A lot of people actually ask me these questions about my ex-husband. How do you guys get along so well? He still comes to some of your family functions? You give him dating advice? All of you can still go to dinner together?
I don't know how I got so lucky in my divorce situation, but I really did. No one envisions divorce, nor is it any sort of an ideal situation to be in at all. However, sometimes it just IS. And once it's over, all you can do is make the very best of your situation for everyone involved, especially if that includes kids.
There has never been a time in the 4.5 years since being separated that we did not respect each other and didn't work through everything in order to be the best co-parents we could be. Some people don't understand this set up. They think there needs to be clear separation in order to move on – and in some instances I am sure this is more than 100% true. In situations with no kids, I can definitely see that being the best situation for everyone. There is also the quote from When Harry Met Sally that a man and a woman cannot be just friends because someone always wants more. I tend to believe that quote, but if there are boundaries set up front, I know it can work.
So, how do we do it? I've come up with the critical elements below.
- Put first things first – your kid(s) – you have to start there. This will help shape how you want things to look and what you need to get past in order to make the best out of divorce for them. They didn't ask for this and part of them will always be affected by it. So it is your job to be mature and figure out how you will put them first. This also includes never bad mouthing your ex to the kids.
- Be transparent with your kid(s) – having a friendly relationship with my ex-husband has caused some strife with my kids wondering why the heck we just can't be married if we get along? Being transparent does not mean to tell them every detail as to why you got divorced or anything they are not emotionally equipped to handle. It does mean that you let them know that you will be friends and co-parents for them because it is what they need and deserve. Letting them know up front that it doesn't mean you're going to get back together is a good idea.
- Let go of the past – obviously there is muck or you wouldn't have gotten divorced. It is time to let go of the past and move on. Give grace, forgive and see the best in your ex so you can be the best version of yourself in this situation for your kids.
- Set clear boundaries with each other and your families – this is probably the biggest element. Someone probably might want more (or be misled to think there is a chance) if you don't set clear boundaries. This includes boundaries with your families, because there might be some instances where it is best to keep things separate and not always be together at family events, unless it's one of the kids' birthdays. My family tends to go overboard and wants to include all of the time when that is not necessarily the best set-up, either. There needs to be space and you need to determine what that space should look like, as well as let others in your close circle know.
- Actually be friends – my ex-husband and I talk about things going on with the kids, but we also ask how work is going, how his favorite team did in the game, and he even asks me for dating advice. I give it to him because all I want is to see him move on and be happy. And I want to help pick out my kids' stepmom – I am kind of selfish with this one! Just the other day, I helped him decide to send flowers to the girl he has been dating and made sure to tell him at this early point in their relationship to make them fresh flowers with a fun and flirty message, not red roses with a creepster message. And it totally worked and scored him some big points. I live for that.
- Be transparent about the set-up and expectations when you do enter a relationship with someone else – I saved this one for last because it can be tricky. Not everyone will be ok with me being friends with my ex-husband. And that's ok. I will make it clear up front what the situation is, though. I will be loyal to who I am in a relationship with, but he has to be open to this in some way or it will not work. In my last relationship, my ex-husband graciously bowed out of many things in order to give the guy I was dating the chance to be with my family alone.
So there's my advice on how to be friends with your ex-husband. It isn't always easy, and most people will look at you funny, but I have learned that there is no "right" way to do divorce. You need to do what works for your situation. I also understand that in a lot of cases there is one side that absolutely will not cooperate, even for the kids. That is unfortunate but I know it is reality. There is also abuse involved and other things that make it not possible. I understand that. In those situations, all you can do is be the best parent you can be on your own for your kids.