Dear Straight Talk: I am newly divorced from my husband who “wanted out” of the relationship after 18 years and three kids (13, 15 and 18). He has a girlfriend already and wants to act like old friends. The kids want us to be friends, too. But I’m so hurt and angry I cannot stand being in his proximity. If I see him somewhere, I leave. I don’t enter his house and don’t want him in mine. I’m biting my tongue and not verbally thrashing him around the kids (with difficulty), but am I really expected to hang out around him “for their sake” when having to see him makes me want to cry, scream and barf all at once? ~ Sheryl
Elise, 21, Rexburg, Idaho: My parents got divorced 12 years ago and communication be-tween them is just ridiculous. It really hurts and angers me that they can’t get along, or at the very least be civil to each other when an important event requires them to be in the same room. I admire you for biting your tongue, and please continue that. It is gut-wrenching to hear my parents back-talk one another. I lose respect for them both. When you have to be together, it’s important to be civil even if you hate the other person – yes, for your children.
Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: My father and mother couldn’t look at each other for years. Be civil, but don’t fake a friendship for your kids – especially if your ex-husband isn’t playing fair. Nothing pissed me off more than my dad doing this with my mom in order to put a smile on our faces. I knew it hurt him inside and I wanted to see him happy. So, yes, avoid him as much as possible without it affecting the children or their visits. Keep biting your tongue and don’t break the bond he has with them. He’s plenty capable of breaking it himself.
Katelyn, 17, Huntington Beach: Explain to your kids, ex and mutual friends that you can’t handle his presence right now. Of course you need to be civil when you must be around him, but that only involves the most essential gatherings: school and extracurricular events, graduations, weddings, etc. Politely decline all else. Find someone new to hang out with, join a support group or see a counselor.
Taylor, 15, Santa Rosa: My parents went through the same situation. Eventually, we came to an understanding. They aren’t expected to “hang out” as if nothing happened, but as their kid, I appreciate some maturity. A smile, a little small talk or just a wave as they drive us between houses goes a long way. You don’t need to be friends, but please, for the sake of your kids, keep it civil and hold the drama.
Dear Sheryl: Your rollercoaster ride is known for invoking simultaneous tears, screams and nausea. Congratulations on heroically biting your tongue anyway. As you’ve heard from the panel, your kids don’t want you to be fake, but they do want you to be the adult – which means, if they’re around, you don’t storm out of a room or act like you’ve ingested a deadly substance just because their dad walked in. They love you both. You can’t control every situation, but you can, and must, control yourself. Look for the quickest way off that ride – or compartmentalize it – because I guarantee your kids are on their own rollercoaster. They need you right now, more than ever. Save your pain for a counselor, friend or family member, and find out how they are doing. ~ Lauren
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More from Lauren Forcella
The collateral damage kids suffer in a typical divorce is shameful. Needing to be blame-free, needing things “perfectly” fair, the I-told-you-sos, the contrary and belligerent actions, the why-should-I-do-everything-when-he’s-having-fun rationales – these are death knells for the kids’ well-being. Much of our mail involves situations where separated or divorced parents are working at cross purposes, or are simply so caught up in their own affairs that kids are left skating the middle ground, feeling lost, invisible and burdensome, and often veering onto a dark path. If even one parent takes the high ground, the kids can be safe.
Post-divorce counseling is as important as marriage counseling. If you can both take responsibility for your roles in a marriage that failed and hear a sincere apology from each other, it can make a world of difference in normalizing your relationship and being able to move on. You benefit and your kids really benefit. If the separated partner won’t go with you, go yourself.