Competing With Your Ex
The cantankerous court proceedings are done. You have your judgment of divorce, which metes out parenting time, custody details, and who gets what holiday.
It’s all laid out for you – and now the fun begins.
Or so you think.
Many divorced parents feel like the real work begins once the divorce is final. That’s when they unconsciously vie for their children’s love and attention, and it often happens that a divorced parent feels like he or she is competing with their ex, in a race to win over the kids, to be the favorite parent, the preferred parent, the successful parent.
Divorce can truly bring out the worst side of great people. You field feelings of hurt and sorrow, mourning for the loss of a marriage even if you were the one who initiated the breakup. You have to go through all the layers of emotions before you reemerge in a new phase of life.
You may date. You may fall in love again. You may even remarry.
But all the while, you are co-parenting with your ex-spouse, and whatever feelings linger (hurt, anger, sadness, loss, love) can drive you to act in ways that aren’t ideal.
Therapists tell children of divorce that they can and should love both parents. That their hearts are big enough to have love for both and that their parents’ divorce is between their parents – not involving them.
Kids of divorce will say that they feel their parents are in a war to win them over, to be chosen as favorite. And it’s not a fun feeling.
Oftentimes, the divorced parents don’t even mean to do it. And sometimes they don’t even see it.
So if that might be you, stop and pay close attention. Do you secretly jump for joy when the kids complain about your ex? Do you feel equal parts compassion and cheer when your child calls from the other parent’s house, distraught about being away from you?
Do you keep track of how many times the ex lets them down, forgets important moments and otherwise disappoints your kids?
If you said yes to any (or all!) of these examples, there’s a pretty good chance you are silently competing with your ex to win over your kids.
There are no winners in a competition like this. Only sad outcomes where adults in every area of their lives act like little children fighting for the last morsel of food.
Think about what might happen if you and your ex continue this silly competition.
Your kids will grow up feeling like the center of an endless tug-of-war. They will lose respect for both of you. They will feel anger. They may move far away so that they can start their own adult lives on a clean slate and not in the middle of such stupidity.
Is that what you want?
I didn’t think so.
It’s valid and common to feel all kinds of loss when you divorce, even involving the time your children spend away from you. They are building other memories without you; part of their childhood is now off-limits to you.
But a good chunk of their childhood remains in your hands. And with that time that is a true gift, do good things.
Build strong, wonderful memories doing active things where your phone is tucked away and your eyes and ears are 100% on your children. Start new holiday traditions.
Engage in late-night conversations as they turn into teenagers where you listen carefully and nod in all the right places. Be with them. When they’re around, banish your feelings of insecurity and inadequacy and fear, so that you can be wholly, completely with them every chance you have.
They will remember that far more than any pettiness.