5 Secrets Not to Forsake the Ex for the Sake of the Kids
We each divorced two times for the same reason: a desire to teach our children a healthier dynamic in which to engage in relationships. Especially with the ex.
While we might want to minimize exposure and interaction with the ex, there are many times of overlaps that involve the children. Combining celebrations are not for everyone, but if you can make it work, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to practice—and role model—the art of mindful release. Of letting go.
One of the topics we explore in One Billion Seconds, our bestselling fictional memoir, is how to make blended families work. It can be a stumbling block for people who seek new relationships after divorce. While there is not much one can control, there are several things you can manage as you interact with your ex.
Although we have not had the opportunity to get together with Geoff’s ex, (she was unable to attend graduation, and we would have absolutely included her), we are both continue to encourage Geoff’s son to nurture the relationship with his mom; suggesting gifts, cards, visits, calls, for her birthday and holidays.
We have recently experienced an “ex-reunion.” When Poppy’s first ex-husband came to town to help their daughter move back to the Midwest, we drove an hour to Tampa to pick him up from the airport, while the daughter finished her work week. The following day on Friday, we played 18 holes of golf and had lunch following our round. Just the three of us.
It was a win-win. Poppy’s daughter, knowing her father loves golf, felt relieved and guilt-free that her mom and step-dad were happy to entertain her father while she completed her work. The golf and lunch spent with the ex, followed countless prior joint celebrations: elementary school concerts, programs and graduations, dinners, birthday, honors programs, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. And what happened? We had a great time.
Soon after, we celebrated our youngest daughter’s college graduation. Poppy’s second ex-husband and his wife joined in the celebration. We sat together at the ceremony, shared a lunch and two dinners together, and strolled along the quaint downtown area, chatting easily on the way to Kilwin’s for a perfect dessert.
In both June 2015, and December, 2016, we celebrated Poppy’s two youngest children’s work achievement. Poppy’s ex and his wife, sat with us at each ceremony, came to our home for the celebratory dinner. Easy conversation ensued. A month after our December celebration, in January, 2017, we traveled to Atlanta to see a Packer game, where Poppy’s second ex lives. Hotels were sold out for the NFC Championship Game, so they invited us to stay with them. He and his wife were welcoming, kind, and gracious.
In November of 2017, we invited Poppy’s ex and his wife to a party we hosted. Geoff took a photo of Poppy and her ex, and then Geoff and Poppy’s ex played a game of pool—just the two of them. “It was fun!” Geoff remarked. Once eye-rolling teens, our kids now roll their eyes at us for different reasons; their parents are friendly and “huggy” with the exes, and it goes against societal expectations of how exes should behave.
When both parents put the needs of their children first—no matter the age of the children—the children witness positive role-modeling. When parents’ behavior is respectful, mature, and cordial, the kids learn how to summon the courage to manage perceived or possible tension with poise and grace in all aspects of their lives.
We have a confession: we are both recovering conflict-avoiders. Poppy jokes that if she were a dog, she’d be a Border Collie—shepherding everyone to the same room to sit in a happy circle. Geoff would be a Labrador who waits attentively to enjoy the company of all those around him. Now we embrace the opportunity to resolve conflict by tapping into vulnerability and courage and using our easy-to-use trademarked communication tool, the Emotional Clock™.
If you find yourself furious with the behavior of an ex and also avoiding conflict, here are 5 secrets we’ve discovered to maintain a healthy mind—and heart—for your children (and you):
- Self Check with Pause and Shift. Are your positive emotions in good order? Or might you experience residual toxic thoughts or feelings that lurk under the mattress? If so, identify them and mindfully put them to bed. Ask yourself: “To what am I giving my attention that is making me feel crummy?” Identify it. Address it. And CHOOSE a better thought or feeling. It truly is that simple. Self-checking allows us a beautiful opportunity to pause, shift, and then get out of our own way.
- Visualize Your Encounter or Situation. Ask yourself: “What role can I play to ensure that this situation flows smoothly?” If a snag appears as you reflect on this, pause to reframe. Imagine your children’s faces as you contemplate your response. Consider all possible scenarios so you are prepared. Don’t be afraid to look at and examine the worst possible ones your mind creates. “What if he/she makes a scene at the school program? What if he/she embarrasses me? What if he/she monopolizes our child?” Prepare your responses ahead of the event to give you composure and bolster your resolve. Then, visualize—even meditate on—the expressions you’d like to see on your child’s loving face. Take the King Solomon approach when necessary. Your child is bright, sensitive and resilient. Without disparaging words of the ex, teach your child what it looks like to take the high road.
- Be Mindful of Past Triggers. We believe that people don’t really change, although behaviors absolutely do. If you find yourself tripped up by a recurring situation, you have complete control to change the outcome. When we bump up against people who we’ve allowed to get under our skin, we have a fantastic opportunity to recognize this as a personal development gift—a gift to the self that we need to edit/re-write the past story that no longer serves us well.
- 17-Second Mirror Exercise: As you take your exasperated self to a mirror, look into it and say out loud: “He/she is the father/mother of my child. Half of my child comes from this person, and I love my child 100%. I only have room in my heart for love, patience and acceptance.” That’s it. Smile at yourself and repeat until you feel relief. The physiological evidence on your face will give you a clue as to how long you should stay in front of the mirror. It takes about 17 seconds of focused attention to shift our mindset and “heartset.”
- Inclusion vs. the Ex Stereotype. No matter the age of your children, ask them if they’d like their mom/dad to join in an upcoming event. As you do this with complete openness and authenticity, your children will read your face, body language, and signals to make an objective decision. When you’re genuine and real, you give a wonderful gift to your children by not projecting your “stuff” onto them. It enhances your child’s sense of autonomy as well.
We can recalibrate our emotional settings by identifying our own thoughts, feelings and actions. A slight shift in our thinking alters the dynamic. Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today post, Change Your Dance in the Stepfamily Dance, Harriet Lerner Ph.D. describes some guidelines in her book, Marriage Rules: “The rules are simple, but putting them into practice takes courage, fortitude, and grace under pressure. Take the high road. It’s hard. And it’s worth it.”
If we hold onto anger, resentment and bitterness, we leave a tragic legacy to our children. Part of letting go of anger is finding happiness. And that begins with the self. The first step is to forgive. Forgive the ex. Forgive yourself. For the sake of the kids.
Poppy and Geoff are Licensed, Certified New Life Story Coaches, relationship and parenting experts, certified personality facilitators, “Millennial Translators,” national speakers, authors of a #1 Bestseller, One Billion Seconds: There’s Still time to Discover Love, and Podcast hosts who offer detailed “heart-healthy communication” counseling for modern relationships with real results. As a highly-credentialed husband and wife team who offer people two unique and experienced perspectives, they inspire people to identify and address challenges and find immediate relief in their relationships.