Kay Ralph is the nome de plume of a very good friend of mine, who has been there and done that regarding divorce. She has graciously written several articles for me, and I want to thank you for her wisdom and wit. Enjoy!
Good things can happen for the kids when ex-spouses bury the hatchet, and everybody wins.
When my ex and I divorced, we did it in bitter acrimony, like almost everyone does, even the so called “amicable” or “best of friends” Hollywood divorces. Some are more bitter than others, but most of us are hurt. And mad. And embarrassed. And scared, whether or being alone or failing again, we are scared.
I look back on the year or so after my divorce, and I wish I could take back a few of the things I said and did. I fanned the fuel of my ex’s anger, and I showed my own in front of my children. Only a few times, but that was more than enough.
I am very proud, though, of the ex spouses we have become. Even at our worst, we spoke the language of “best interest of the children.” We disagreed on what that looked like. We disagreed on everything for 12 years, though, so why would now be any different? But we each decided (and I intentionally use the word DECIDED) to believe that the other acted in the sincerely believed best interest for our two kids. If that were true, then, at worst, we only disagreed. We did not truly have a battle where one was good and the other evil.
It still took us two years to finalize a custody agreement. And a lot of money. OK, so what. We got there. Life goes on.
This post would be a lot more exciting if I shared the list of things I regret. Instead, I want to tell you the things we did right and in the end the result we achieved. I hope that by doing so, readers will focus on positive things they can do to achieve the same type of results.
1. We always assumed that, agree with each other or not, best interests came first to both of us. See above.
2. We talked respectfully about each other AND THE NEW SIGNIFICANT OTHERS in front of the kids. With a few slip ups in the beginning. And apologies to the kids and to each other in front of the kids after the slip ups. Yes, to each other.
3. We attended the same events, separately, to show united support of the kids. Even when it made us uncomfortable. Even if the other spouse brought their new partner. Because the kids were more important than our feelings.
4. We included each other in all aspects of our children’s lives. We shared emails, report cards, pictures, and, occasionally anecdotes. We co-parented. We sought support on major issues and ensured we agreed or could amicably disagree.
5. We learned to wish each other the best. We forgave. And, over time, we forgot a lot.
Interestingly, my spouse and his ex were not able to do these things. A comparison of our little sociological experiment in ex-co-parenting is interesting. My ex makes it OK for my kids to love my husband, to talk about him, and to show their affection for him. My husband’s kids are put to a continual loyalty test where to do less than dislike and talk badly about me is high treason. My kids’ relationship with my husband is fantastic. My husband’s kids relationships with me are strained. All of our kids are great people who will do well in life. And, mine are noticeably less anxious and stressed. It could be a coincidence, but I truly believe that by living 1-5, above, my ex and I have given our children a tremendous gift that allows them to feel secure and loved, and under no pressure from their parents any different from kids whose parents remain married.
Most notably, recently the personal circumstances of my oldest child led my ex and I to agree that the child needed a more stable home life. Our custody agreement required a 50/50 split. My ex came to me, with tears in his eyes, and said that he believed it was in the best interests of our son to live with me full time, and have visits with his dad. Not because he (or I) believed my ex was not a great parent. He was and is. But because we agreed I could give our son the best stability.
That’s putting the best interests of the child first.
And that can’t happen if you don’t bury the hatchet.
By no means are we perfect. I don’t love this man, and sometimes I don’t like him. There’s still anger there if I look below the surface and dwell on the negative. I daresay he would say similar of me. But those are self indulgent emotions, and to allow myself the luxury of focusing on my feelings is not in the best interest of my children. I’ve done it. At my worst I still do. But I always regret it and refocus on the positive.
I love the advice someone once gave me: “Do the behavior and the attitude will follow.” I believe it. The side benefit? The more I focus on the positive and do the behavior of respectful co-parenting, the more of the past I forget. In other words, focusing on my kids helped me move on and heal. Win-win.
We certainly didn’t do it perfectly, but we did enough right that in the end we are proud of the result we achieved as divorced co-parents.