We have all been through a break-up. Some of us have experienced more breakups than we would like to admit. For some of us, it can be easier to move on and forget about someone once they are out of sight. However, what do you do when you have children?
You can’t ever really get away from that relationship. In fact, some days it feels like it's thrown in your face as a constant reminder of the past! While our children are the very beat of our hearts, and of course we love them, they can also be a spot of contention.
As a child of divorce not once, not twice, but three times, I kinda feel like an expert on the subject. Although I was possibly too young to remember when my mom divorced my father, I was still a part of it. I have some brief memories of short stays with him before he was stationed overseas. When he returned stateside and popped back into my life, there were the long-distance phone calls, presents in the mail, and month-long summer stays away from home. There were also comments about the other parent and statements that made me question who to believe, and caused some major upset for me.
My mom and her second husband had no kids (THANK HEAVENS), so he was gone the next day and on we went with life (which in my mind was like riding a unicorn over majestic rainbows).
My mom’s third husband, and my favorite step-dad, was my most stable example of what family is. When he and my mom divorced in my early 20’s, that was one of the toughest and hardest break-ups I witnessed and endured. Particularly where my little brother, then an early teen, was concerned. That sucked.
When I became pregnant at 22 (surprise!), my boyfriend and I made a go at creating a life for our little bundle of joy. We moved in together, got engaged, then bought a house shortly after she was born. We got married because… well, that’s what you do. We got along okay, and we did love each other. But over time the difficulties of growing into full-fledged adults: money, working, raising a kid when we had NO IDEA what we were doing, and learning who we were, started to take its toll. We fought. We grew apart. After a few years of marriage, we called it quits. It sucked. He was angry, and I was relieved. We went through your typical transition of pettiness, bad moods, passive aggressiveness, etc.
Fast-forward approximately one year… things got easier. He began dating again. I started dating again. We moved on with our lives, but in a parallel way. We still had our daughter together, and she was what was most important. We worked through things with her in mind, and put ourselves and our egos on the back burner.
Ultimately, we tried marriage, we worked hard, and it didn’t work out. That was no one's fault and we did what was best for everyone involved.
Today, my ex-husband is one of my best friends. We chat on the phone, we commiserate about owning a teen together, we celebrate each others successes, and we console each other when things suck in life. Do I want to break my phone into a million tiny little pieces when we do get in an argument? Oh, you bet I do! But guess what? I get to hang up, swear some, and then let it go. It doesn’t need to go any further because I know that in the grand scheme of things it won’t matter. I’ll be pissed off, and then I’ll get over it. If it’s something worth arguing about, then I’ll come back to it when I’m calm and can be effective.
So, how do we remain friends, despite our history?
Here are my take away's:
1. Your marriage may have “failed”, but you don’t have to let that define what happens next. Sometimes things need to grow into something different, and we need to radically accept that and move forward.
2. Take ownership of your own stuff. If you catch yourself being petty, passive aggressive, unreasonable, etc., and when you notice it… OWN IT. Apologize. Ask to start over. (Idea being that if you model it, they will follow suit).
3. The kid(s) comes first. You both are allies for your kiddo(es), so keep that in the front of your mind. Lead with that in all interactions, and I promise that over time it becomes natural and immediate.
4. You are a rubber wall. All the shit and anger your ex throws at you, bounces right back at them. That’s their stuff, not yours. Don’t take that on.
5. Don’t talk or make decisions if you are angry or crabby. That nearly never works out. If you are cranky, all the things they did that pissed you off before are bound to trigger you again when you are vulnerable. Bonus, though: You get to go back to your home and not be around it!
6. Whoever is the angrier one from the divorce… let them start dating first. Trust me on this.
7. Go out with your kid(s) together. As long as your kid(s) know that it doesn’t mean that you are getting back together, then have a meal together, go to the zoo, join-in family events with extended family. They need to see that you can still be a family; it will just look different. Different is okay.
8. Remember what brought you together. You liked something about them in the beginning. Try to remember those in place of all the crap that bugged you. Find the good. It’s still there, and maybe there are new things! When we focus on the negative, that is all we see.
9. Be happy for their successes or new relationships. Will it hurt? Fuck yeah. You had a kid together, a life. It’s bound to hurt to see someone else move on. But guess what? You get to move on, too. So move your ass. Focusing on the hurt and anger won't do anyone any good. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. You get a new lease on life, so start living it!
10. If you can’t be civil to each other... pretend. Practice. Keep working at it. Be the bigger person. Go to therapy. Read self-help books. Join a group. Just keep working. Your kid will thank you, and even if it doesn’t work, your kid will notice that you are trying.
I know that this relationship won’t work for everyone, nor should it.
Some people need to be permanently out of our lives, and if that is true, then that is what is best for everyone. This only works if both parties are capable and agree to it. You and your kid’s safety comes first.
There are probably more tips I could give you. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been so worth it. I care about my ex. He’s one of my best friends. It was not always that way, and many days it would have been easier to have never seen him again. But that is not the case, and we have made the best of a difficult situation.
Our daughter is what's important, not our egos.
So we communicate, we plan, we discuss, we support each other, we support our daughter. Our daughter knows she can’t play us against each other, that we will make her work through her issue with the other parent rather than use us to run away. Is she happier with us divorced? No. She wishes we were a whole family and has struggled, but she has two homes that are supportive, stable, and safe. As she gets older, she’ll understand that we have done our best and none of it is her fault.
So, not only do our hearts need to mend, but we also need to provide and care for our children. No matter the reasons for a separation, we are and always will be bound by that child. It’s up to us to control what we can and work towards the outcomes we hope for.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]