— Susan Dedeluk, Modern Divorce (www.ModernDivorce.ca)
As a divorce mediator for the last 15 years, it’s astonishing to me that I wasn’t able to make my separation the most smooth and painless process possible – although I’m still sure we managed better than most. Reflecting a year later – I’ve learned some pretty valuable insights. Here is my Top 10:
1. When you think it really matters, it probably really doesn’t.
Little disagreements turn into big disagreements. Fast. Even when you are fairly amicable! Nothing propels you into that sense of flooding like a good old-fashioned disagreement with your Ex. Except now you don’t really have the motivation to talk it out before going to bed. Bad feelings fester without discussion, and assumptions about what and why the other parent is doing run rampant.
Welcome to your new life of constant concessions and rearrangements. You are now officially the masters of your own universes and this comes with both a lot of freedom, and a lot of potential for disagreements over details that really don’t matter.
What DOES matter is your ability to communicate with the other parent. What DOES matter is that you are able to continue to conduct yourselves in a manner that will make your kids proud (maybe not proud today, but eventually. You know what I mean). This means letting go of the little things that he or she changes, disagrees with, accidentally makes plans that conflict with, or when you feel the other parent is just plain trying to be difficult because they don’t feel like being accommodating. Guess what? They don’t have to accommodate you if they don’t want to. If it doesn’t REALLY matter, let it go. Don’t fight out of ‘principle’; it’s just not worth it. “But things need to be decided! I can’t just let it go!”, people tell me. Read on…
2. Always have a plan.
Always know who is in charge of the kids at any given time. ALWAYS. This doesn’t mean that you can’t change plans, switch weekends, fly by the seat of your pants if you want to – but co-parenting without a ‘plan’ (preferably one that’s written down somewhere) that you can fall back on should communication become difficult is like going on a boat. A small boat, in a storm, without a lifejacket. It’s just dumb. Have a basic plan that is a starting point for future negotiations. And should a disagreement occur anyway (which they inevitably will) …
3. Know when to walk away.
You don’t have to solve every problem the minute that it’s brought up. Often the best solutions are ones that come to us after we have some time to reflect (Does this really matter? – see number 1). Give yourself some time and space to think through decisions, especially if the other parent is requesting something that your initial response to (in your head of course) is “are you kidding me? no freaking way!”. Respond thoughtfully after consideration. “Give me some time with that thought – I’ll get back to you in a couple of days”. This should be your mantra when you are ready to fly of the handle about how ridiculous a request the other parent has just made. This is true for in-person conversations, emails, or text messages. And keep in mind when responding….
4. You cannot take back anything that you put in writing.
Really people. This is true. We talk to our kids about digital footprints, about their instagram accounts being privy to the world once they start posting. Same goes for you! Except instead of instagram, it’s whatever social media platform the other parent wants to use, and instead of ‘friends’, your words are probably being shared with in-laws, friends, lawyers, teachers, new partners, and whomever else the other parent sees fit. Don’t dig yourself a hole that you can’t get out of simply by lacking the insight about the possibility of your written words following you for a very long time. Despite this warning, should you find yourself in a scenario where you’ve said something you wish you could take back, let’s continue to number 5…
5. Apologize. And mean it.
You will say some stupid sh*t. Yes, yes you will. Probably lots of stupid sh*t. Because you will have moments of sadness, despair, anger, and even rage that take over any ability you have to be a calm, rational person. Just like with any relationship, own it. Apologize, mean it, and move on. If they are unable to forgive you, or unable to let it go, know that it’s about them, not you. When they are working through their own emotions, remember…
6. You can’t help them through this.
Your partner is dealing with the separation the best way that he/she can. You cannot be their counselor, shoulder to cry on, person to vent to – although sometimes you may try, especially if you get along relatively well. It’s just not possible, and it’s certainly not helping either of you to move forward (I think most people learn this lesson the hard way, unfortunately). Your relationship didn’t work for a myriad of reasons, and playing the ‘how did we get here’ game is not going to take you any place good. You can ask, “Is this really what we want?? Can we fix this?” – but know this is a completely different conversation, and unless the answer from both is a clear “yes I want to try to fix this”, you cannot take the conversation about ‘how we got here in the first place’ any further. You cannot be the other parents’ counselor, shoulder to cry on, or person to vent to. And they can’t be yours. Find people of your own, but read number 7 first.
7. Your children can not be your people.
Please don’t make anyone have to say this to you ever again: Your children can not be your support though your divorce. Get your own people, your own counselor, your own friends, your own distractions, but do not rely on your children to support you in any fashion. Why? Because you are THEIR people. Ideally, both of you need to be capable of being there for your children in whatever way they need, whenever they need you.
Research confirms that children are resilient. They can handle change WAY better than adults. They should be given age appropriate information about separation (‘some parents get along better when they don’t live in the same house’ etc.), and continually encouraged to love, and respect, and have a relationship with the other parent.
My children know that my job is to help parents continue to be good parents when they don’t live together anymore, and consequently they have grown up knowing that lots of parents live in two homes, and that divorce isn’t ‘caused’ by kids. Despite this, they needed constant reassurance that this wasn’t their fault, that mom and dad will always be their parents, and that they would still get to spend lots of time with both of us. Your children will be sad, they will grieve, and with your support, they will be ok. What they can’t handle, and what they may never recover from, is seeing the people that they love more than anything in the world fight. Please stop.
8. You can’t help your (fill in the blank) through this.
Friend. Father in law. Sister. I was floored by the number of people who had opinions about my marriage and our decision to separate. And lots of people will share their opinions with you. Some vocally, some passively, and some through your Ex (Yep. Awkward.) Don’t believe everything you hear. Everyone will have opinions as outsiders, but they are just that – opinions as outsiders. People will judge, but only you know your truth. Astonishingly, even the two of you (you and your Ex) will have very different versions of the same story (believe this one – as a divorce mediator – I know this to be as true as the sky is blue).
Be careful whom you choose as your ‘people’. The line ‘there are two sides to every story’ will get you through many a difficult conversation or situation. Don’t make yourself responsible for other peoples’ story about you. Your story about you is the only one that matters.
9. Focus on the future.
How do you start to move on from the brokenness of a separation? You focus on where you want to go. Talk about what your hopes for the future are. With your Ex. With your Children!! With your parents. With your friends. What kind of relationship do you want to have with the other parent? Joint birthday parties? Sure, as long as it’s not stressful on the kids. Weekly family dinners? As long as they are a positive experience. Tell your friends it’s OK to invite both of you to parties. If it’s not, then tell them that. You get to make the rules. What do YOU want your relationship to look like moving forward? Civil with limited contact?? Good for you for acknowledging it. Do what works for you, and if you try something that doesn’t work, change it. You don’t have to sit together at basketball games if you don’t want to. Regardless of what your parenting relationship looks like, you can never give up on the other most important person in your children’s lives. Keep working towards figuring out what YOUR best-case scenario looks like given your specific situation. How you choose to look at the future will influence the decisions you make today.
10. Divorce isn’t just an ending; it’s also a new beginning.
My sister sent me an Amy Poehler quote that said “Divorce isn’t a bad thing, because no good marriage ever ended in divorce”. As morbid and Amy Poehler-ish a quote that is, it’s true. Whatever the reason, and whatever your path, this is now a major happening in your life. What you choose to do with it is completely up to you.