It's the Christmas season. Neighbors are decorating their houses, Rudolph and Frosty are on television, and the kids are rushing home to see if they have any more gifts under the tree. The only thing worse than listening to them practice “Jingle Bells” on their plastic recorders for the school Christmas pageant is knowing your ex will be in the audience watching them with you. You may not be married anymore, but you're still parents, and because, as the saying goes, “Love your kids more than you hate your ex,” you'll probably be seeing each other at these events for many years to come. Here are some suggestions for getting through those encounters.
To begin with, don't stop going to your kids' programs just because your ex will be there. They will want both of their parents at their activities, and you know you want to be there, too. There's no need for the two of you to sit together if you don't want to, though. Sit wherever makes you comfortable. Being in a large crowd might even make things less stressful. Be careful not to badmouth your ex when you're in a group a friends. It won't make you feel better, and it makes them uncomfortable.
If you have to talk to your ex, stay calm. Keep the conversation short. Long conversations provide too many opportunities to argue. Remember, you're there for the kids. If an argument starts, excuse yourself, get away from the situation, get some air, and don't return until you've regained your composure. If it's not possible to get away, try to think of your ex as just another acquaintance, like the cashier at 7-11. You don’t ask the cashier who he’s sleeping with, do you? Let them rant and rave, then defer to them quietly. Don't let an argument take away from the kids' big day.
Later, when it comes to pick-ups and drop offs, walk and talk confidently, even if you don't feel it that day. Again, keep conversations short. Consider having a friend with you. Another person present can help keep conversations light and provide an excuse for cutting things short, if necessary.
Prepare yourself mentally for any unexpected situations. Your ex might see those quick hurried moments of bundling kids into jackets and grabbing backpacks as the perfect time to introduce you to a new love interest. Now you have to wonder how much time the kids will spend with this person you know nothing about. Who is your ex exposing your kids to? Where are they going? But all you can do is smile and say, “Hello. It's nice to meet you” before you go punch the life out of your pillow. You'll have to trust your ex to keep from causing a painful scene in front of the kids.
Another dreaded situation is when your ex dangles tickets to an event or trip before the kids' eyes, then says, “But it's on your mother/father's weekend, and you have to get permission.” What do you do when those hopeful eyes are focused on you and you already had plans for that weekend? Don't let your ex make you the villain. Smile and say, “I wish your father/mother had talked to me before making these plans and going to all this trouble. I'm really sorry about that.” Don't accept the blame. Let the kids turn back to your ex to beg for a schedule change. Be sure you keep your voice nonjudgmental. After all, as much as he or she used them as pawns just a teeny bit, your ex really did want to make the kids happy.
As much as you dread it, you and your ex will still have to work together to make Christmas a happy time for your kids for many years, making them the center of your relationship, not the middle of your arguments. Reaching some kind of holiday truce as soon as possible after the divorce is final will make things bearable for both of you and will hopefully give the kids the stress-free holidays they deserve. Would you give your kidney to your child to save him or her? Absolutely! Would you run in front of a car to prevent your child from being hit? Yes! Would you get along with your ex for your kids? Oh don’t make me have to do that!