When your once-in-a-lifetime love turns sour and ends in divorce, you might try to maintain some level of amicability with your ex-spouse when there are children are involved.
And while some couples manage to successfully work together to co-parent their children, for many others, the wounds that led to them to divorce can continue to fester during the power struggle of custody.
These toxic, post-divorce battles can affect everyone involved (including the extended family), but it is children who may suffer most in the long run.
If we can assume that neither partner is abusive, an addict, or an otherwise unfit parent, here are 7 rules that you should live by, that can help your kids survive the toxicity.
1. Get a parenting agreement in place and even in writing.
A parenting agreement outlines the details outside of basic custody principals, about how the children will be cared for in each home. Ideally there would be an attempt to maintain some level of consistency between both homes. If one or both parties do not comply, you can always try bringing in a parenting mediation expert.
2. Communicate over email instead of in-person.
When the sight of his/her number on your phone causes a suffocating tightness in your chest, use other methods. Do not communicate emotion over email or text - this is for the business arrangements of the care and transitioning of the children only. Keep it to the point and factual. And send the calls to voicemail.
3. Be flexible, but reasonable.
If you're the father, then don’t keep the children on Mother’s Day just because it's your day on the schedule. And if you're mom, then don’t insist on cutting the children’s stay short with their dad just because it conflicts with your busy schedule or social calendar. This isn’t about either of you! This is about your children’s experience in the world and being selfish only hurts them.
4. Never speak badly about the other parent to your children.
As much as you feel the children deserve to know the truth about their father/mother... DO NOT DO IT. Confide in your friends, family or your therapist, instead of using your kids as a sounding board. Do not put them in the middle by requesting divided loyalty. They NEVER have to choose who to love. If your ex is a douchebag, then they may figure that out on their own as they get older. But again, that's for them to decide!
We should not poison our kids intentionally this way.
5. Be cordial and polite in front of your children. Always.
You are modeling behavior for these young, watchful minds. You should refrain from outbursts, tantrums, screaming fits and name calling, when you're in front of them. You should also be in mind that snide comments, eye rolling and grunts are easily picked up on by your kids, too. They soak up everything like a sponge, including bad energy.
6. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
You're just not going to be comfortable with how this is going to go. Accept that. You will not always agree with your partner’s lifestyle or parenting techniques, especially their choice of subsequent partners. Your job is to model appropriate behavior when there's conflict, and focus on being the best parent you can be. Most importantly, you need to let go of power and control. The kids will learn flexibility and diversity this way.
7. Document everything.
When things start to feel toxic, keep a record of everything. Angry ex’s can be unpredictable and calculating. If problems arise or agreements are broken, you will need to have documentation of phone calls made and received, emails, texts, a general calendar for visitation.
Parental alienation is a very real and prevalent thing and the ugliest form of post-divorce apocalypse.
But what if all else fails?
If your children are having difficulty with transitions or emotions, they're showing signs of distress, anxiety, depression, headaches or stomachaches, find a really good therapist that can help them work through this difficult time.
A child does best when BOTH parents in a divorce focus on putting their own sh**t aside for the betterment of their developing children. Children are ALWAYS watching what kind of example you are setting, and will incorporate that into what they know about relationships as they grow up.
The effects of post-divorce toxicity and battling egos can last a lifetime. Instead, make it a priority to create a safe, secure and happy environment for your children to grow up in.