Let me begin by stating a fact, there isn’t a painless way to end a marriage. The idea that two people, who were living together, presumably in love at least at some point, and having children together, can end that relationship in a clean, painless way is a pipe dream.
Even if you have the absolute best of a hard situation, divorce has a staggering price attached. The financial cost has been documented by the Canadian Department of Justice, but where would someone even begin by quantifying the emotional and relational cost to our children?
That being said, human beings are resilient in ways that stagger the mind. When I was at Bible school, I had a friend who came from a broken home. She was a cheerful, kind, and gentle person and one day told me that, although her parents’ separation was very painful, she had the best of a bad situation. Her mom and dad loved her and, because of that, treated one another with respect post-divorce. They could be in the same room together and she said didn’t worry about inviting them to her wedding.
Her family situation gave me a hope I haven’t lost even 21 years later. I do believe there is always hope.
So, with that in mind, let me share three ideas that I think can at least help you navigate the difficult waters of co-parenting with your ex after divorce.
Assume Your Spouse Wants the Best for Your Children, Just Like You
I know what they say about assumptions. It isn’t kind. So, you may call me naïve, but I think that most parents actually want the best for their kids.
My wife and I have been foster parents for 7 1/2 years, and you know what I’ve observed over and over again? They may be out there, but I’ve never personally met a parent who didn’t want what they believed to be the best for their kid. Even when their life circumstances mean that they can’t safely take care of their own children, they always want what they believe to be best. Period.
Assume the same of your ex.
So, when he’s being a total nimrod and opposing you at every turn, assume that he isn’t just doing to be a nimrod.
“You don’t know my ex, Thom.”
Nope I don’t.
Again, I could be wrong, and it’s possible that she’s just being difficult, but if you give her the benefit of the doubt and ask yourself, “Why does she fight against me so hard?” If you try to put yourself in her shoes, then maybe you’ll find an inch of common ground to start a compromise.
Think about how shocking it would be, though, if the next time you were negotiating for a weekend that isn’t “your weekend” and you started by saying, “Look, I know you want the absolute best for our kids, I’ve always admired that about you (a little lie, maybe). Can we try to compromise for them?”
Just try it. See it from the perspective of a dad who fears for his kids. Imagine it as a mother who feels backed into a corner and scared. Try to summon up compassion and empathy for someone you maybe think doesn’t deserve it. Just see if it helps.
Put the Kids First
Your kids are not the problem. At least that’s what you told them when you gave them the news of the separation.
“This is NOT because of anything you have done…”
Never use the kids as a bargaining chip; that’s not what they are, they are your kids.
What that means in the real world is that when one ex is unwilling to negotiate and compromise, that you may need to back down for the sake of your kids. You may be absolutely right about the situation, and their mom, your ex, might be playing unfair, but if it means traumatizing your children, you had better be really certain that going to war with their mom is the best strategy.
Always, always, always determine which hill is the right one to die on. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t fight for your kids, you should. Kids need to know that both parents love and want them enough to fight for them.
But it shouldn’t get nasty. If the fight is going to get nasty, as much as humanly possible, keep the kids away from it, or don’t fight at all. I can’t tell you where that line is but you need to know where it is for yourself. If you need help to determine which hills should be fought to take, seek counsel from someone wise.
The kids always come first. That’s parenting.
Don’t Lose Hope
There are people who are so hopeless about their situation that they can’t even imagine a way that it might turn around. That’s a terrible place to be, and I’m so sorry if you are there. In the same way I might naively assume that people want the best for their kids, I will also cling to notion that there is always hope!
I must preface here by saying my hope is grounded in my faith. In truth, even though I assume the best of people, I don’t put a lot of hope in a human being.
My hope for broken humanity is precisely that I believe we are made in the image of God and that God is in the business of mending broken humanity. Jesus Himself declared that He had come to earth in order to mend our human brokenness.
Ultimately, we won’t experience the full realization of that mending until the day we meet Jesus, however, to say that He can’t start that healing now simply isn’t true. The fact is, your marriage may never be restored, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus can’t restore you.
I know that not everyone reading this post will have the same spiritual values as I do, but if you are interested in exploring what Jesus might bring to your life, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I don’t have much to offer beyond a few ideas for these short blogs, but I know Someone who wrote the stars into the skies. He can rewrite the future you thought fate had handed you.
Thom Van Dycke has worked with children and youth since 2001 and is a passionate advocate for healthy foster care. Together with his wife, since 2011, they have welcomed 30 foster children into their home. In 2017, Thom Van Dycke was trained as a Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner.