“My ex and I are such good friends now! We have dinner together, take the kids on vacation together and enjoy spending family time. The secret to our great relationship is MATURITY. You have to simply get over whatever happened in the past, put it behind you and get along for the sake of the kids”.
If you’re a divorced mom, I bet you’ve heard some variation of this. Forgive my eye roll. Maybe you heard it and your heart sank all the way to your feet as you slunk away, wondering what’s wrong with you and feeling ashamed of your sorry, immature self.
You marvel at how “mature” this lady is and you beat yourself up for not being able to just put on your “big girl pants” and make nice with the ex.
Or maybe you’re the one that said it…shaking your head at all these other divorced moms who can’t seem to get it together; what’s wrong with them anyway? Why is being friendly with the ex such a big deal?
I’ve heard people make comments similar to this and they irritate me to no end. They irritate me because they consist of assumptions and half-truths. They also gloss over much of the story. It’s great when a former couple can get along really well instead of dealing with the bickering and tension that often plague these relationships.
However, it’s unkind to make assumptions about why others are unable to achieve the same harmony; and it often puts an unfair burden on someone who may be barely keeping her head above water as she tries to find her feet again as a newly single mom. It also distracts her from the things she should have in her near-term sights, shifting her focus to an issue that she can deal with as life settles.
Let this sister help you out.
If you’re struggling with this, sister to sister, I’m going to tell you some truths. Hopefully, after we’re done chatting over this cup of tea, you won’t be slinking anymore.
No, instead, I hope you own your journey and your story, and you don’t let anyone make you feel “less than”.
But first…a story
I’ll start with a story. Some years ago, my kids and I were out to dinner while on vacation. We went to one of those Japanese restaurants where you sit with a bunch of strangers at a big table and the chef makes the food in front of you. A large party joined us. As the evening wore on, we found out that the group was composed of a woman, her husband, their kids (his and hers), her ex-husband, his wife, and their kids.
At one point, my confused 8-year-old said to one of the girls, “so, this is your mom, and she used to be married to him, but now he’s married to her, she’s married to him and this is your sister?” I pinched him under the table so he’d stop talking! I was so embarrassed, but he was really just trying to undo the complex web of relationships.
Yes, divorce sucks! It introduces unnecessary complications to our lives and makes marriage and family life, which even in their “simple” form is still trying, much more difficult.
However, this is the reality of the world that we live in. You can’t force a person to stay married and trust me, even if you could, you don’t want to. I bet you didn’t walk down the aisle planning to get divorced. But here you are. Life goes on, and it can still be a great life. But there are lies you believe that will make living as a divorced single mom more difficult than it needs to be.
“Stop being such a baby! Put on your big girl pants and be friends with your ex for the sake of your kids”
Ok, maybe no one has actually said these words to you. But with all the rose-tinted co-parenting stories that flood your Facebook timeline and get shared millions of times, they might as well.
They tell you that you need to put the past behind you and that the sign that you’ve done this is if you can be friends with your ex. They share their stories of how they get together regularly for “family time” and how that makes life so much better for the kids involved. They maintain that getting together for birthday celebrations, spending the holidays together and going on vacation together is the right way to co-parent and if you don’t want to do these things, you are being a sore loser just because your marriage didn’t work out.
Here’s the not-so-popular truth.
1) Even now, the “why” MATTERS
The fact is that the reason why you got divorced will affect your post-divorce relationship with the ex. The why doesn’t matter because you’re still stuck in the past and unable to move on. The why matters because you’re human. We learn from our experiences and make inferences about future possibilities from our past.
If you’re in the situation where you both simply drifted apart over time and decided together that it’s best to part ways, chances are that you’ve been able to sustain a good friendship after the marriage ended. Note that this discussion is not about biblical reasons for divorce, that’s another conversation. Here, I’m just trying to describe two ends of the real-world spectrum.
However, if like many women you suffered abuse (physical, emotional, financial etc) during your marriage, you found out that your entire marriage was a tightly-spun web of lies or your divorce was an unexpected, unwanted shock, the likelihood of being friends afterward is pretty slim.
You were deeply hurt by the one person you trusted more than anyone in the world and you are naturally wary about “playing in that lion’s den again”.
Frankly, why you got divorced impacts your post-divorce relationship. Period.
2) The “how” MATTERS even more
Even more significant for your post-divorce relationship is “the how“. By this, I mean, how the marriage ended. I know someone who simply met at the attorney’s office with his wife, they agreed on how to split assets and then they all went out to lunch. Marriage over, no kids; no hard feelings on either side.
However, most divorces are rife with strife, harsh words, and anger. When a marriage ends badly, with one spouse taking advantage of the other and being cruel, chances are that friendship afterward will be impossible.
I believe that people can part ways amicably, but that’s often not the case. The divorce process is typically adversarial and people end up feeling used, deceived and depressed when a marriage ends.
Especially if there are kids involved, it’s important to remember that you will be dealing with this person for a very long time…be careful how you treat them. Even if you’ve decided you don’t want to be married to them anymore, you can end things with kindness and compassion.
However, most people who were either abusive or deceitful in their marriage aren’t “nice” folk. Therefore, it would be out-of-character for them to end things well. In fact, many of such people continue to attempt to intimidate their former spouse even after divorce. Friendship is impossible in such cases.
Though not insurmountable, the why and the how of your divorce will have a direct impact on the near and maybe even long-term relationship with your ex.
Next time someone raves to you about how they have an amazing relationship with their ex, ask them why they got divorced and how the divorce occurred. Also, ask them how long it took to get to this point. I bet it didn’t happen overnight. In most of these cases, even if the marriage didn’t end well, there have been any attempts at “mending fences” since it happened and a willingness to work together.
I’ll say this though, if you’re waiting for your ex to apologize before you begin the process of healing and forgiveness, you are waiting on the wrong thing! Forgiveness and healing, are choices that you make. I pray you are able to find the strength to forgive, whether or not you ever hear the words, “I’m sorry”.
3) Every relationship needs time
You’re dealing with an entirely new relationship. Yes, you used to be married to this person, but it’s not the same relationship. Especially if you’re freshly divorced, emotions are probably still running high.
Also, depending on the circumstances of your divorce, there may be a tremendous work of healing needed on one or both sides before any meaningful cooperation can begin.
This is ok. Your life has changed drastically. Take it slow, you need lots of time to figure out yourself and your kids before you start trying to redefine how you want to relate with your ex.
Remember that this is not all up to you! There’s a whole other human being involved, over whom you likely have little influence and zero control…cut yourself some slack.
Make sure you’re doing your part to walk in peace…the rest is not up to you.
“Do all you can to live in peace with everyone” Romans 12:18 New living translation Bible.
4) Co-parenting covers a spectrum
Fact: there are many levels of co-parenting; it’s not “one size fits all”.
There are those who can hang out, travel and spend time happily together post-divorce, and there are those who can communicate in written form and agree what’s needed regarding the kids but the relationship ends there.
There’s a whole spectrum in between and it’s okay to find what works for your personal situation. It’s also noteworthy that you’re not “stuck” to a particular co-parenting arrangement as long as you and your ex agree.
Don’t compare yourself to others and feel bad because you don’t co-parent the same way. Do what works for your own situation. Remember that you don’t know all the details of another’s circumstances so it’s often a mistake to compare their story to yours.
I think this is one of the hard things about divorce: every divorce is unique even where there are similarities. So stop being so hard on yourself and give yourself grace.
5) Co-parenting requires trust and respect
You can’t co-parent where there’s no mutual trust and respect, it’s simply impossible.
How do you co-parent with a person who doesn’t keep their word? You can’t co-parent with someone who you can’t trust to do what they say. Trying to do so is a recipe for much stress.
If you’re a particularly nice person, you will probably find yourself bending over backward to work with someone who’s taking advantage of you and will squeeze you for every drop of sympathy.
It’s not worth your peace of mind and there are other ways to handle things in this situation.
6) Parallel parenting is a valid option
Yes, it’s really a thing. Parallel parenting is when you just focus on the things you can control; what happens in your own home and you let your ex do the same. So, no coordinating bedtimes, kids meals, discipline etc. In this situation, you both parent as individuals with no attempt to combine forces.
While this may not be ideal, depending on your situation, it may be the only solution.
If you’re dealing with a narcissistic ex, who still tries to control and intimidate you, or simply in a case where there’s no trust, this is a viable option. You can only control yourself and what happens in your own home. Don’t beat yourself up, just be the best parent you can be.
Obviously, if you suspect any sort of abuse at their other parent’s you need to address it and protect your children. But short of abuse, you mind your own business and let Him mind his.
7) You still get to choose your friends
Maybe there are many aspects of this divorced mama thing that got thrust upon you, without your permission. In fact, maybe the whole thing was his decision…one day you were married, the next you were getting divorced! Maybe the 180-degree turnaround was so quick, it’s been a decade and your head is still spinning.
I hear you. But guess what? You still get to choose your friends! Yes, from one sister to another, I can assure you that you can still decide who to be friends with.
The fact that you were married to him for x number of years doesn’t get him an all-access pass to your friendship club. No! You still get to decide.
Choose wisely. Leave him out if he doesn’t fit the mold of who you’d consider friendship material. You can still be a good mother and if he’s inclined to, he can still be involved in your children’s lives without all the frills of friendship.
“Walk with the wise and become wise; for a companion of fools suffers harm” Proverbs 13:20 New International Version Bible.
In fact, choosing to let your guard down and let your ex in as a friend could be a really bad idea. If you’re still in the early stages of healing from your divorce trauma, allowing closeness with your ex could set you up for another round of serious emotional and other damage.
Boundaries are a good thing, and you’d be wise to figure out the boundaries that work for your situation and put them firmly in place.
I really hope this has helped release you from the pressures of a relationship with your ex that you don’t want or you’re just not ready for.
Focus on yourself and your kids: find your way to healing and work on your future. Maybe when your heart is healed, you will be ready for a more friendly relationship with your ex. But do it in your own time and on your own terms.
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