As a Relationship Advisor and a parent raising a blended family, I have seen both professionally and personally how quickly family dynamics can change throughout the evolution of divorce. Divorces may start off extremely hostile and over time morph into amicable, or they may instead start off copacetic and turn downright nasty.
The truth is, we can’t predict how the dynamics will change, and although the hope is that we can all co-parent successfully, we have to make arrangements for the contrary.
Here are 3 reasons it’s so important that you set up boundaries around co-parenting with your ex immediately.
1. He might not have a new partner yet…but he will
Until your ex finds a new partner, you are still the #1 woman in his life (second to his mother, maybe). You are the mother of his children and the woman he most listened to for all the years before your divorce. Until those shoes are filled with a new woman, you will likely continue to be that woman in his life. So there might be easy conversations about schedule changes, financial shifts, future plans, etc…for now.
The second there is another woman by his side, someone who is 100% on his team, you will no longer have the loudest voice in his life (and you shouldn’t, truly). So even if things are cool, calm, collected now, setting up structure (legally in particular) around how your divorce will operate is incredibly important.
2. He might not have appropriately processed his pain
Men are notoriously bad at dealing with their psychological struggles (blame it on society’s male construct). In the divorce process, men often start off angry (which is just the easiest-to-show-up emotion, not the true issue) or they may start off complacent (read: numb). The truth is that it often takes men a long time to truly process the pain of losing the life they thought they were going to live, to start the grieving process, and to move forward in a positive way.
Oftentimes the pain is pushed away and everything turns into appeasement for a while (if you notice you’re getting “yes” to every favor you ask, you’re in this phase with your ex).
The thing is, this doesn’t last – for many reasons. Some men do eventually face the demons, seek counselling, and work through their pain; a difficult process but a worthwhile endeavor for future happiness. Once they reach the other side, they may feel more empowered and clear on what they want for their future, and it may not be at all in line with what you want for yours (which is fine, because you’re divorced).
However, when raising kids together, you want to be clear on what you both want for them (regardless of what you want for yourselves), and that needs to be worked out early on – before the changes occur.
And if your ex is like many men, he may never truly deal with the pain. He might get angry off and on for years, he might even still blame you for leaving him (if you did) and every negative thing that happens in his life 20 years down the line (trust me, I’ve seen it happen).
This is again why it is so important to set boundaries for your communication and the goals for your children right from the start – because it’s so unclear how his pain will be processed. Remember that hurt people, hurt people – and he is hurt, so there is no telling how he will hurt you next (intentionally or unintentionally).
3. He might never be the father you wished he would be
You divorced him for a reason – probably many – one of which might be around the issues of parenting. Even if you felt that throughout your marriage he was a great dad, it’s possible that the pain of the divorce results in a lessening of his super-dad persona.
Or maybe he wasn’t a great dad, or just not the dad you had hoped he would be, and maybe you want more for your children and you hope that your new (or future) partner will be that person in your children’s lives. Your new partner may very well be a great influence in your children’s lives, but it won’t change who their dad is.
If your ex is in your kids’ lives, well then you may have to grit your teeth, bite your tongue, and take the high road when it comes to issues you have with regards to his parenting style. Again, boundaries are so important here when it comes to your children’s well-being – there should absolutely be ground rules set from the start about what you both agree on as being for their best interest and not for their best interest (safety first, needs met, etc.).
Everything else is a bit of “grin and bare it” unfortunately. But remember, that’s why you’re divorced – so that you don’t have to personally be impacted by his choices in the same way anymore. Your kids will be, always, so make sure those boundaries are set from the start so that you can be sure your children are being cared for in the best way possible across households.
Being a two-household family is not easy and it comes with its own host of ever-evolving challenges. If there is one thing I have seen time and time again, it’s that wishy-washy boundaries put in place at the beginning leads to significant emotional and communication issues down the line. Don’t tell yourself “we’ll deal with that later” or “he’s being fine about that now, so we’ll leave it as it is”.
If you have strong opinions about how things should be, vocalize them. If he agrees, get them written up. If he doesn’t, work them through as soon as possible (with a mediator or in a lawyer if necessary) so that there is no question regarding what you are both expecting and requiring moving forward. Don’t just “see what happens over time”, be proactive and make sure you are clear on what you need, what you want, and what is best for your children’s future.