Dealing with the Ex
So many of us single moms have an Ex or two in the picture. Dealing with the Ex is sometimes a rather hairy proposition because there are SO MANY emotional components to this relationship! Maybe you are happy that the @$#%! is out of your life! Maybe...you are sad. You might be confused, angry, feel inadequate, or replaced. You might feel like you failed because you were unable to force the relationship to work. Maybe you feel guilty, maybe you feel shame.
All of these feelings are a perfectly normal part of ending a relationship. We have all been through this process many times, and we know, in time, the heart will heal.
Here's the rub...you have children together. This makes dealing with the Ex an undesired necessity.
Yes...having children together throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the equation. First of all, they are children, not puppies. Your children will have their own set of emotions related to the relationship split, and dealing with their emotions and your emotions makes for some long and crazy days. Very soon I will have some advice and information for you on dealing with all of this. For now, let's focus on you.
We know an empty vessel has nothing to pour. You must work to heal yourself so that you can be a good mom to your children. This is very, very important. The saying, If momma ain't happy, nobody's happy isn't as much a saying as a fact of life. It will take some time for you to "get happy" again, and that is just fine. The point is that you are working on it. As you read this, maybe through teary eyes, you might be nodding your head saying, "Yes, yes...I will work on it! I will work to get happy!" Good for you! Stick that thought on a post it note and put it everywhere that it can serve as a reminder to you. You will have some tough days. This is OK, and perfectly normal. On those days, read your post-its to keep your eye on the prize: Happiness and Peace. They will come, and dealing with the Ex will be far less an emotional experience for you.
Salt in the Wound
Dealing with the Ex will be for less emotional as long as you don't pour salt in the wound. How do you do that you ask? You pour salt in the wound when you are a putz to your Ex. Who? You? Preposterous!! You would never do that!
I am sure YOU would never do that, but believe it or not...there are single moms who would and do. The result is that nobody heals. Not mom, not dad, and certainly not the kids. When dealing with the Ex, pouring salt in the wound serves no one.
Maintaining a civil co-parenting relationship when dealing with the Ex pivotal for positive child-rearing. No parent says, "I want to raise my kids to be screwed up crazy people who develop addictions, are incapable of participating in loving relationships, and/or spend a great deal of time spilling their problems on talk shows or Jerry Springer. But sometimes...we live as though this is exactly what we are saying.
"But my ex-husband..." Yeah...he may truly be a putz. But what are you, (To coin a phrase.) We can only control our own behavior. And as my friend Valerie says, "That's on a good day." I am going to focus here on you because...
1. You are the person reading this information, and
2. Because all you can do is focus on yourself.
You are now tied to this person pretty closely until at least the high school graduation of your youngest child. Parenting is no easy task when both parents are on the same page. I promise you things lighten up a great deal after graduation, but what do you do in the meantime?
I have a brief list of "Do's" and "Don'ts", to give you some starting advice. I would love to hear what works well for you as you are dealing with your Ex.
When dealing with the Ex...
Do keep the lines of communication open. If you can't stand talking to your Ex, email. Get as much down in writing as you can, and stick to it. Doing so will limit your need to chat. You have to make sure the Ex knows what is going on with the child, and what his/her schedule is. I KNOW it's a pain, but it is part of responsible co-parenting.
Do present a united front. I know you only have so much control over this, but exercise the control you have. You need to appear on the same page. If not, the child will feel conflicted at best, and will play you against each other at worst.
Do discuss controversial issues. Even if you don't agree, knowing where your Ex stands on the issues is important. This will help you to best address these topics with your children.
Do stick with agreements. Follow through on visitation schedules and any other agreements you and your Ex make. You need to show your kids you are a responsible person who keeps her word.
Do be cordial when swapping the kids. If you want to vomit at the mere sight of your Ex, that's OK. Just make sure your kids don't know it. Kids don't need that kind of pressure or stress. Keep things brief, but keep them polite.
Do remember that it takes time to learn how to co-parent outside a romantic relationship. You and your Ex now have to learn how to parent together. This is not easy, and you probably don't trust one another at all. I remember when I got divorced my ex ran out and got copies of the kids birth certificates and let me know he had them. I don't if he thought I was going to leave the country or something, but to say he was distrustful was an understatement. Things eventually got better. I, on the other hand, get very frustrated when I have to remind him of what is going on in the kids' lives and what this means to him as the dad. I then step back and remember that if we were still married I would probably have to remind him of all these things as well.
A break up does not lead the other person to fix everything that was annoying...that is for sure! This makes having a positive relationship with someone you have divorced or otherwise separated from, very hard indeed!
When dealing with the Ex...
DON'T USE YOUR CHILDREN TO HURT YOUR EX. This is HUGE! We all have seen this, and we have all seen the toll it takes on our kids. My pediatrician talked about this when we had our last physicals. She always asks about the relationship between me and my kids' father, and always commends us for being civil. Do I want to be civil all the time? No...I do not. However, I am a responsible parent and I will be civil. My children were not born to be pawns in a relationship gone awry, and neither were yours. Don't do this, ever, for any reason. It is abusive to your children.
Don't bad mouth your Ex in front of your children. This serves no one, and hurts lots of people.
Don't bad mouth your Ex's new partner in front of your children. See above.
Don't put your kids in charge. Depending on the circumstances of your split, the kids could be pretty mad at their parent as well. They may refuse to talk to them or visit them. You will need to summon much courage to help to repair the relationship between parent and child. A child still needs two parents if that is at all possible, and a child is truly not capable of making the decision to separate from a parent. At the same time, there are some real emotions that need to be addressed. In these cases, I urge you to get professional help.
The 'Don'ts' can be hard to follow, and you may be tempted to break these rules. Being tempted is one thing...breaking the rules is another. The consequences of breaking these rules are serious. Always step back and take a deep breath, and employ whatever stress reducing techniques you use. Come back to the issue or situation when you are ready, and seek professional help as often as necessary. Believe me, when you look back on these times once your child has become an adult...you will be happy that you took the high road, and so will your child!
Dealing with the Ex is not easy, and is often not enjoyable...but dealing with the Ex is possible. Spend a little time thinking about how you would like this relationship to work. If possible, have the conversation with your Ex. If a conversation is not a possibilty given the current state of the relationship, follow the Do's and Don't above, understanding you can only control your behavior, be open to any positive changes your Ex makes.
Your partner is also learning how to co-parent, and is learning what they can expect from you. They often settle down when they understand that you are going to be fair and civil, and that there is no need for them to be on the defensive.
Here are some additional thoughts and great advice from Rabbi Shumely:
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