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For the Kids’ Sake: Sharing Time and Space With Your Ex-Spouse

young female graduate and mother at ceremony

If you are divorced and have children, it is very likely that at some point, you will be faced with spending time in the same room or even at the same table with your ex-spouse at one of your children’s special events or celebrations. If it was a amicable divorce, no problem… If it was contentious, these events can be very stressful. We are talking about gatherings such as awards nights, plays, sporting events/games, recitals, banquets, graduations, weddings, christenings, etc. Unless your ex has totally alienated himself from the children or moved far away, it is likely that you will end up sharing time and space at special celebrations.

So, what do you do? First, if you were essentially a single mother, take a moment to appreciate the irony. You read all the books you could on getting your children through what may have been a difficult divorce. You listened to the advice of authorities on divorce and children. You listened to the kids’ therapist. Everyone said it was in the best interest of the children for them to have a relationship with their father. So, of course, you decided to encourage them to have as healthy and positive a relationship with him as they could. As tempted as you might have been, you chose not to say negative things about him. You told the kids they needed to go on visits even when they said they would rather stay home and do something else. You helped them buy holiday gifts and cards for him even if he never did the same for you. In the worst of circumstances, you encouraged them to have a relationship with a person who had left the family, who visited only when it was convenient for him, and who generally, failed to show much interest or support. You did such a good job that in spite of everything, the children did form a bond with their father. In spite of his shortcomings, they even forgave him and accepted him for who he is. So now, of course, he is invited to all gatherings. He’s “Dad”.

Next, pat yourself on the back for doing a really great job of raising your children. As a single parent, you may have done most of the work and had to deal with innumerable challenges. But, you did it! Your children have turned out to be fine people. In addition, right now, one of them has successfully achieved some milestone in life which you are about to celebrate. How wonderful! Feel proud!

Now, here are some tips for getting through a day you will share with your ex-spouse:

1. Decide that no matter what, you will be a good sport. Ever since your child was born, you have been striving to do the right thing for him/her. Since the celebration is all about your child, you know that the right thing to do is to be gracious and positive. Children really are happiest when everyone in the family gets along. Make a choice to get through the experience with grace and ease.

2. Visualize yourself having a wonderful time and feeling very happy at your child’s celebration. Feel your happiness. Practice simple affirmations such as “Happiness and joy are mine, today.” or “All is well.” or even, “I can do this.”.

3. If you feel nervous about the event remind yourself that feeling “anxious” and feeling “excited” involve the very same physiological responses in the body. If you have butterflies in your stomach and a sense of anticipation, try redefining your anxiety as excitement about the upcoming event. Cognitive re-framing helps change our moods. In this case, changing the thought that you are anxious to excited can actually help you feel more optimistic and calmer.

4. Get a good night’s sleep the night before.

5. Get up early enough to give yourself plenty of time to get ready.

6. Do some relaxation. Breathe in. Breathe out.

7. Aim to look “gorgeous”. Remember, the person you want to impress is yourself. You want to feel confident and really good about yourself on this special day.

8. Get to the event early enough to get yourself situated and comfortable. If by chance, you were able to get yourself strategically seated away from you ex-spouse, all the better.

9. Smile. Be gracious. Make eye contact. Smile.

10. If the opportunity presents and it would be awkward not to, make small talk with your ex-spouse. Remember this is not the time to bring up back alimony or anything else that is controversial. Better to talk about the kids especially the one who is being celebrated.

Celebrating milestones in your child’s life is a wonderful experience. They present a special chance to enjoy your child’s happiness. Don’t let anything or anyone, including yourself, stop you from having a great.

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