Honestly, doesn’t this tip apply to everyone? Imagine if everyone solidly stuck to this approach in every encounter with others. What a world it would be. People would be less likely to insult one another, to disregard the consequences of their actions on others, or to inflict physical pain on another human being because they would always remain steadfastly focused on a knowing of how that would feel if they were on the receiving end.
When it comes to divorce, I think all too often we abandon this very simple rule to happier lives. I’ve witnessed varying degrees of parents who act out such behavior from those who simply don’t think to let the other parent know about their child’s sports schedule or school picture ordering deadline to the more extreme examples of parents who withhold visitation from another parent or speak badly about the other parent to their children. If only they would stop and think how they would like it if they were the one who had to endure these situations. And for those that have such great disdain for the ex-spouse that they just can’t give them any consideration, if only they would consider how the child feels when they are denied the attentions of another parent.
I’m sure neither of us was perfect in this regard but here were some of the things I did in my quest to honor the golden rule:
- Share all extracurricular and school schedules including photo ordering deadlines and forms with my son’s dad. Going one step further I also tried to extend the sports and performance schedules to Bob’s family as well to make sure the grandparents and other family members would continue to be integral to Ian’s life and get to share his special moments with him.
- Give dad a copy of all report cards
- Make sure my son always got to spend his dad’s birthday and father’s day with him according to his dad’s wishes
- Trade off the opportunity to host my son’s birthday party year to year
- Remain flexible to allow for family vacations with dad
- Honor the conditions of your divorce decree. If you said you would abide by a certain visitation schedule, honor it. If you said you would pay for certain things or provide particular types of financial support, pay it. If you agreed to live within a particular distance of one another, then don’t move beyond that distance. Conversely, if your ex is slightly late returning your child from a tradeoff between homes, be reasonable. Don’t freak out over 5-10 minutes unless it is habitual, avoidable, and causes you real (not imagined or exaggerated) consequences. If a payment is less than expected, ask questions and find out why it happened before assuming the worst.
- If you don’t have a financial arrangement with the other parent, expect to split reasonable expenses for your child. Plan to pay for half of the school supplies, clothes, camps, and more extravagant purchases such as cars, college tuition, and large family celebrations honoring your child (as long as you both agree to the choices).
Now I am not condoning spending beyond your means. So the flip side here is that you jointly discuss expenses and share with each other the limits you can live with for cash outlays. There may be some things that one parent thinks are necessary that another either doesn’t agree with or can’t afford. In these cases, the parent who really wants to make the purchase has choices – go it alone and accept that it is your choice to pay for it without assistance, choose something less expensive, delay the purchase, or decide not to make it at all. I’ve made all of these choices at one point or another and I don’t get pissed at my ex for the choice he made. There have been times when he had more money and times when I did. If I wanted my son to have something and his dad didn’t agree with the purchase, I listened to his perspective and then usually would find a compromise that still worked for everyone. When I wasn’t making any money, Ian’s dad agreed to front some expenses and allow me to pay him back when I had it. Of course, this presupposes that one has established a record of doing such a thing.
The other thing I will say about buying things for your children is this. Don’t use it as a weapon or to buy your child’s affections. Don’t lavish your child with extravagant gifts to make your ex look bad or to make your child like you more. Don’t set out to put your ex in a position of overspending as that one will surely come back to bite you in the ass when they can’t afford to maintain your child’s standard of living on their end anymore.
Finally, it is only fair to alternate claiming your child as a dependent on your income tax returns – especially if they are splitting time between your homes. This can amount to tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a child’s life. But be smart about this. If you taking the deduction doesn’t save you anything because of your particular tax situation, then why waste it? Give it to the other parent and forge an agreement that any refund will be split between you.Throughout Ian’s childhood, we maintained a spreadsheet of expenses between us. And I swear even when we might go six months without updating it, when we each finally got around to it, it would balance out almost to the dollar in what each of us had spent on Ian. I always got a chuckle out of how that worked out.
- Share special moments in your son’s life with his other parent. From the little things to more significant events, this bank of memories will not only be priceless to the other parent who may not have been able to be there, but also strengthen the parental bond with the child. And this can only benefit your son or daughter in the end.
- Be kind to each other in the presence of your child. This may be hard for some divorced couples. It was actually easy for us or at least me if I’m only speaking for myself because I like Bob as a person and friend. For others this may be hard. But continuing to ask oneself how you would like it if they took a certain action will make this abundantly easier and help to keep actions and words spoken in check.
- Don’t take your child’s side against your ex. If my son complained about his dad, I listened and then, if I thought Bob had acted reasonably, even if I disagreed with the specific approach, I would offer insights to Ian in support of his dad’s actions. If I didn’t particularly think the choice Bob made in a certain situation was the best, I simply suggested to my son that he should talk to his dad about it and work it out between the two of them. I tried very hard to respect that each of us is an individual who has different styles and desires. I also tried to remember that there is more than one way to solve most problems and maybe in some cases, Bob’s approach was possibly a better one that I might have taken. And actually, when I came at it in this way, I found that it sometimes offered me a learning opportunity hearing how Bob handled something differently than I might have and still precipitated the desired result. That doesn’t necessarily mean my son always saw it that way. What I absolutely refused to do was bash his father or show a lack of support for the decisions he made in our sons life as long as it was at least reasonable even if different from the one I would have made.
- Don’t try to manipulate your ex’s post-marital relationships because of your feelings toward a new someone. We all have free will whether you like it or not. So you will not get to choose who they have relationships with. And this may be hard to take, but you also won’t be able to completely block your child from developing relationships with that new someone assuming they aren’t a real physical or emotional threat to your child. After all, your ex chose you at one point. So you have to have faith that they will choose wisely and in the interest of your child in the future.
And let me tell from firsthand experience, if you do try to deny your child of a relationship with a new partner in your ex’s life, it will likely backfire by either driving a wedge between you and your child or denying them what could have otherwise been a very rewarding an loving experience for them. It might even result in both. Always remember, what if your ex were to attempt to impose these behaviors on you. Would you think that was right?
Fortunately for me, I wasn’t faced with any circumstances where I thought Bob’s choices were truly damaging to our son or worse, dangerous. I know some parents face these situations. And in those cases which can vary greatly I won’t try here to suggest how one should always respond. But it probably should start with addressing your concern with the other parent – not with the child. It is unlikely the child will be in a position to provoke a change for the better in these situations anyway. So this could just frighten them or put them in a tougher situation. While you can bring your concerns to the other parent’s attention, you can’t make them choose differently. Of course, if the situation is a downright dangerous one for your child to be in, you may have to take preemptive or even drastic measures to protect the child. But even in this case, bashing the other parent in front of your child does nothing to this end. So just don’t do it.