By Geoff and Poppy Spencer authors of 1 Billion Seconds
We each divorced for the same reason: a desire to teach our children a healthier dynamic in which to engage in relationships. Especially with an ex. It can be a stumbling block for people who seek new relationships after divorce. While there is much one cannot control, there are several things you can manage as you interact with your ex.
While we might want to minimize exposure and interaction with the ex, there are many times of overlaps that involve the children. Combining celebrations are not for everyone, but if you can make it work, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to practice, and role model, the art of mindful release. Of letting go.
We have personally experienced an “ex-reunion” over the past two weekends. When Poppy’s first ex-husband came to town to help their daughter move back to the Midwest, we drove an hour to Tampa to pick him up from the airport, while the daughter finished her work week. The following day on Friday, we played 18 holes of golf and had lunch following our round. Just the three of us.
It was a win-win. Poppy’s daughter, knowing her father loves golf, felt relieved and guilt-free that her mom and step-dad were happy to entertain her father while she completed her work. This time with the ex, followed countless joint celebrations: elementary school concerts, programs and graduations, dinners, birthday, honors programs, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. And what happened? We had a great time!A week later, we celebrated our youngest daughter’s college graduation. Poppy’s second ex-husband and his wife joined in the celebration. We sat together at the ceremony, shared a lunch and two dinners together, and strolled along the quaint downtown area, chatting easily on the way to Kilwin’s for a perfect dessert.
When both parents put the needs of their children first—no matter the age of the children—the children witness positive role-modeling. When parents’ behavior is respectful, mature, and cordial, the kids learn how to summon the courage to manage perceived or possible tension with poise and grace in all aspects of their lives.
We have a confession: we are both conflict-avoiders. Poppy jokes that if she were a dog, she’d be a Border Collie—shepherding everyone to the same room to sit in a happy circle. Geoff would be a Labrador who waits attentively to enjoy the company of all those around him.
If you find yourself avoiding conflict, here are three steps we’ve discovered to maintain a healthy mind for your children:
- Self check. Are your positive emotions in good order? Or might you experience residual toxic thoughts or feelings that lurk under the mattress? If so, identify them and mindfully put them to bed.
- Visualize your encounter or situation. Ask yourself: “What role can I play to ensure that this situation flows smoothly?” If a snag appears as you reflect on this, pause to reframe. Imagine your children’s faces as you contemplate your response. What expressions would you like to see?
- Be mindful of past triggers. We believe that people don’t really change, although behaviors absolutely do. If you find yourself tripped up by a recurring situation, you have 100% control to change the outcome. When we bump up against people who we’ve allowed to get under our skin, we have a fantastic opportunity to practice _________. (Fill in the blank.)
We can recalibrate our emotional settings by identifying our own thoughts, feelings and actions. A slight shift in our thinking alters the dynamic. Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today post, Change Your Dance in the Stepfamily Dance, Harriet Lerner Ph.D. describes some guidelines in her book, Marriage Rules: “The rules are simple, but putting them into practice takes courage, fortitude, and grace under pressure. Take the high road. It’s hard. And it’s worth it.”If we hold onto anger, resentment and bitterness, we leave a tragic legacy to our children. Part of letting go of anger is to find happiness. And that begins with the self. And the first step is to forgive. Forgive the ex. Forgive yourself.
After receiving her Master of Science degree in Art Therapy and working as a Registered Art Therapist for twelve years, Poppy Spencer transitioned her private Art Therapy practice into coaching. A psychology professor at Ringling College of Art and Design for seven years, and as a certified Myers Briggs facilitator, she continues to implement psychology into her coaching relationships and has been a Certified Professional Coach for nearly a decade.
Geoff Spencer is a certified coach having transitioned from a twenty-five year career in sales and marketing where he specialized in technology deployed in higher education institutions. He is also a speaker, singer, and performer, having spoken in many professional venues, sung in churches and theaters, and performed in multiple community theater productions.