Last night I was having dinner with two divorcées and we were talking about our weeks. As I gave them the run down I realized that I had spent a lot of time with my ex this week. Then, ironically, he showed up to pick up our son, and my friend invited him to join us for dinner. He didn’t stay very long, but his mere presence at social gathering of my friends is indicative of the kind of relationship we have. We’re not only peaceful. We are friends. And, more importantly, we are family.
As I reflect back on the steps that have gotten us to such a place of unity, I decided to make a list of the most important things that divorcées can do to maintain a sense of a nuclear family both for themselves and for the sake of their children.
Put your personal conflicts aside and remember that you both want your kids to thrive.
Forget the legal battles where you sat on opposite sides of the table. Find a way to put yourself back on the same team, and that team is your family. So you aren’t married anymore. So your ex may have pissed you off and continues to do so. Be the change that you want to see. Find things that you share in common, mainly the kids, and talk about how great they are doing. Ask your ex about his or her family. Avoid hot button topics and focus on peace.
Be together for important events.
Our fifteen-year-old dog is nearing the end of her life and this week we brought her to the vet, thinking that he might recommend putting her to sleep. We went together as a family. I explained the situation to my kids, who are 6 and 8, and they said they wanted to be there, and so did my ex. [pullquote]This was a moment that transcended any of our conflicts and we were united in our attempts to make a very important decision for our dog, who was really our first child.
Be the kind of couple that can attend together kids’ school events, family parties, holiday gatherings. It is so important to children to have both of their parents involved in the significant moments of their lives. At my daughter’s kindergarten graduation (I know, they do ceremonies for everything now), a father was there with his new girlfriend and her daughter sitting in the front row. When his ex-wife arrived, the mother of his son, he asked the daughter to move so that they could all sit together. I was so happy to see that and I praised him for such a smart move. Honor and respect the parent of your children and they will eventually honor and respect you. Sharing the successes of your children will also remind you and your ex of the love and bond that you once shared.
Create new family rituals.
When we first separated, I still had my ex over for dinner several times a week. Then things got tenser, we started to date other people, and we realized that we were no longer married and couldn’t act like we were. Now, three years later and with some ups and downs along the way, we have a weekly family night dinner. I make something special to eat, and he cleans the kitchen, just like we did many years ago. We try to avoid controversial topics and we tend to focus on the kids. When we do talk, I try to tell him funny stories about my family or people we know or maybe bring up sports or politics, things that I know that we agree upon. This Friday, my ex played baseball in the backyard with Jonah, while I helped Layla make jewelry. The kids love having two parents to give them undivided attention like that. They also like having us interact peacefully, as we often play games together or watch a TV show like “So You Think You Can Dance.” Those kinds of activities put us into neutral territory in which we are unlikely to fight.
Do family outings together.
This is not a step to take in the beginning of a separation process. I know because we tried it and ended up fighting in the car together. When tempers have softened, however, it can be a great way to bond and it is, of course, special to the kids. It can be something local and easy like bowling, a fair, or going to see friends. This week we went to New York City with the kids and their godparents, spent the night in CT, and went to the beach the next day just the four of us. It was a long time to be together, but we made it work.
We remind ourselves that the kids are forming lifelong memories right now, and we certainly want those memories to be sweet. My kids have already forgotten how we used to fight, and frankly, I couldn’t be more thrilled about that.
I recently found a good co-parenting resource that I put on my blogroll. It’s called Co-Parenting 101. Divorce ends marriages…but families endure. Check it out.
Also new on my blog site is an e-mail subscription box that will deliver my postcards to your email inbox each time I write a new one. Check that out too.
If you have any co-parenting tips to share with other readers, please comment. I always love when people join in on the discussion.