In a perfect world, there would be no such thing as an Ex. People would love like they are meant to, marriages would thrive and love would win every time. But in the broken world we actually reside in, life throws punches. Sucker punches at times. And we find ourselves single and maneuvering our children through waters we never even wanted to dip our toes into.
In the beginning of this second season of singleness, we often have high hopes of how things will go. We’re all adults, after all. We can all place our differences aside for the sake of the children. We can be kind to one another for the sake of the children. We can respect one another moving forward, for the sake of the children.
Except when we can’t.
And while I’m a strong proponent of doing everything you can to get along with, respect and not disparage your Ex, sometimes the other party isn’t willing to cooperate. Sometimes you are placed in a situation in which no amount of trying on your end matters. There are some people in life that you just won’t be able to get along with. If that person happens to be the parent of your child, it can be heartbreaking to realize the uphill battle they are forcing you to fight.
But the truth is that having someone who insists on being contentious in our lives still doesn’t define the relationship. You can only control one person in this world. You just need to realize what that looks like in this new version of your family.
Romans 12:18 says,
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
As far as it depends on you, sweet friend:
Don’t disparage the other parent.
Even when you are being trashed by the Ex, don’t play in this sandbox. Because while it feels good to throw sand into the face of someone who’s hurt you, the only ones who really get hit are the children. As a child who went through this herself, I can testify to the fact that your children will remember your actions. So at least try to take the high road long after the harsh words have been said against you. They will remember who fought fairly and who made your life (and theirs) unnecessarily difficult in an already hard situation.
Do defend yourself.
If things are being said to your children that are untrue or exaggerated, you have every right to respectfully point out the truth. Living a life of honesty goes a long way. Despite the things being said about you, children are smart and often read people much better than adults do. They can distinguish someone who is doing right from someone who is doing wrong. Be consistent in living an honest life and they will see that’s who you really are.
Do protect yourself and your children.
You don’t have to, and absolutely shouldn’t, allow anyone to harass or emotionally abuse you or your children. If this is occurring, it’s your duty to limit and/or remove contact. Keep notes on what is going on, and if necessary, get authorities involved if the situation is keeping you and your children from being able to move on with a normal life.
Don’t feel guilty for another person’s choices.
It’s easy to want to rectify any wrongdoing you feel is occurring from your Ex. But remember, we are actually all adults here — even if not everyone is choosing to act that way. If they are making choices that cause problems or harm to you or your children, that is 100 percent on them, not you. If you are worried that things being done are setting your children up for future bad behaviors, you can assure your child that while their parent is usually a good person, they are currently making bad choices that you don’t support.
Do involve your children in your relationship goals with your Ex.
Let them know that your goal is to get along well with your Ex, and to encourage a positive relationship between them and their other parent. Just as children have issues with their own friends, they understand that sometimes people just can’t get along for periods of time. If you are in a period of not getting along with your Ex, let your children know that you are doing the best you can and that you hope that it will resolve itself over time.
Do continue to move on with your new life.
No matter what occurred to end your marriage, the fact is that it’s over and you deserve to move on and rebuild. Don’t let an Ex’s behavior hold you back or make you feel like moving on is simply too much trouble. While it may be easier to lay low and hold back from life in order not to create waves, you will simply be choosing less than what life has to offer — a choice you likely were already accepting before you became a single parent. It’s OK to live your life. It’s OK to move on. Start the rebuilding process despite the difficulties so that you aren’t allowing even more losses in your life.
Do pray for your Ex.
Regardless of how you feel about this person, how they are treating you, or their bad behavior, they — quite honestly — need the love of Christ more than anything else. Pray for them to find peace. Pray for them to grieve the loss well. Pray for them to rebuild or build their relationship with God. Truly, that is something we would do for others. Especially when they feel like an enemy in our lives.
Single parenting is hard. And while most of us want to do it to the best of our ability, we can’t control the actions of the other parent in our children’s lives. It’s OK. We are only called to get along with someone to the best of our ability, as far as it depends on us. Make it your goal to do everything you can on your side of the relationship, while maintaining boundaries. Remember: You can only control the actions of one person in this world. Set goals and do your best to live at peace.