When I split from my husband, I remember a good friend telling me that divorce isn’t an event – it’s a process.
She meant that it’s not something where you can draw a line in the sand and say you’re “done” with it. Because it’s something you do, over and over, separating two lives. And that’s especially true when you have a child. Because you have to constantly work out a way to be together (as parents) while being very much apart in every other way.
Flea’s Dad and I have been co-parenting now for seven years, or thereabouts. And here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way, which maybe you’ll find useful:
Pick your battles.
In the early days, it’s tempting to become Uber-Control-Freak-Mum and set all sorts of rules for the way things should be done – especially when the kids are with your ex. What’s for breakfast. Bedtime. TV schedule.
You’ll tell yourself it’s only for your child’s sake you’re having this argument, that consistency matters. Yada Yada. It’s control freakery.
Face it – when you are married, you don’t agree on everything. You discuss it, you compromise. And sometimes you just do stuff differently – when you’re at work, he feeds the kids takeaway. He has a lie-in, you let the kids watch cartoons. Just because you’re divorced that won’t change. So really, don’t sweat the small stuff. I try my best to only intervene if it’s something that I genuinely feel compromises Flea’s safety or health. Aside from that, they can watch all the cartoons they like at Dad’s house.
It’s a Good Thing for your ex to be happy. No, really.
When a relationship breaks up, I think it’s only human nature that you want to see the person who (you think) has wronged you to die screaming in the gutter. Or maybe that’s just me. But after the acrimony of divorce, ultimately, you reach a point where you realise that if your ex is happy, and settled, and successful, then life is better for your child.
Do I want my daughter to spend her weekends with someone miserable, bitter or broken? Or do I want her to spend her weekends with someone cheerful and able to do the things he wants to do with her? It’s a no-brainer.
Ultimately, we’re divorced but we’re still a family. And when push comes to shove, we’d be there for each other because that’s what family does.
It’s a Good Thing for the kids to know that.
One of the things I’ve always said to Flea is that I want her Dad to be happy. I want them to have fun together. It’s ridiculously important to me that they have a good relationship.
When Flea goes off with her Dad, I will always say, “Have a great time!” and when she’s home I’ll always ask about what they did, and be pleased for her if they’ve had a good time. “I’m happy you’re home, but I’m so glad you had fun,” is our Sunday night refrain.
Did I always mean it in the early days? Hell, no. But I never wanted Flea to feel guilty on my account for loving her Dad, or having fun with him. And I think I (mostly) achieved that.
But it’s a Good Thing for kids to know you have feelings.
I don’t mean you should tell the kids the gory story of why you split, and who cheated, and who was actually married to a circus performer called Sadie, and so on. I don’t share any of the details of my marriage break-up online, and I don’t share it with my daughter. She’s nine, for starters.
But I will occasionally get SO incredibly irritated with my ex that I can’t hide it – and I don’t try to. “I’m really fond of your Dad, but oh my God, it drives me nuts when he’s so grumpy!” I might say. “I’m really cross with your Dad for breaking your video game, it was very careless.”
Future therapy bills may prove my theory wrong, but I think it’s important to show her that it’s okay to get irritated with people in your family, and it won’t be the end of the world. You get over it. I figure that’s what would happen in a two-parent family, after all.
Suck it Up.
Most people who know me will tell you that I’m pretty even-tempered. I’m not a person who shouts. I don’t slam doors. I don’t cry. Pretty much everyone will tell you that except my ex – because an ex can push buttons that other people wouldn’t even know to look for.
When you row with your ex, maybe it seems like you’re having a row about the car. But there’s so much emotional baggage behind it that it’s never just about the car. It’s always about the car plus the Terrible Things that happened way back when. It’s a better person than me that can have a row without all those old feelings and hurts being dredged up by your sub-conscious.
But if your kids are anywhere within hearing distance when those buttons are pushed? Suck It Up.
Suck it up, because those relationship issues are not your kids’ issues and they shouldn’t be. Flea’s Dad and I have had some corkers of rows over the past seven years and doors were slammed and phones hurled across rooms, and maybe that’s just part and parcel of being forever shackled to someone who broke your heart. But you’re a grown-up. If the kids can see or hear, then you suck it up and (if you need to) wait until later to have a good old barney. My mantra in such situations is: “My relationship with him is not HER relationship with him.” And on the worst days: “He’s a good person with good intentions. And he’s older, so he’ll probably die first.”
He doesn’t need a mantra. Because I’m perfect. Obviously.
Be prepared to be the Bad Guy
Most of the time, these days, my ex and I are actually pretty good friends. Ultimately, we want each other to be happy, and we both adore Flea – so there’s a lot of common ground to build on. And we were friends and then partners for the best part of a decade, so clearly we like each other well enough.
But when push comes to shove, my priority is Flea. And sometimes that means I have to advocate for her and say things that her Dad might not like, or agree with. Human nature being what it is, on those occasions I’ll take the brunt of the reaction. He’ll be angry with me, because I’m the messenger. And it’s not fair, and it’s not pleasant but it happens. Because what’s more important than Flea knowing I’ve always got her back, no matter what? Nothing.
Seven years post-divorce, I still don’t have this stuff down. There are still weeks when it feels like I can’t do right for wrong, and everyone is upset and frustrated. But I tell myself that’s just life, and it’s just families.
I’d love to hear what tips you have for co-parenting – anything I missed? Do leave a comment if you’ve got a great bit of advice to share!