So many times after we go our separate ways we wish our Ex would just disappear. The constant stress and difficulty of dealing with someone who carries reminders of hurt and broken dreams, perhaps even regrets, is a horrible situation to be in. But every study ever done shows that kids must retain the parent-child bond with both parents in order to feel secure, safe and to be able to make sense of their world moving forward into adulthood. Because we are willing to do absolutely anything to protect our children and keep them healthy, we face the decisions we have made and continue to interact with this ‘person’.
Changing your perception of your Ex is never easy, but if you can move from thinking about your Ex as someone you would prefer to never see again to looking at your Ex as someone who you used to know and who loves your children, YOUR life will be a million times easier today and every day after. It’s worth the work!
Here are 5 tips to get you on your way to make co-parenting with your Ex easier:
1. Chanel your inner Buddhist or favorite Beatles star.
It is what it is. Live and let live. You can’t change someone – I bet you’ve tried! Probably at some point you have attempted to make your Ex love you more/nicer/more involved with the kids/less dramatic/more dramatic/funny/interesting/flexible/responsible/a Democrat/a Republican/the perfect person . . . People are resistant to change so just STOP! It takes a lot of work but you are going to have to Let It Be: your Ex is just who they are.
Vent to your friends, write down your rant, turn your phone’s voice notes on and let loose but realize that there is no point in fighting with your Ex over how they see the world! Maybe one day they will evolve, maybe this split is what it will take and they will reevaluate their life and past choices but it will have to come from within them. If you didn’t make them into the perfect person while you were together, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to work that magic now that you are apart. Recognizing this will make things easier for you and help you to detach.
2. Cater to your Ex’s strengths.
If your Ex is better at some things than others – jump on it!!! Use that to everyone’s advantage. If your Ex loves sports, let your Ex have the kids an extra weekend during that season. If your Ex loves to cook, give your Ex one extra night where the exchange is after the kids eat dinner at their house. The easier it is for your Ex the less stress they will have which means the happier you and your kids will be. You know this is hard – it is also hard for them. Just making one nice gesture can make things a million times easier for everyone.
On the flip side, if your Ex is really bad at some things, instead of just griping at them and asking them to make a fundamental change in their personality, brainstorm some work-arounds. If your Ex doesn’t enforce or help with homework, plan in advance; find a ‘study buddy’ for the kids to meet while with your Ex or try to get the kids to stay at school for an hour before they get picked up by your Ex. If your Ex never sends home clean clothes, just accept that you are 100% responsible for your children;’s laundry. Of course it’s not fair but you’re not doing it for your Ex, you are doing it for your kids and fighting over it is much worse for you and your kids than the pain of doing extra loads of wash. It’s never about what is ‘fair’ it’s about what gives you and your kids the most net happiness. Whatever it is that is driving you crazy – doing nothing or doing the same thing will never help you evolve from your current situation. You have nothing to lose by thinking up other options and trying something new!
3. Stop letting your kids complain!
Always listen to your children! ALWAYS!!! But once you have established they are not in physical or emotional distress don’t let them complain about your Ex! Sure it might feel good to hear about how dirty the Ex’s bathroom is but it’s not helping anyone, especially you. The Ex might not be as exciting, cook the same way, be as flexible, adhere to the same values, but if it is not an immediate threat to your child’s well-being then you don’t need to know. It will only frustrate you, further diminish your opinion of your Ex, and make conflict and stress more likely. Tell them to be glad they are able to see different ways to live their life so as they get older they will be able to make active choices about who they want to be. Let your children talk freely about their other parent and other home but if the complaining is excessive, change the subject: they may be just telling you what they think you want to hear.
4. Treat your Ex like a stranger.
Instead of picturing the room in their underwear, pretend you are talking to your favorite aunt, a co-worker, or even the cashier at the grocery store. You don’t have to be nice or charming but try to be more reserved in what you say and more open to what you hear. You may walk away from a stranger thinking ‘They were awful!’ but you don’t confront them or feel like it’s your responsibility to correct them and make them a better person. You are polite and act in a detached, respectful manner. Speak with a neutral tongue and listen with a neutral ear.
5. Have NO expectations!
You should have one expectation: your children will always be safe. But in general, don’t expect your Ex to be on time, bring what they were supposed to, or treat you with warmth and affection. I have a secret to tell you: your Ex is flawed!!! It doesn’t mean that their behavior is okay; you still have every right to communicate to your Ex about how their behavior is affecting you and/or the children but also be prepared that this is who they are and come prepared. Make the exchange at a park where you and the kids can be on the playground if you have an Ex who is always late . Bring books or other entertainment if you are going to have to wait in the car. Don’t count on your Ex remembering to bring that one item ‘this time’. Take control of what you can and adjusting your expectations will allow you to determine what is truly within your control; you will feel empowered, independent, and less stressed!
All of these tips are ways that you can begin to detach, set boundaries and become less enmeshed with your Ex. When you start to evolve into your new life communication will get better and you’ll be able to put behind you the broken promises and emotions from the past . Once some time and distance are between you and your Ex and you can accept your Ex for the flawed, less-than-perfect person that they are (because we ALL are) the less their shortcomings will drive you crazy and the easier co-parenting will become.