Have you ever been unable to enjoy one of your kids’ sporting games or school activities because you’ve spent the whole time on the look-out for your Ex? Does planning your child’s birthday party sound like great fun until you start thinking about if you have to invite your Ex and in-laws? When you arrive at the exchange, are you tense and in a bad mood for your kids immediately when they see you or are saying goodbye and maybe for the next hour because of the stress of interacting with your Ex?
Our Brain Tries Hard to Protect Our Heart
Our brain tries to protect our heart from pain and harm by creating a defensive shield. We think if we can anticipate a bunch of bad outcomes, we’ll be prepared to handle whatever happens. Unfortunately, this often works against us and sets us up for things to be worse than they have to be. Instead of our primitive brain just helping us be prepared for a dangerous animal to jump out of a bush (as in our ancient ancestor’s days) we begin to create scenarios that are not necessarily real.
We begin to imagine all of the bad outcomes that could happen and start to assume the worst about the other person It’s natural but it’s not good for getting through exchanges. You begin thinking your Ex will never agree to your request, that you’ll never see eye-to-eye on how to raise your kids, that saying anything is going to start a huge fight. This automatically makes you defensive and reactive and keeps you from having a normal interaction with your Ex and being happy and positive for your kids.
We Can Bring Our Brain Into the Present
Negative emotions – fear, anger, sadness, can be overwhelming to our thoughts. Evolution has made these emotions dominate to help keep us safe. Our ancestors didn’t save themselves from danger by being eternal optimists. What saved us was always being on the look-out for dangers. Thankfully, we live in a pretty stable world and our primitive brain isn’t as necessary as it once was. It still works hard though to keep us safe. Once we focus in on potential conflict, it is very difficult to break that train of thought, but the last thing you want to do when you have time with your kids is to be thinking about your Ex. What a waste!!!!
Everyone Can Agree Thinking About Your Kids is a GOOD Thing!
There are a lot of hints & tips for how to not let your Ex bother you, but one effective way to ‘train your brain’ is to just think about your kids! When you start getting worked up about interacting with your Ex, think about these things instead:
What are you going to do with the kids during your time with them?
What do you think they have done since you saw them last?
Have you done anything you need to fill them on?
Is there a project or outing you can do together?
What is your favorite memory of them?
What can you do to make things better for them?
What is going on in THEIR brains?
More Than Anything, You Don’t Want Your Kids to Be Scared or Sad
Exchanges are a brief reunion of family that can help give children a sense of security but when conflict occurs they believe it is because of them. They don’t know you are grouchy because of the adult problems surrounding your relationship, they just know that exchanges are a negative experience that they would rather avoid. If exchanges often have their parents in bad moods, then the normal stress of switching homes comes with a whole new set of problems and the kids begin to dread the exchange as much as you do.
This should be a happy time! This is a time that reinforces the consistency of the parenting plan that gives structure to your children’s lives. It’s a time of reunion and a reminder that the family unit and child-parent bond is the strongest relationship humans can have. Find resources, find a little extra help, do what is necessary to make it a good experience for you and for your children! Keep them in the forefront of your mind and you’ll have the strengths to make things will better!