When Ellen was planning her parents' 50th wedding anniversary, one of the most difficult things she faced was convincing her ex to switch vacation schedules so their son could attend the gala event in California.
"Bob is a rigid digit. I knew he was going to give me a hard time because he resents being shut out of my family. Bob loved my parents and he would have liked to attend their celebration which was never going to happen. Not if they wanted me there!"
The upshot is Bob stuck to his guns. The boy missed the party and was furious with his father.
For both parents and children, visitation is critical in establishing a healthy working relationship during and after divorce. A flexible visitation pattern demonstrates love and support for your child. Parents who cooperate are able to separate their spousal relationship from their parenting relationship. They use visitation as an opportunity for healing, not an opportunity for revenge.
That said, how should you handle important events if you and your ex are constantly engaged in a standoff? How can you make the best of a difficult situation? Here are some pointers:
School conferences are always a challenge. If your child needs special services, arrange for a one-on-one conference and ask that a summary of any recommendations be sent to each of you so you and your ex are on the same page.
Pageants, plays and recitals often have more than one performance. Communicate the one you plan to attend. If you cannot agree, you could, of course, sit in the balcony with a paper bag over your head, but that wouldn't be very adult.
Sports events, fortunately, have bleachers. Sit far enough away from your ex but make sure to cheer loud enough for your child to hear you.
Graduation, weddings, confirmations, bar and bat mitzvahs are major family celebrations that are particularly stressful for the one(s) being honored. Since this is your child's special day, you want to avoid any possibility of a scene. The obvious solution is to make sure you sit with friends and try to be civil with the ex-laws. If you fear bloodshed, consider sending a stand-in. I recently attended a wedding when the bride's father absented himself and sent his mother in his place. The bride, though disappointed, made her grandmother feel welcome. Not a great solution, but the day passed beautifully.
The experts offer this advice to help smooth the way for any visitation:
- Be as flexible as possible with schedules.
- Treat your former partner with respect and bite your tongue.
- Maintain open communication regarding special events and plan ahead.
- Discuss trade-offs - One ballet recital for one swim meet.
- Include your child in making plans but do not use him as a go-between.
- Use email. It's a great neutral way to communicate and this way you'll have it in print!
If you truly want to make the most of a difficult situation, be the big one and enroll in a course such as Children First that teaches the "art" of cooperative parenting.
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