It may seem ironic that you would “nurture” a divorce, but mediation works best when both parties take the time to communicate with each other. Nurturing makes us think about love and care; divorce can feel full of hate and spite. My parents have been divorced for 46 years. And for those 46 years they’ve had to interact with each other through their three children and six grandchildren. They planned and attended our birthday parties, negotiated parenting time and holidays, and disciplined us together when we were growing up. Now that we have kids, my parents and stepmother meet up frequently at our children’s birthday parties, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, school graduations, etc.
I always tell my clients that I’m a child of divorce. When they hear that it’s been 46 years, I see them processing what I'm saying. I don’t tell them so they’ll worry, but to let them know that this is an opportunity to make their divorce what they want it to be. When couples come to mediation, they’ve decided to work cooperatively to get through their divorce, but they should also plan to work cooperatively at BEING divorced.
People often think of a divorce as an event- “I was divorced on this day.” If you have children, it’s not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing, complicated relationship. You will be “related” to your ex-spouse for the rest of your life. If you want that relationship to be full of venom and spite, that’s your choice. If you want it to be full of mutual satisfaction and agreement on how you are raising your children, and how you are making your way in the world together yet separate, then think about how you can nurture your relationship with your ex.
What does it mean to nurture your divorce? And how does one nurture a relationship with someone that may have really hurt you or that you might actually even hate? It’s going to look different for everyone and you may not be able to nurture it until after the divorce takes place and you’ve finished making all the decisions.
I want to share a few ideas and welcome yours in the comments:
During your separation, keep your children at the forefront of all your decisions and interactions with your ex-spouse.
Don’t speak negatively about your ex in front of your kids- they are part of each of you and will take everything personally.
Communicate: If you get a nasty email or text from your ex- respond with the “BIFF” method (BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm). Bill Eddy from the High Conflict Institute says “how you respond to hostile communications may impact your relationships or the outcome of a case.” When you respond to someone without engaging in the crossfire, it can change the entire tone of the correspondence. The good thing about emails is that you don't have to respond immediately. Take time to control your reaction. Hold onto your response for a day and reread it before responding if timing is applicable.
Don’t spend all your time looking in the rearview mirror- if you were driving and didn’t look out the front window- you’d crash- and the same thing is true if you spend time rehashing all the bad memories and hurt feelings you have from your marriage. (paraphrased from Joel Osteen)
Don’t hold a grudge- someone wise once told me, when you hold a grudge it’s like eating poison and hoping the other person will die. (Anonymous)
My brother likes to say that love is not a zero sum game. Meaning there’s enough love to go around and if you try to convince your child to love you more, it doesn’t take any of their love away from your ex.
Don’t be late with child support payments. Remember the money is to support your child and if your ex doesn’t have the money they need, that will put more strain on your relationship and stress them out, which is not good for YOUR child.
Don’t compete with your ex- your child knows and loves both of you and is internally aware of what you can and can’t do emotionally and financially.
Don’t be a “Disney-world” parent- kids don’t need to be entertained all of the time, in fact they’ll respect you as a parent if you aren’t always “fun.”
Don’t assume everything your ex says has an ulterior motive. Take the words at face value.
So while it might sound strange to nurture your divorce, in the long run, your whole family will benefit from it. Parents who see themselves as partners and work to raise their kids together (even though they are separate) will have less conflict in their own lives. And children, whose parents are able to get along, will be happier and better adjusted than those whose parents are living in conflict. Mediation works best for those couples who are paying attention and want to nurture their relationship even after they're divorced.
Jody Comins, MSW is a Divorce & Family Mediator and Collaborative Coach in the Greater Boston area. She is an adult child of divorce and uses her experience to create a child-centered practice at A Better Way: Divorce Mediation. She is a mentor for volunteer mediators in the Norfolk Probate & Family Court and a court approved facilitator for the required parenting classes in MA.