Today you are married. Tomorrow you are divorced. For most people this is a difficult transition to make. Sometimes you may feel the need to invoke divine intervention in order to remain calm when dealing with your ex. Understandably, it can be stressful and painful. But remember, it is the best interest of the children that you need to focus on in order to ensure that your children’s needs are met. Here are some general rules to help you:
1. When you speak to your former spouse- avoid the temptation to insult or yell at them. Even if the pain of the divorce is fresh and you are quite certain your ex is a psychopathic monster sent to torment you- this type of communication will only lead to problems. On the other hand, if your ex starts to speak in abusive manner to you- don’t allow him or her to ramp you up and pull you into the screaming match. Simply end the phone conversation and suggest you reassess the issue when he or she has calmed down. If all conversations seem to lead to nasty verbal banter then try using email as a forum for communication in lieu of the phone.
2. Avoid excessive communication. Making several phone calls a day can be perceived as harassing. Calls and text messages should be limited to necessary communication. Try to focus the conversation on the children. Unless you have something important to communicate emails may be a less intrusive method for simply transferring information between you. Unless you want to talk about the children, don’t get in touch with your ex. The relationship is over and the primary link you have is coparenting. Do not ask for help with repairs, personal issues or invite them out to dinner.
3. Try not to make demands of your ex. When communicating about your desires try to soften your language. For example, instead of saying “if you bring the diaper bag back empty again I will go nuclear on you…” try something like…”would you be kind enough to refill the diaper bag before returning the kids home?” Using please and thank you- fundamental lessons we ourselves learned as children- are still equally effective today.
4. Never speak negatively about your spouse in the presence of your children. Contrary to popular belief, this will not make you look like the “good one” to your family. It only serves to confuse them and children should be protected from the drama of divorce as much as possible.
5. If you have information that needs to be communicated to your ex, do not use the kids to relay the information. Children have enough to cope with: parents moving, visitation schedules, and other changes in their environment. Contact your ex directly regarding any issues that require attention. It’s not fair to make your child the “middle man.”
6. Do not interrogate your children about their visitation with your ex. Even if you REALLY want to know if your ex-husband’s new girlfriend is wearing a bikini or your ex-wife’s boyfriend has a tattoo. When your children return from visitation ask them if they had a good time and leave it at that. Do not be nosy since this only serves to increase the level of tension. Believe me, if children want you to know something- they are going to tell you!
7. Coordinate with your ex about visitation. In case there is any change to the usual visitation schedule it is advisable to contact your ex in advance to minimize controversy. Ensure that you treat each other in a respectful manner. If you know a week in advance that you can’t exercise your visitation because you have a work obligation- let everyone know early. That will allow your ex to make plans with the children in your absence and will likely create a more harmonious environment when you request extra time with the children.
8. Do not sabotage your ex’s family events. When you have to drop the children off for a special event, make sure that you do so in a timely fashion. Withholding the children from participating in family events or causing everyone to be late on purpose in order to hurt your ex will likely only end up hurting the children.
9. If your spouse re-marries, don’t “trash talk” your ex’s new spouse. Remember they may play a major role in children’s lives. This kind of behavior often makes children feel the need to take sides- and when that happens- no one wins…especially the children. The reality is- the more people a child has to love and support them- the better off they are.
10. Children do best when they have consistency and stability in their lives. Have frank conversations with your ex about the methods of discipline you use with the children. Try to have similar consequences for bad behavior. Children’s schedules are also very important. Coordinate with your spouse about meal times, homework and bed times. Also, coordinate on the medical needs of the children- this is especially important if you have a child with a recurring problem such as allergies or asthma.
Try to monitor your stress levels. Talk to friends or a therapist about your frustration with your ex rather than rant in front of your children. While some of these rules might sound tough, or even impossible to follow, remember they are in the best interest of your children. You don’t have to be particularly fond of your ex in order to do a great job of co-parenting your children together. Remember, compromise is sometimes necessary but you will be setting a great example for your children.