By Felicia Vance, BDO Staff Writer
Can’t we all just get along? Dealing with your former lover or spouse may seem impossible at times. But if you have kids, this only complicates the matter. There are just going to be days where you will have to be together. Birthdays, holidays, graduations, weddings, and other occasions will be better for everyone if the two of you agree can figure out how to be in each other’s presence, minus the drama.
Younger children are especially vulnerable. Try sticking–as much as possible–to the family’s established routine during the first holiday season. Small children won’t comprehend why things are different. So you should consider spending limited time together. As you develop new patterns of celebrating, you want your child to realize that, although things are different, they can still be happy.
Emotions–anger, sadness, bitterness–will inevitably run high over the course of those first holidays. One good way to keep them in check is to make plans in advance and then stick to them. Decide in advance, for example, how long you are going to stay and then leave at the agreed upon time. You are going to be vulnerable. So it will be important to avoid spontaneity.
Consider avoiding alcohol too. There’s usually more drinking, more alcohol, around the holidays. Limit how much you drink. Otherwise, you might be less inclined to hold back. Once you’re through that first year, you can start establishing new ways of celebrating birthdays, Thanksgiving, and other events.
For some parents, being together always brings out the worst in either one or both. If you fall into that category, getting together could very well spoil the day for your children. Self-awareness is very important. A lot of parents have it but all too many don’t. Some parents, for whatever reason, remain in high conflict, and that’s not good for the kids. If you and your ex can’t be in the same place with each other, you’re probably better off not getting together.
If both you and your ex are going to attend an event, it’s crucial that your children see that the two of you can get along. Think of your ex as a co-worker and then treating him or her accordingly. It should be a business relationship you strive for. Think of how you relate to a co-worker. You are friendly, kind, and validating. But you don’t hug and you are not intimate. Mothers and fathers who are separated should not hug or kiss–that is not part of a business relationship.
Even if you feel perfectly at ease with your former partner, signs of intimacy can be misinterpreted by children. You should be civil and warm when appropriate. Anything else would only confuse your kids.
Simply smiling at each other, making eye contact, and saying a quick hello is enough to demonstrate to the kids that you can be civil to one another. After you’ve made your pleasantries, it’s OK to move to the opposite sides of the room.
So, what do you do if you and your ex can’t stand to be around each other? Learn to take turns. For example, if Mom goes to this week’s Little League game, then Dad will go to the next. If you can take turns, then you will only have to be together for major events.
And remember: just because you are both present for your child’s celebration, you don’t have to sit together. In fact, it is better for your children to see you separate but happy rather than together and miserable.
At a graduation, for instance, it’s good for the kids to have to wave in one direction for Mom and another for Dad so that they see happy faces in both directions. It reminds them that while they may have two homes, they have one family.