After reading this headline about a Tennessee father suing his ex-wife over baptizing their 5 and 7 year old children without his consent, I got to thinking about post-divorce co-parenting and what a minefield it is to navigate.
Divorce is ugly. Every decision can be fraught with danger, conflict and animosity. It's one of the hardest things I've ever been through, but looking back, I'm proud of the co-parenting relationship my ex and I have forged. I'm no poster child for it, but I am proud to say that I'm not pursuing legal action to send my children's father to prison for baptizing our son. Thankfully, we are not "those people".
Civil, respectful co-parenting doesn't come naturally, it takes concerted effort, and an occasional ego check, but as I, and my friends can attest, it is possible. For any of you going through divorce, contemplating it, daydreaming about it, or coming out on the other side, here are some ground rules to not be "those people".
1. Always keep in mind what is best for your child. My belief, is that to raise happy children you must model happiness for them. (One of my reasons for ending an unhappy marriage) I have made a conscious effort to never speak an ill word about my ex to our son. Never. This is the golden rule.
2. Keep lawyers as far away as humanly possible from your relationship. The less legal fray you have to deal with the better. The best advice given to me was to work out as much as possible with a couples therapist, like a post mortem of your marriage, before seeing a lawyer. They are less expensive and a really good one can diffuse some of the bombs you are sure to uncover through the process.
3. When drafting terms of divorce, don't agree to anything you can't honor. Teach your children integrity by example. That Tennessee mother set the battle in motion by breaking her agreement to make religious decisions jointly with her ex. Honor your word.
4. Choose to be respectful and kind. This is a person that you will have to make decisions with for the rest of your children's lives. Seething with rage and treating them disrespectfully is only going to poison the well and harm your children. Save the vitriolic rants for your therapist's office or girls' night out, but spare your children the ugliness.
5. Realize what you can and can't control. The serenity prayer has given me much solace over the past few years:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
It's funny. The rules that I hold myself to now, and this bag of co-parenting tools are not all that different from what I imagine make a successful marriage. Ironic, I know. Co-parenting is like and unlike any other relationship, but I am just grateful to have a civil, caring one, a happy kid, and… that we aren't "those people".
Diane Mizota, Host of This Week in M.O.M