Kids and Boundaries
How to negotiate boundaries following your divorce
So, you’re divorced. All your things and contracts and financial obligations and joint emotional obligations are done. You’re free and on your own and you don’t have to consider your ex-spouse’s anything anymore, whether you want to or not.
Unless you share offspring. Especially if you share custody of said offspring.
If that’s the case, you’re going to have to learn how to negotiate kids and boundaries between two separate households no matter how uncomfortable that makes you feel. You’re doing this, teeth clenched and heart conflicted, because it’s best for the kid(s). Never forget that. In light of what your child needs, your discomfort (and, yes, sometimes pain) is something you’ll have to deal with in a thoughtful, responsible manner and understand in all your actions that their needs come before your own in terms of dealing with your ex. Your children don’t need to pay the price of you or your ex’s initial, natural need to disagree about every little issue.
The thing about kids is that they need to test boundaries and practice manipulation skills. It’s a big part of how they learn, grow, and understand how best to navigate the world around them. It’s healthy for them to try and see what they can get away with even if it drives you a little bit (or a lot) nuts. When a child is given the opportunity to play one parent against the other, they will. They will do it from every angle you can’t even imagine. Side note: these “games” are not about your kid being malicious or maladjusted or damaged. They’re about learning to navigate the world. You’re going to have to remind yourself of that over and over. Testing kids and boundaries are the games that are played in every divorce.
Let me give you a few examples of things you’ll probably hear our of the mouths of your babes: “Mom said that’s okay! Why can’t I do it here?” “Mom lets me play World Of Warcraft all night long while eating pickles covered in peanut butter aaaaaand throwing candy wrappers wherever I want!” “You are way meaner than she is! I want to go back to Mom’s house!” These things you’ll hear are frustrating, infuriating, obnoxious and generally untrue. Remember this, though: Before the divorce, you and your partner had a system of boundaries and rules, actions that caused consequences, acceptable and unacceptable behaviours and a general play-book that the offspring were beholden to. In most cases, you can assume that those rules have not changed for the most part. What was bad behaviour before the split is still bad behaviour after… but your kids see that the world has shifted and there may be a glimmer of hope for their planned world domination, starting right there in their two households.
You can take some comfort in knowing that it isn’t just happening to you. Your ex is feeling the pressure as much as you are. If you can, try and see how you can still work together as a united front against your little minions. Otherwise, the minions will take control and play you and your ex off of each other as long as they can. Since you’re already feeling all sorts of overwhelming turmoil from your recent divorce, you will benefit from finding a calm spot in the storm. Happily, so will the kids!
Often times, the divorce is too painful and contentious to be able to sit down, one on one, with your ex. The wounds are too fresh and you just can’t think rationally through the anger and hurt. This would be the exact time to find a mediator. Family counselors, therapists and psychologists are fantastic resources to use and are highly trained in mediation during emotional conflict. Bonus: when you get to the mediation room (if you’re like me and your divorce was furious and brutal and all parties were badly scarred), you have someone other than your ex to look at while you express your concerns and frustrations. That room is a safe place to vent a little and, far more importantly, find a way to define some shared boundaries between the households.
This isn’t just for your sanity and comfort. Your kid needs to know where a safe line is in order to work through their own feelings of hurt and betrayal regarding the divorce. The better you and your ex can define what’s okay and what isn’t, the better your offspring will process the event. In the end, that’s the only goal you need to keep in mind… making sure your kid(s) are okay.