August 2005 -
Live and Let Live
Getting accustomed to the divorce and the new parenting
schedule was a huge change for you and your child. Once youíve got a schedule
hammered out and have started to adjust to it, things should get easier, right?
Well, not always. You and the other parent are now living apart and have embarked
upon separate lives. This means youíre both changing a lot. Particularly in
the first year or two after a divorce, people tend to make significant changes
in their lives. Itís not uncommon to start a new job, move, make new friends,
discover new interests, develop a new life philosophy, and, really, in many
ways, be reborn after a divorce. This is a healthy thing. It means youíre both
moving on, healing, and recovering. But what it can lead to is conflict with
the other parent.
You knew each other one way and now youíre starting to become
different people. Whatís scary about this is that is erodes your comfort level
and sense of trust for each other. In my practice, I saw many families return
to court because one of the parents couldnít handle the otherís new lifestyle.
One family I remember vividly. They had a seven year old
son who lived primarily with his mom. After the divorce she was shaky on her
feet and moved back in with her parents. The boy spent weekends with his dad,
who had bought a new very modern house and was living with a new girlfriend.
They had an active social life and the father was moving forward fast with recreating
himself. The dad had also bought a boat and used it every weekend over the summer.
He was into water skiing and tubing and everything you can think of that went
with the boat. This was a completely new interest for the father and he wanted
to take his son along and share it with him. The mother was still angry from
the divorce, uncomfortable because she really didnít know this new man her ex
had become, and as a result she was certain he was going to drown her son. She
believed he drank all the time on the boat (although she had never witnessed
this) and questioned his judgment. She demanded that the court refuse to allow
him to take his son on the boat. Not only did this put a major hitch in his
lifestyle (and build on the resentment between them), but it also kept the son
from being a part of his dadís new life and new interests. The mother was right
to be concerned about safety, but her concerns turned out to have no basis in
If your ex has a new lifestyle that bothers you, ask yourself
- Does this new lifestyle truly put my child in any realistic danger?
- Does the new lifestyle create situations in which my child is exposed to inappropriate
things or uncomfortable situations?
- Has the other parent stopped being a concerned and loving parent?
- Is my child improperly supervised when with the other parent?
- Has the other parent changed in a drastic and negative way that might mean
addiction or psychological problems?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you are
probably right in wanting to keep your child out of a situation that seems dangerous
or unsuitable. If not, your concern is normal and natural, however you need
to think carefully about whether your underlying feelings about your ex is coloring
your reactions to this situation.
Itís normal to feel uncomfortable with changes in the other
parentís life. You are growing apart and that makes it difficult to maintain
trust. Remember that you are parents together and need to connect at least on
that level. To foster trust, it is a good idea to have meetings with each other
in which you talk about your child and have relaxed conversation about what
is new in your lives. You do need to maintain some kind of connection even though
you no longer are partners. Completely closing each other out of your new lives
only harbors distrust and suspicion. Sharing things with each other keeps you
up to date on what the other person is doing, so that you have time to adjust
to changes, understand why they are happening, and become comfortable with the
new people are evolving into.