secretly file it away to be pulled at a later date as ammunition. It is always important to remember that a parent is the first person who will model love and relationships for their children as well as conflict resolution and communication. We must each own our role in the breakdown. Lessons unacknowledged are destined to repeat.

5) If you can’t stand to be around each other, don’t.

The truth is, some people just never let go. Whether it is the deep feelings of love or the cavernous reality of hatred and loathing for your once-true-love…if you’ve tried all the available options, you have poured out your hearts, negotiating, fought, cried and still….if you’ve truly put your best foot forward and for some reason you just cannot be in each other’s presence without escalating, don’t. Find a friend or relative who will serve to shuttle children on ‘change of household’ days. Have children change hands after school so that they return to the other household directly and you do not have to interact if necessary. Important negotiations can be handled via legal counsel/ mediator and important communications can happen via notebook (appointments, school meetings, etc…) but this should NOT be a place where arguments occur or disputes are resolved. The notebook is purely for the good of the children. If you suspect that an unkind exchange is coming, do not allow it to happen during transitions from household to household. Anxiety is contagious. Both children and house pets are strongly impacted by your state of mind in the presence of each other. If you cannot maintain enough control to pull off a 10 second exchange, spare everyone the drama and impose a timeout. It will be difficult to set an example of maturity if you do nothing but dissolve into spoiled children when confronted with each other.

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