“A big part of cooperative parenting and divorce means getting along for your children’s sake no matter what the occasion is. When you have a child together, there will be certain celebrations that your child will want both parents to be present and being able to put your animosity aside just for a day can make all the difference in your child’s memory of that occasion.”
– Brette Sember
Some pointers to consider under these circumstances:
To attend or not to attend
The challenges associated with blending families are enough, without children having to stress about parents refusing to attend or co-operate for their sake. This is not the time to pick fights with your ex, but rather calls for selfless maturity. Consider carefully, whether it is really necessary to insist on bringing your new partner or stay away and sulk.
It’s not all about you
Your child will be excited and nervous about the upcoming event. Do not overshadow his/her spot in the limelight with your own anxiety. Be gracious and keep your misgivings to yourself. The show must go on! Remember that it is your child’s big day and that’s where the focus should be.
It is generally considered better for children to see both their parents happy separately than miserable together. If you are able to sit together at these events, avoid uncomfortable silences by making small talk to make the time pleasant. Avoid tackling big issues that may lead to conflict. If, however, you cannot stand each other, focus on your child and the purpose of the event. Keep yourself occupied and refrain from worrying about where or with whom the other parent is, when you are alone. If your child is organising the event, such as an engagement or wedding, leave it to them to determine the seating arrangements and go along with it.
Make it easier
It might be sensible to invite family or friends along, so that you have company. Being in a group, shares the interaction and limits the chances of being uncomfortable with each other. Be mindful of not putting sworn enemies together, but rather select people who are able to contribute to an amicable social gathering.
Limit contact/time together
If you have to, offer to go early and save seats, so that your ex may arrive just before starting time. This will limit awkward moments. Alternatively, purchase tickets for different dates (like concerts which are often performed a few days in a row) or on different seats so you don’t have to sit together.
For the sake of everyone’s sanity, plan the occasion thoroughly. Determine who will do what, when to arrive and how long to stay. If all goes well and celebrations are spontaneously extended, be careful not to overstay your welcome – leave at the agreed time.
Families often share a meal or attend a party afterward. Remember to engage with your child and celebrate the occasion. Make an effort to contribute to a sociable and hospitable atmosphere, for your child’s sake. Sentiments often run high on such memorable days, making parents feel vulnerable, so consume alcohol wisely, in case you might not be able to hold back on emotions.
You don’t have to hug and kiss
A healthy co-parenting relationship means that both parents are civil toward each other. Be friendly and kind, but do not confuse your children with any sign of intimacy which could be misinterpreted. It is also inappropriate to be all over your new significant other at these events.
If you really cannot get along, take turns to attend events and arrange separate celebrations where possible.
Philip M. Stahl, author of Parenting after Divorce: Resolving Conflicts and Meeting Your Children’s Needs, says, “Some parents, for whatever reason, remain in high conflict, and that’s not good for the kids. If you and your ex can’t be in the same place with each other, you’re probably better off not getting together.”
Respect religious celebrations, birthdays, family traditions and rituals. Accommodate them wherever possible, even if they are different from yours. You will set a great example of tolerance and understanding for your children.
Written by Sinta Ebersohn (creator of fairdivorce.co.za – Stellenbosch RSA)