Nobody will tell you it's easy! After a separation, many would rather not have to deal with their ex. However, when you have a family and children are involved, you can’t forget about your past and never see your ex again -as much as you wish too. They are many other important factors to consider.
First (and very difficult) step
A separation first brings us to reflect upon ourselves. It’s an emotionally difficult event because it stirs up a lot of memories, decisions, and frustrations that we’d never had before, and pushes us to question ourselves. We, as individuals, often have to make difficult choices. We have to be able to manage the situation with a clear mind, which is sometimes hard to do because the situation is emotionally loaded. Some of us get help from a therapist in order to make sense of everything that is going on in our lives... and that is totally okay! We feel guilty, we’re angry and sad, and we’re wondering what our lives will be like from now on. It's very unsettling and it is normal to experience a ton of sometimes conflicting emotions.
Before you can start building a good relationship with your ex, one of the first steps to take is to do the groundwork on yourself to be able to communicate without having your emotions take over. Time is a good ally because it helps you distance yourself from the whole situation, which is essential to be more thoughtful and less emotional.
Focus on communication
Since it’s important to offer children a united family despite the separation, we have to be able to develop a cordial relationship with our ex. Some people keep their ex among their best friends, others struggle to speak to them without feeling resentful, others establish some new rules: be cordial and respectful, and the line ends there. Each person is responsible for establishing a new balance. Usually, the relationship will be more harmonious as time goes by. Of course, both exes must act mature, even if they’re not a couple anymore, and leave the blaming or the guilt out. Acting like an adult means being able to put the resentment towards the other aside and focus on what still unites both of you: your children.
Indeed, for the separation to be experienced smoothly by children and parents, we must maintain a certain level of communication. Each parent must find the way that best serves the family.
- Update each other once a week by phone, if possible when the children are asleep or at school to prevent them from hearing the adult conversations.
- Have a family meeting with the kids at the beginning of the school year, for example, to determine a common game plan despite the separation (ideal for choosing extracurricular activities).
- Use a communication tool adapted to your reality. It’s difficult to talk because tensions quickly rise? You can exchange e-mails (as things happen or once a week). Some parents use a logbook in which they each write what happened with the children when they were with them. This will keep the line of communication open regarding everything, from the children's emotions to the evolution of a cold, for example. This way, you continue to be a team and neither parent feels cut out from the children's lives.
- Each month or quarter, set a clear agenda by taking into account everyone’s professional and personal obligations. Find a common ground that works for both of you. It will give you peace of mind and your children will be reassured.
- Some subjects are a little bit more difficult (child support, new spouses, etc.), so it’s a good idea to meet in a public place to talk about it. That way, it will remain respectful and will have less chances of getting out of hand, if you're on bad terms.
Ideally, both parents will make efforts to maintain a good relationship. For some it’s easy, but for others, it’s a little harder. To achieve this, it is sometimes necessary to remember some key words that will guide us: respect, cooperation, listening and letting go.
- Respecting the shared custody arrangements. It also means arriving on time, taking care of children properly when they are with us and turning to the other parent if needed. In some families, if the parent who has the children must go somewhere, they must ask the other parent if he/she can take care of the children before turning to a babysitter.
- Does your ex have to travel for work? A good way to be accommodating is to offer your help. You never know when you’ll, in turn, need them.
- In front of a special request (for example: taking the child to a hockey game during a week when the other parent has custody), avoid being inflexible and outright refusing. Assess the situation according to the child’s desire. It doesn’t mean that you should say yes to every request, but simply that you should not say no just to make your ex angry!