By now, you are through your separation (either through divorce or otherwise) and you now have to deal with issues regarding the children. Let me tell you, whether you are “exes” or not, conflict is inevitable, especially when children are involved. But, it doesn’t have to be so bad, if you remember first and foremost, to put the children first, as well as a few other pointers I have gained through witnesses many of my clients’ scenarios:
Understand the Difference Between a Typical Conflict and Serious Conflict. As I said, conflict is inevitable. But, it is important to realize what is “true” conflict and what is just “normal” discussion and disagreement about parenting decisions. Once you start to understand that parents are not always going to agree about decisions involving the children, you will gain an appreciation for what is really worth getting upset about. Do not be too quick to conclude that you are unable to co-parent with your ex. Rather, realize that despite the separation, conflict management is essential to all relationships, regardless of status. I assure you, this realization will take some of the fuel out of the fire next time there are crosswords exchanged.
Establish Boundaries with Your Ex. In addition to assessing conflict resolution methods, it is important to establish boundaries with your ex. This includes boundaries regarding how you would like them to communicate with you, such as reserving text messages or email for non-emergencies only. I often find that reserving all communication to text messages or emails, in non-emergency situations, works best for my high-conflict clients. That way, there is a record about what was communicated, in the event of misunderstanding. Additionally, boundaries should be set regarding what is and what is not appropriate to communicate to each other. Establishing boundaries early on will set the tone for the future.
Keep a Journal. This is one the most common pieces of advice I give to clients. Keep a journal! Write down notes about the children regarding appointments, schedules and even their feelings. Also, write down what you did with the kids while you were together. This is not only a tool for better communicate, but it can be fun to read what the children are up to while they are away from you. In addition, I also hear clients find it often fun to look back years later and remember what they did with their children over the years. Trust me on this one!
Respect Each other’s Time. This should go without saying, but I all too often get calls from clients who simply do not value or respect each other’s time. This applies to showing up on time for exchanges, as well as respecting that there are times where one parent may want time with the child for a special occasion that may interfere with the ex’s scheduled parenting time. I tell my clients to remember to respect each other’s desires for special requests, because in the future, he or she will also need a similar request. While the visitation schedule is court ordered, this does not mean that parents can’t be kind and respectful if one has a very special request that interferes with the other’s parenting time. I believe schedules should be fluid and when one parent needs a favor, the other parent should be willing to acquiesce, knowing that he or she will also need a favor in the future.
Choose You Words (and Timing) Carefully. You may be tempted to blurt out every thought that comes to mind about how you feel about your ex. However, it is important to consider your words carefully and ensure that when you speak you stay on topic. Don’t bring up an old argument for arguments sake – move on and let go. Also, make sure to discuss emotional topics and arguments out of the presence of the children, they have been through enough, don’t drag them through your issues!
Finally, remember that your ex is and will always be your children’s other parent. Try to maintain a long-range view of what you hope to accomplish and realize that getting there will require a lot of patience and cooperation. You ex is your ally. Remember this isn’t about you, it’s about your children!
Getting to a point where you can genuinely collaborate with your ex is yet another step in the healing process, and I guarantee it will feel great when you get there!