The Ex Files
Suck It Up and Get Along with Your Ex
When my divorce was new, talking with my ex was painful. We were angry at each other, and, let's face it, looking for ways to hurt each other. But no matter how right I felt I was, deep down in my heart I knew: Being in constant fight mode was horrible for my kids, and it was making me even more miserable. "You have an obligation to your kids to stay friendly -- or at least civil -- with your former spouse," says Neuman. But this is easier said than done. So, I tried my hardest and used the greatest gift to divorced parents everywhere: e-mail. Hashing out sensitive topics this way allowed me to cool down before responding. "Sleep before you send," advises New York City family-law specialist Peter Bienstock. "Read the e-mail again in the morning, and make sure it says exactly what you mean." Don't be snide, angry, or sarcastic. Try for a pleasant and courteous tone even if you don't feel that way. It's easy to fake it electronically.
...and Stop the Trash Talk
"It's absolutely critical that you take the high road and don't bad-mouth your ex in front of the kids," says Susan Bartell, PsyD, author of Mommy or Daddy: Whose Side Am I On? Whatever his flaws, your kids love their dad with all their heart. But what about when your ex doesn't show up for visits or blows off child-support payments and actually makes your kids' life miserable? "It's good to acknowledge your child's feelings as long as you don't add anger to your empathy," says Neuman. You can say "I know it's hard that Dad couldn't come again this Wednesday," but leave out the "That jerk has always been irresponsible!" comments.
As if this advice isn't tough enough to follow, you've also got to keep yourself from making negative comments to your friends, mother, or next-door neighbor if there's even a chance that you'll be overheard by your kid. A sleeping child has a way of appearing out of thin air -- just when you're cursing out his dad. Remind yourself that each time you keep quiet, you're causing your child a little less pain.