There are many ways children keep coParents connected—through their school, extracurricular activities, health care needs, life-cycle events—all occurring in public space where they used to be together, and now are not.
These common settings may be filled with memories and patterns that may no longer fit. We hope to help you find your way through the discomfort and awkwardness to a more satisfying way of sharing public space with respect for each other and the focus on your children.
Taking steps to un-couple, strengthening parent mind, and accepting what is will help you manage emotions when participating in public kid events. Some situations more than others may trigger difficult emotions. Developing a calm mindset and logistical coping strategies ahead of time will assist with enjoying your child’s public events/activities. As difficult as it may be today to attend events where your coParent and guests are also present, know that with persistence and experience you’ll both find your way to comfortable enjoyment of these events.
Adjustment, acceptance, and some measure of comfort will come in time if/when both coParents are committed to their individual work of moving on respectfully post-divorce/separation. Keeping the focus on your children makes the work of pacing change, respecting each other emotionally, and working through personal grief, worth it.
Here are tips for attending events:
1) Respect the physical and emotional distance your coParent wants/needs from you. If your presence creates discomfort, please maintain a healthy and respectful distance from your coParent at public events like the soccer field. This includes keeping your eyes on your child’s activity/event rather than watching/observing your coParent and his/her guest(s). If the discomfort persists, consider getting some coaching for yourself or better, with your coParent.
2) How you determine who sits with which of the other parents can be done with grace. Your ability to maintain composure can help guide where you sit, stand, or how long you stay at an event. This brings us back to the reminder: the only person you can control is yourself. Your children’s activities/events are not a time for a turf war over former relationships with teammates’ parents. In time, there will be plenty of space for both of you to relax; in time, you may even find that you can share the same bleacher, cheering section, etc. Make it your goal to find a way to participate that doesn’t distract from your child’s sense of support by his/her parents both attending.
3) When you’re the on-duty parent, encourage your children (whether participants or spectators) to greet their other parent. Give them guidance: “There’s Dad—go on over and say hi, and I’ll see you back here in a few minutes.” If you know ahead of time the other parent would welcome the children to hang out with him/her for some portion of an event, practice generosity by allowing/encouraging the children in attendance to move freely between the two of you.
4) For the off-duty parent, gracefully accept your secondary role to help reduce tension and ambiguity for your child. Redirect your child back to his/her duty parent for permission to go to the snack shack, or to play over on the swings— consider how you’d respond to another parent’s child and you’ll be in safe territory, not stepping on your co-parent’s duty-parent toes.
5) Address your child openly and lovingly with healthy boundaries for the situation. A big hug, congratulations, or whatever is indicated and then help your child move back to the duty parent while assuring him/her that you’ll see them again soon (unless you have an agreement that the child can move freely between you).
6) At the end of the game, the duty parent can allow 2–5 minutes for the non-duty parent to give a ‘high-five’ and quick recap of game highlights. However, this is not a time for lengthy discussions, planning for the future, or anything beyond a well-boundaried, respectful few moments, particularly if the duty parent is waiting to load up the car and move on.
Editor’s Note: Watching your child shine and have their moment is priceless and should be enjoyed by all, especially your child. In this post, Karen Bonnell gives us some tips for making these events easier for everyone. For more information on Karen or her book, you’re invited to visit http://coachmediateconsult.com/co-parents-handbook/