Monday, January 24, 2011

Getting Along With Your Ex For Your Kids’ Sake

Many of us know the experience of falling in love with Mr. or Mrs. Right. It’s such a thrill when we feel we’ve met the person we want to spend the rest of our life with. We get together, get married and have kids. Sometimes we have kids without being married as well. But whatever the case, when kids are involved, we’re opened up to a whole new world. Things are never quite the same.

For many, theirs is a storybook “happily ever after” life – married with kids, nice house with a white picket fence, dogs in the yard and life is good. Then for others, their life is quite the opposite. It becomes the manifestation of the term “it’s a thin line between love and hate.” Like in the movie War of the Roses, with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, their happy dream home becomes a nightmare.

I have often stated that I don’t believe that many people really plan to get married, have kids and get divorced. Yet, in reality, in the United States, over 50% of marriages do end in divorce. Many of these marriages produced children. Let me also include the many couples that have children without being married. I saw on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams a month or so ago that for a growing segment of the population, marriage is becoming obsolete. Anyway, regardless of whether a couple is married or not, when they go apart and kids are involved, it’s never easy.
On today’s post, I seek to share some thoughts on what it takes to have a successful working relationship with the other parent when a relationship that produced kids has ended. Some of it is based on my own experience. Some of it is based on what I believe to be true from learning from others.
I share this advice knowing that it can be extremely difficult dealing with some exes. Many can be totally unreasonable. Many are bitter after relationships end on a sour note. Some seem determined to ruin the life and reputation of the person who they feel is the worst thing that ever happened to them. I share these thoughts with full knowledge of this. But I believe that as men and women who mean our kids well, we need to make the effort to resolve our differences, if only for the sake of the kids.
Here are my thoughts and recommendations:

1.   Never speak negatively about your ex in your kids’ presence. This can be quite difficult, I know, but it’s very necessary. Our kids are smarter than we think. If one party is to blame, in time they will figure it out – we don’t have to say a word. When we say things to our kids that are negative about their other parent, they often end up resenting us. That’s not our intent but that’s what results. We should shield them as much as possible from the negative things the other parent does. I know of kids who have developed a strained relationship with one parent because they hate the fact that they are always negative about their mom or dad.

2.   Develop a heart of forgiveness.  When relationships end on a sour note, it really does leave a bad taste in our mouths – that’s what a sour note does! For us to move on and be healed and whole, we need to forgive the other person if we feel wronged. For the most part, people like to live and love and enjoy life. We don’t like to be bitter and angry and resentful. Yet, when we feel that our ex hurt us, those traits naturally manifest themselves. What happens all too often is that we allow what we feel someone did against us to control us to the degree that we become bitter, angry people. We’re better than that, aren’t we? Forgiving the other person disarms them. They no longer have power or control over us when we do that. We should tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter what they did or will ever do. Another person cannot and should not control us or make us become persons who we are not.

3.   Be respectful in your communication with your ex. When relationships end and no kids are involved, it’s relatively easy. Because as messy as that process might become, when it ends, it ends. We never have to see our exes again. When there are kids, however, it becomes a bit more complicated. We all have to deal with each other for the rest of your lives. Our communication with our exes – whether on the phone, in person, by email or text message – should be respectful. Some exes become good friends. But others just have a cordial relationship for the sake of the kids. I know a woman personally who was so angry during her divorce that she not only belittled her former husband in front of the kids, but she also wrote mean spirited emails and text messages to him. Those written forms of communication ended up in court and they were the very things that the judge referenced when he awarded custody of their two kids to the man.

4.   Ensure your kids communicate with your ex when they’re with you. This point is important. Whether we like it or not, our kids have two parents. We may not like the other parent too much but still, that other person is a parent. We should not alienate the kids from the other parent when they’re with us. I believe that that affects them in a negative way. If our kids are used to being with mom and dad all the time and mom and dad break up, they still want both parents. So if they are physically with one, they want to be able to pick up the phone and call or otherwise contact the other. Particularly at special times – birthdays, Christmas Day, etc – kids want to talk to their moms and dads. Please don’t allow your negative impression of the other parent to cloud your judgment.

These are just some tips that I believe are helpful in producing a positive working relationship with our exes. Am I good friends with my ex? Hardly. Do I wish it were otherwise? Certainly. But still, I told myself in the midst of the turmoil of my divorce so long ago, that it doesn’t matter what she ever says or does, I am bound by my actions.

So I have chosen to be as respectful as possible, while seeking to create and cultivate an environment that fosters a productive relationship. When our marriage ended, my initial instinct was to be bitter. But time has taught me well – it is better to become better than to remain bitter. My daughter is certainly better for it and I know that my working relationship with my ex is better as well.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these things. Perhaps you have additional tips. Or perhaps you may want to share your experience with our readers. Please feel free to add a comment to this post. Your input is valued greatly.
Life can be very challenging in many ways. If we’re left broken-hearted as a result of a broken home, let’s rise above the harsh feelings and promote reconciliation, if only for the sake of our kids. We can get along with our exes if we make the effort by adhering to principles such as those suggested in this post. We have more power than we might know. Let’s do the right thing and promote an atmosphere of peace.

Enjoy your day.
The Upbeat Dad


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