By Julie Garrison
Special to DadsDivorce.com
During separation and divorce, there is an organic change in a marriage. Materially, it goes from something to nothing within a relatively short period of time. People are led to believe that by divorcing they have solved the problem of their bad marriage.
But if they have children, there will be at least some interaction between the ex-spouses while the children are growing up and even after. There will be grandchildren, christenings, birthday parties and graduations. Some people maintain a battle mentality long after the marriage is over. Unfortunately, their children often become collateral damage.
Here are 8 pointers on keeping communication with your ex-spouse civilized:
1. The negative feelings from a divorce persist long after the divorce is final. But even though the marriage was unfixable, ex-spouses can still get along (or at least appear to get along) in front of their children.
2. Difficult as it is, act as though you like your ex. Be polite and try not to incite her anger, especially when the children are present. Even though you are divorced, you are still your children’s role models, and children benefit when both ex-spouses are kind to each other.
3. If your ex is late dropping off the children or is not the most cooperative woman in the world, don’t make waves. Save your strength for the big battles. After your ex moves on with her life, she will probably lose some of her antagonism.
4. Unless you have a court order, do not restrict your ex from seeing or talking to your children. Never use your children as a power ploy. In my state, it is illegal for one parent to restrict the other parent’s visitation – even if he or she has fallen behind in child support payments. Payment and visitation are two separate issues. Keep them that way.
5. If your ex-spouse is in the habit of starting a fight at the pick-up or drop-off point, find a meeting place between the two residences and do your exchange of the children there. Most people are better behaved in public than they are in private. Even if you have to get a court order, this is a reasonable solution when one ex-spouse is habitually out of control.
6. Never use the children as go-betweens with possessions or mail or instructions. Do your own communicating with their mother. Forcing children to be carrier pigeons will hurt them emotionally.
7. If you have an irrational ex-spouse who has become intolerable, you may have to go back to court a few times to get her to comply with the terms of the custody order. DO NOT bring your children with you to the mediation or to court, unless you have been instructed to by the judge. Children should always be shielded from their parents’ acrimony.
8. It is hard to be fair when the other party isn’t. But in the long run, fairness will serve you well. It won’t take long for your children to figure out what’s going on. For unresolved issues, counseling helps. So does going to the gym, eating a box of chocolates, and using a punching bag. Whatever it takes, separate your children from your ex-spouse issues.
Think children don’t know what’s going on? I’ll end with a personal experience.
I married a man who had a child from a previous marriage. The ex-wife was bitter and spiteful. She lived at the top of a hill with a long, private driveway and an electric gate at the bottom.
Whenever we picked up my husband’s son, we had to park at the bottom of the hill and wait for the child to walk down it and crawl underneath the electric gate. The same rule applied when we took him home.
One evening we dropped him off and we were sitting in the car, waiting for him to get to his house before we left.
“That is so ridiculous!” I said, watching him struggle to fit under the metal bar at the bottom of the electric gate.
Our three-year-old daughter, in the back seat, leaned over to her two-year-old brother and said, “His mommy is a witch!”
Who said that children don’t know what’s going on?
Do yourself a favor and keep your children out of the fray. When they are older, you will be very glad you did.
Julie Garrison has been writing articles and short stories for the past 10 years and has appeared in several magazines and e-zines.