Ideally, couples who have children together will remain in a loving relationship for life. Realistically, many couples grow apart, leaving the children to spend time with each of their parents separately. Since both parents undoubtedly love their children, it is in the best interest of everyone involved if the adults make the effort to maintain a respectful relationship.
It’s About the Kids
The biggest thing to keep in mind when dealing with an ex-spouse is that your behaviour will be felt by your children. If you are mean and hurtful toward their other parent, you will hurt your children. That fact alone should make it easier to curb your tongue when you are tempted to lash out. Of course, it isn’t always easy to treat an ex with kindness — after all, there was some type of conflict or you would still be together. The negative feelings that you have toward your ex may be very strong; just try to focus on the fact that you love your kids more than you dislike your ex.
When dealing with your ex, make every effort to be fair, above all else. Don’t expect more from them than you expect from yourself. Sometimes, they will be late in picking up or dropping off the kids, once in a while, they will feed them junk for dinner, and every now and then, they will lose their temper and overreact to a child’s misbehaviour. Be honest, so will you. Try to keep this in mind when these things happen and react accordingly. Do it for your kids.
When it comes to matters that concern your children, it is important to be able to sit down with your ex in order to make sound decisions. You don’t have to be best friends and you don’t have to agree about everything (or anything, for that matter), but you do have to be reasonable partners when it comes to the well being of your children. Choosing schools, setting groundrules, and managing finances are all issues that are sure to arise. Make every effort to communicate with your ex in a civil, responsible way that allows for compromise on both sides. Try to give in some of the time and choose your battles wisely. Some things are worth a fight; most are not.
Respecting Your Differences
It is important to allow and encourage your ex to have a loving relationship with the children. Kids benefit from the feeling that they are loved by both of their parents and it is important to let your children know that your problems do not have to be their problems. Parenting styles vary and although your ex may not interact with the kids in the same manner that you do, they are, and will always be, an important part of your child’s life. Never make your children feel that they have to “take sides” in your relationship with their other parent.
Dealing with an ex can be difficult enough, but when step-parents are involved, feelings can become even more complicated. It is perfectly natural to feel a bit jealous and resentful of the relationship that your child has with their step-parent, but do all that you can to befriend them and respect their role in your child’s life. It will be much easier on your kids if they are allowed to express a fondness for their step-parent.
If you are a step-parent, try to put yourself in the place of the ex and be considerate of their mixed feelings. Of course they want their children to be happy, but seeing the kids form an attachment to you is sure to be difficult. Never badmouth the other parent to the children and make every effort to encourage a friendly relationship. Understand that your spouse will have to have an ongoing relationship with their ex when it comes to matters of the children, so do your best to be supportive.
The Bottom Line
One of the most important traits of parents is their ability to put the needs of their children above their own wants and needs. Take a deep breath when you feel yourself getting upset and think carefully before you speak. You and your ex have one very important job to do together — raising well-balanced kids who are comfortable in their relationship with each of you. Take your time with this — parenting is a marathon, not a sprint.