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Gone are the days of “Leave it to Beaver”…a time when families were supposedly nauseatingly happy, the kids were a little too mild-mannered and obedient, and the parents were blissfully unstressed and free from the bondage of disagreement.  And can I just say…

What the hell was that about anyway?

When has life ever been that simple?   When was marriage ever easy?  When were kids ever obedient every second of every day?  And when were women truly content staying home all of their lives without any ambition or dreams of their own?  NEVER.  Life has never been easy… more repressed maybe, but not easy.  Thankfully, repression AND oppression went out of style years ago, along with that hideous, clunky wooden piece of furniture that brought the “Beav” into our living room.  Real-life adults are actual people with actual problems, rather than the brainwashed, robotic “Stepford Wife”  and the always dutiful, never over-worked, never over-stressed husband depicted on tv.   I much prefer a down to earth parent who owns his problems…how his relationship with his wife is suffering because of the long hours he works to make ends meet, how his wife is distant because — well, he’s not sure why, how she feels resentful because he actually gets to leave the house that has become her prison every day, make his own money, and be productive (rather than watching one day roll into the next washing dishes and behinds), how his kids are acting out because they sense the uncertainty in the household.  While certainly not ideal, they’re honest and very much the reality of our everyday lives.  Families are complicated… and synonymous with dysfunctional love.  Couples marry, divorce, remarry, and struggle to resist the urge of hiring a hitman to take out their “mistake”  every day.  But, instead of surfing the net hunting for the perfect hitman, we have to learn to make peace and co-exist.  Easier said than done, right?  We may have better luck convincing a  top modeling agency to grace the cover of Vogue with our tired faces, dark circles, and stress-induced extra pounds?  So, once divorce has taken hold and each remarries, how do we maintain a manageable relationship that allows us to co-parent our little look-a-likes?

Co-parenting after a divorce is about as fun as tossing our cookies on the tilt-a-whirl after overindulging on hot dogs, chicken on a stick, cotton candy, and popcorn at the county fair.  It was delicious going down…wickedly vile coming up.  Though it’s very difficult to make peace with the ex after a divorce, it’s also the healthiest and most essential thing for us to achieve…not only for us, but for the kids as well.  Hate requires much more emotional energy than forgiveness…and forgiveness is a way of life our children will hopefully emulate… if we display it.

When trying to co-exist, co-parent, and co-operate with our ex, there are a few R’s we need to practice:

Respect:  This will be difficult, but may also reveal our true maturity level.  We’re both parenting our kids, so keep it that way.  We should never disregard our ex’s opinions or feelings about issues with the kids.  On those issues we don’t have a particular opinion about, we should ask our ex what he/she thinks about the situation.  Always include the other on major decisions with the kids.  If we ask for our ex’s input on what should be done, rather than dictating what we’re going to do, our ex will feel validated and included in his/her kids lives.  Result: emotional walls will remain down, and communication will be fluent.

Restrain:  Keep our emotions in check where our ex is concerned.  Kids are extremely perceptive…so those little sneers we entertain on our faces when our kids are slamming us with information about their week away are not gone unnoticed.  They notice…and take note…of our opinion… and follow suit.  Remember, we may have chosen to move on from our ex, but our child will never move on from his parent.  The last thing we want to do is sabotage the relationship between ex and child.  Also, our kids are not our messengers.  They’re not responsible for informing our ex of his late child support or any other point of contention we may feel the need to “share” with our kids.  They’re kids…allow them to be.  They’re allowed to love our ex…and sending hateful messages back and forth only tells them they should choose sides.  If this is what you’re angling for, be prepared…when they’re older and wiser, you’ll lose.

Reply:  Take advantage of modern technology.  EMAIL!  We should communicate with our ex through email as much as possible.  This way, our kids won’t be watching as our emotional floodgate falters and threatens to wipe out everyone within earshot of our conversation.  Also, our ex will be less likely to “push our buttons” over email.  We’re much more rational through email than face-to-face confrontations.  When face-to-face, emotion runs the show, tempers flair,  and words become weapons.  Unfortunately, those weapons usually hit an unintended target…our kids.  The less emotion and shotty glances, the better.  So remember:  EMAIL…don’t raise hell.

Rebuild:  Regardless of who wronged who and who said what, we must accept that our ex is not solely responsible for our breakup.  While it’s easier to point a finger, rather than claim our own contribution, we must let it go and own our responsibility in the breakup.  The sooner we do that, the sooner we release some of the resentment…and the sooner we move on.  To rebuild, we have to do away with what our marriage was…and embrace what it is now.  Treat it as though it’s a whole new experience with the focus on the kids’ well-being…not on what did, or did not, happen between the two of us.  The marriage has been bulldozed.  Now it’s time to clean up, do away with the rubble, and rebuild our relationship from the ground up as co-parents.  A relationship “renovation.”

Trying to bring together adults who would rather forget the others exist is a difficult feat, but a necessary one if there are kids involved.  We all want a safe home with a white picket fence to keep our kids safe from “outside” dangers.  But a divorce will tear down that fence and leave our kids open to three danger doozies:  fear, doubt, and insecurity.  The only way to keep our kids feeling secure and loved is to forgive, rebuild, and mend those fences.  Otherwise, not only did we fail with our marriage…we’ll fail our kids as well.  Mend a fence…save a child.

Chick Hughes

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes

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