Does the very thought of seeing your ex at your child's special events make you so angry you'd rather make an appearance at traffic court?
Birthdays, sporting events, school conferences, getting your child situated in their college dorm, weddings...regardless of how long you have been separated or divorced, each of these special events can cause you to experience wide swings of emotions that can feel overpowering. Feelings of anger, anxiety, frustration and resentment can eat away at you emotionally before, during and after the special event takes place.
I remember when my oldest daughter graduated from college. Since my ex had parenting time with our young son that weekend, he drove with our son to the college several hours away and I drove with our other daughter. When my daughter and I arrived at the older daughter's college residence, I was surprised to discover that my former brother-in-law who I had once been very close to had shown up from another state and was sitting on the front porch with my ex. Since he had quit speaking to me early on during the divorce, the pain and anger I felt came to the surface.
Biting the insides of my cheeks to keep my emotions in check, I spent the time before the graduation ceremony in another part of the house and then ended up sitting at the graduation with my daughter's roommate's mom and her relatives -- on the opposite side from where my ex, son, other daughter and former brother-in-law were all sitting together.
How can you deal with your ex at your child's next special event?
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Think of your Ex as a Very Difficult Business Associate -- You know, the one who steals the limelight for your hard work, waits till the very last minute to tell you something important and who forms secret alliances in the men's room to report every small mistake you make to the people in power. As much as you would like to smack him with a stapler to make a point, you choose not to because business is business!
Insist on Respectful and Civil Communication -- If you and your ex had to deal with each other about a business matter, you would need to find ways to communicate clearly and get your critical points across in a well-defined and civil manner, avoiding emotional confrontations. By thinking about what potential hot-spots you may encounter and deciding ahead of time what specific actions you will immediately take when your ex tramples over your boundaries, you'll find it easier to focus on your child and less on worrying that an argument will erupt.
Remember that your Personal Life Belongs to You -- Now that the ties of marriage have been broken, it's up to you to claim and insist on the right to your privacy. Remember that you no longer need to explain things to your ex, defend your decisions or try to change his mind -- those days are over! Consistently enforce the rules of engagement that all communication with your ex needs to be related to your children's specific needs or necessary financial transactions so that anything else your ex brings up is off-limits and merits an immediate time-out.
Cut Off the Oxygen Flow from Everyone Else's Opinions -- It's very common to share your anger and frustrations with relatives and friends during the nerve-fraying times of stress that come along with separation and divorce. However, once the divorce is over, many of these same people will continue to offer their advice and opinions about your ex's actions and behaviors. Although these may be tempting to listen to, opinions and advice from relatives and friends keeps adding more fuel to the firestorm of emotions you have previously experienced.
Resist the Urge to Find out More about your Ex's Current Life -- Encourage your relatives and children not to share any more details than you truly need to know. Less really is more, and you will be better off in the long run for it.