I was the first among my group of friends to go through a major separation. I was never married but we have two children together and decided to call it quits. Most of my friends were just beginning their love stories during this phase of my life, so, needless to say, no one in my circle understood what I was going through or dealing with.
I felt like a failure. We all strive to raise our children in a happy, healthy home with two parents. I couldn’t achieve that for my children. If love were enough, divorce rates wouldn’t be so high. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more to make a partnership last. Recently, many friends have sought me out for advice on the path forward from a separation that involves children. Today, eight years later, I have a healthy, civil co-parenting relationship with the father of my children. Our children want for nothing and their parents get along way better now than they did while together (our kids will attest to this). Without going into detail about what happened, here’s my advice for those in the early stages of separation. These were the most frequently asked questions I fielded from friends.
We are attempting to co-live in the same house to keep a stable, familiar environment for the children. Do you think co-living works?
Nope, co-living never works out. It does more harm than good in trying to provide a stable, familiar environment. The reasons you decided to call it quits with each other will be replayed over and over every time you look at your ex-partner. As much as we try to do our best to hide what we go through, in close quarters, there is no way around limiting the exposure of our children to the fighting. You are now a single parent even if you both will have shared custody. By title, you are a SINGLE person now. You will not be able to move on emotionally, mentally, and with life in general if you still physically have your ex in the same space. Create a healthy transition plan to have separate spaces, it’s healthier for all involved.
How do my ex and I talk about when and how our children should be exposed to new people we are dating?
Reality check: You do not get to control who your ex sees or brings around the children. The healthy way to go about this is to come to an agreement that both parties should not bring anyone around the children unless they are 100% sure this person is a serious commitment. If your partner decides to have a revolving door, then you should initiate two types of discussions early on:
First, a talk with your child to remind them no matter what, they should always tell both parents how they feel about significant others and report any ill-treatment.
Second, a conversation with your ex-partner. Remind them it is their responsibility to ensure the safety and well being of the children while in their home. Let them know you won’t intervene or provide your unsolicited opinions on their revolving door unless you believe there is a real concern. Both of you must respect each other’s boundaries here regardless if you of whether you don’t want your ex to move on. If the kids like the significant other and are happy, you should be glad they are in good hands and move on too.
How do we work out an appropriate and fair custody percentage?
In a perfect world, both parties agree right off the bat to 50/50 shared custody in all areas but this isn’t a perfect world. We tried splitting the week in half (3 ½ days each), then every two weeks, then every other week, etc. You get my drift. This is not easy, and it’s situational depending on whether both parents are working or not. Whatever the case may be, my best advice here is to start it off with legal mediation, not the court, if you can avoid it.
We often believe that if we avoid the system altogether to decide our custody issue, then it’s less traumatizing for all involved. The reality is, most of us need a third party non-biased person to help determine an appropriate agreement. In most situations, it can all be resolved easily through a court-appointed mediator and not in a courtroom.
If you both can make it work without the systems involved, I suggest creating a shared calendar (i.e. google calendar) with children’s activities and set days for each parent. You can communicate via calendar if there is an unforeseen event and you need to do a switch. If I must attend a work trip when I am scheduled for parent duty, I create it into my co-parenting calendar. My ex will accept the calendar invite to let me know if he can switch. If he cannot, he’ll reject or propose what can work.
What do I do now?
You move on!
You become better, not bitter.
You don’t use your children as weapons against each other.
You strive to set a great example for your child/children. You show them that a happy, healthy home can be achieved with a single parent household. You show them that no matter what, you and your ex-partner will strive to be good co-parents for them. You don’t allow the mistakes, problems, and B.S. that separated the two of you to affect how you are as parents. It’ll be hard to put emotions aside in the beginning, especially if you are the one who was wronged. Be angry, be sad, be hurt, cry your eyes out and break some windows (just kidding: don’t break anything). When you are done feeling it all, create an action plan to move forward better than you ever were before. Accept this new reality and reinvent yourself. Every new path in life will require a new version of you.
In no way am I stating that I am an expert on separation with this piece. Everyone’s situation is different and there are a whole lot more complex situations that arise during separations than what I described above. I can only offer some suggestions from my experiences and hope that it’ll aid you in what you are going through.