You were married to one person. Something changed and this person became a stranger to you – either before the divorce (causing it in part, perhaps) or after the divorce. Your child now has a parent you can’t find any common ground with. Nothing he or she does makes sense. You might even wonder if your former spouse has become mentally ill. How are you supposed to parent with someone you no longer have any connection with?
Understand How Divorce Affects People
As you are well aware, divorce is one of the biggest stressful events that can ever happen to you. It is truly crazy-making. Odds are you’re not the same person you used to be either. That doesn’t excuse completely crazy behavior though, but it is worth bearing in mind that the changes might just be temporary.
Stop Trying to Fix It
You can’t change your ex. You can’t change how he or she reacts, thinks, or behaves. You’re no longer a person with any influence in this situation. Yep, he/she is acting crazy and irrational. Nothing he/she is doing seems to make any sense. But it’s not up to you to change it. It’s up to you to put up some barriers so that it can’t hurt you or your child. Protect your child, but remember that crazy person you now know may not act crazy around your kids. Keep tabs on the situation as closely as you can via your child to make sure the craziness is not seeping into that relationship. If it is, you need to take steps to limit that parent’s time and influence.
Control Your Own Responses
It’s the hardest thing in the world to close your mouth and walk away when someone you used to love is hurtful, ridiculous, out of control, and mean. You want to tell him/her exactly what he/she is doing wrong and to grow up. Doing this isn’t going to help you. All it will do is fan the flames. Put up a wall to insulate yourself from the insanity. Decide not to engage. Protect yourself from the craziness instead of trying to engage with it.
Negotiating with a Crazy Person
It’s pretty difficult to negotiate with someone who has seemingly gone off the deep end. When you have a child with someone however, you can’t just close the door and never communicate again. You have to find a way to make it work. Follow these rules:
– Talk only about parenting issues. Don’t get into anything else.
– If talking is hard, use email or texts only.
– Remain calm in the face of the storm. Breathe. Give yourself points every time you control your reactions.
– Have a written parenting agreement and follow it to the letter. Any deviation will simply provide space for the craziness to touch you again.
– Plan to spend money on legal fees to enforce the written agreement or order. There will be no other way to get the other parent to do what is required at times. Call your lawyer instead of trying to reason with the other parent. Spending this money will make you mad, but your kid is worth every penny.
– If you think the other parent is not good for your child, take legal action to minimize contact.
– Keep your kid out of it. You probably love your own parents despite whatever craziness they have. Your kid feels the same way. Protect your child as best you can, but accept this is the other parent and this is who your child is connected to.
– Don’t give an inch but don’t expect the other parent to give an inch either.
Treat a Stranger Like a Stranger
If your ex has become a stranger, treat him or her like one. Don’t make any assumptions, don’t share anything personal, don’t be vulnerable, and explain everything in absolute detail. Always make sure you have agreement about everything when it comes to your child – never assume that even the smallest change or alteration will not be a problem. And don’t be hurt or angry when you are treated poorly. When a stranger in the grocery store is rude to you, you harrumph and brush it off. You must learn to so the same thing here.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner, How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest, The Complete Divorce Guide and The No-Fight Divorce Book. Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.