It's not for everyone, but it was definitely interesting...
Divorce isn’t fun. Mine certainly hasn’t been.
It particularly breaks my heart when the situation becomes so bitter that family members are left devastated, resentful, and unable to find a new path for themselves — when they lose track of what’s really important.
Parenting is not an easy adventure. The added tension that comes with a break-up brings a level of stress that challenges our ability to be the kind of parent we want to be. When we don’t find an effective way to co-parent with our ex-partners, the pressure increases, and ultimately impacts our kids.
Blessed with this realization, I made the decision to invite my ex to go on vacation with us. Since vacation is relaxing by nature, I figured that even if he makes me crazy half the time, it’s still vacation. I was doing it for my kids, after all. But actually, in the end, we all benefited.
I know it isn’t for everyone, but here’s my reasoning, as well as how it played out for us.
1. My “Ex” is WAY more fun than I am.
Yep, I’ll admit it — part of why I married him in the first place (and not surprisingly, part of why we aren’t together now) is his light approach to life and spontaneity. My kids love being around him, and I do, too — when he’s in that zone. Since we split up, vacations haven’t been boring, but with Dad around, we definitely pushed the limits, laughed more, and really enjoyed ourselves.
Added bonus: Secretly I get sad when I know my kids are off without me having fun with their Dad. I want to be part of the “fun,” too.
2. Helping my kids form relationships is important to me.
Learning to foster good relationships is a skill. While some people seem to do it effortlessly, it’s not the case for everyone, or in every situation.
In a family we can help each other understand how to better be in relationships. I watch my son effectively interact with my teen daughter and think, “Okay, that worked. How can I do more of that?”
The same is true for your kids and your “ex.” Even if you have decided to exit your relationship, your kids are still in a relationship with their other parent. Connection and fun are great tools to foster that. The win for you? You have an opportunity to help them achieve something they want — a healthy relationship with each of their parents.
Added bonus: Sometimes we have to figure out how to be in a relationship with people who are “difficult” for us to be around. Modeling the ability to do that gracefully for my kids honors a value I hold dear.
3. I still want my kids to feel a sense of “family.”
I’m not an “us vs. them” kind of person. I know families come in all shapes and sizes — and at all levels of (dys)function.
Finding a way for my kids to feel like they're part of a family, even one that lives across two different households, is important to me. I would never flinch at having my “ex” over for my son’s birthday, or sitting together with him at my daughter’s concert (even if the whole time I’m doing calming yoga-breathing while I try not to punch him or break into tears).
Yes, I’m doing this for my kids. But I’m also doing this for myself — to honor and share with my kids a value for connection, even in a situation that isn’t fully connected anymore.
Added bonus (for some): Many people are able to create a “new” relationship with their ex/co-parent. Without the same rules of a marriage, and less pressure, in many ways my relationship with my “ex” is much better than it was when we were married (particularly once we started getting un-married!).
The lesson here? It’s not about perfect co-parenting.
The real goal is to create a consciousness around what you want for your family — divorced or not. My situation is far from perfect, and I know it’s not ideal for many of you, either. But if you can get clear on the values that you most want to honor, and find creative ways to honor them, it benefits the whole family.
And … if you don’t have the kind of relationship with or cooperation from your ex that you want?
Still go on vacation with your kids — and honor your values that way.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster, founders of ImpactADHD.com, teach/write about practical strategies to parents of “complex” kids with ADHD and related challenges. To help your kids find the motivation to get anything done, download their free parent’s guide, The Parent’s Guide to Motivating Your Complex Child