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We never got along married, how will we get along divorced
When I got married and had kids, I never thought I would wind up divorced. I am sure that this is the same thought my own parents did not have 33 years ago. Divorce can be a huge stressor or even a crisis event for divorcing parents and their children, how the parents handle the divorce directly affects the children. My own parents could not be in a room together, other than a courtroom, from the time they divorced when I was six until my brother’s wedding over twenty years later. I cannot stress to you how big of a negative affect this had on both my brother and me. However, it did give me a perfect model of how not to handle my own divorce.
Now many marriages end in divorce for many different reasons and some are more amicable than others, but either way how the parents communicate with one and other is impactful to the children. Knowing how uncomfortable it made me to hear my parents talk down about the other or how the fact that it took them twenty years to learn to be amicable for the sake of my brother and me, I knew going into my divorce that my ex-husband and I had our work cut out for us. As with most divorces, there was anger and pain, and much turmoil related to our divorce, which makes communicating very difficult. However, we both agreed that in order to continue to provide the best possible environment for our children, we would have to learn to communicate and parent together, while living separately.
The first step we took in learning how to continue to successfully parent together was getting help! While we knew how to parent, doing it from two different households was something neither of us knew nothing about and while we could not agree on anything (seriously folks, we agreed on nothing during the divorce – except the kids) we agreed that we needed help if we wanted to do this right. I was able to find a co-parenting class through the county that we both enrolled in, we decided to take the class together, so we both could hear the same message from the same instructor at the same time, as well as possibly learn to start talking to one and other about the kids through role playing or exercises in the class. This class was very beneficial in helping us towards the first step of learning that our divorce had nothing to do with our children, and as such we had to treat the parenting aspect of the divorce as a separate entity entirely.
One of the things we as adults hear is that children inevitably blame themselves for a divorce, regardless of what their parents tell them. While parents can repeatedly tell their children that the divorce is not their fault, when the children sees or hears their parents fight during custody exchanges or while discussing issues regarding the children, this only reinforces the feelings of fault that the children feel. This means that parents need to learn to communicate calmly, especially when doing so about or around the children, even if they do not think the children are listening or can hear it. Parents need to change their behavior in entirety in regards to communicating about or in front of their children, so that it becomes habit. In the beginning it will be uncomfortable and even frustrating but after time it will become more natural. Parents need to remember that they are parents first and always.
While your ex spouse may never be your best friend or someone you want to grab a drink with at happy hour on Wednesday night you need to learn how to communicate calmly and in a positive manner for the sake of your children. Remember, it is only awkward if you make it awkward; if you treat it like a business and communicate with your ex spouse as you would with a client or business partner, it can seem a bit less forced or unnatural. Another important tip, is that if you need to discuss something that could touch a nerve or get heated (you know what sets your ex off, use it to your benefit to avoid those situations), instead of bringing it up in person, first send an email and let them know that you want to talk to them about whatever the topic may be and suggest a time or place where you can discuss it (like at a custody exchange) or even try to resolve the matter over email entirely.
I know that it takes two to communicate effectively, but it is so important for parents to learn to walk away and not make situations worse. Instead of engaging in an argument or pushing a conversation to that point, you need to learn that it is okay to let things go and come back to them later. Remember the Golden Rule here folks – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This does not give you license to call your ex a name if they do it first; the Golden Rule is golden because you should hold it above all else, even when others are treating you in a manner that is hurtful or frustrating, continue to hold the upper hand by maintaining composure or learning to remove yourself from the situation for the time being.
The lesson here is that your children did not ask to be born into this situation or ask you to get married or divorced or to even have them so do not allow them to become collateral damage in your divorce. Trust me; they will thank you for it in the long run. My children will never know what it feels like to have parents that cannot even be in the same room as one and other. Many of you may think that your divorce scenario is worse than mine, but I assure you what brought about my divorce was not simply irreconcilable differences or a change of heart. We had a bad situation that we were able to turn around for our children. It did not happen overnight, as a matter of fact it was quite the opposite, it took a lot of time and attention to mold our post divorce relationship to one that we can be amicable for our children. I am positive if we can do it, anyone can you just need to have the desire, drive and commitment to do what is best for your children.
Remember to ask for help, be it from friends, family, co-workers, or a public assistance agency. There are adult education classes out there as resources for us. Many employers even offer EAP benefits that include a few counseling sessions or in finding resources to help you post divorce.