I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.
— Rorschach in Watchmen, by Alan Moore
OK, let’s get this out of the way from the get-go: you’re divorced. The two of you have kids. You’re going to have to deal with your ex from time to time. Period. No way around it. Whether you’re the custodial parent, or paying child support, you and your ex are going to have to talk to one another on a semi-regular basis. No ifs, ands or buts. Get over it. I had to, you can too.
One other fact you’re going to have to get used to: your kids are going to be involved with things. Sports, science fairs, school plays, dance recitals, band concerts, graduations. There are plenty of activities your children will be involved with. And there will be a lot of events stemming from these activities that will, invariably, put you in the same room as your ex. No matter how much you wish it to be so, it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable.
Sorry to bring the stark fatalism into this article, but I’m just sayin’. You made babies with the woman, you’re gonna have to do some social functions as her when the kids are involved. So, the best thing to do is swallow your pride, and make the best of what is, sure, a tough situation.
There are a few ways this can be achieved, of course. One of the easiest is to be on opposite sides of the space, whatever it is. If she sits stage left, sit stage right. At a basketball game, go to the other set of bleachers to cheer your daughter or son on. Just because you are in the same place, doesn’t mean you have to actively engage her. It’s probably going to happen, even if it’s just in passing. But there’s nothing that says you need to be sitting next to each other as she or he delivers that Shakespearean soliloquy.
Another way is to come to an agreement beforehand – you want a few minutes to talk to him after the game (or she does, if you are the custodial parent), then you definitely should be allowed to, in peace. But don’t just walk up afterwards and usher your daughter away either without so much as a Hello. Work it out beforehand. Communication, as it turns out, does work wonders, even in the most hateful and contentious of breakups.
In fact, that is probably the best bet for most things regarding your kids – come to agreements. Which will end up involving compromising, whether anyone likes it or not. Not everyone can get their way, all of the time. Not even the most virulent case of “affluenza” will achieve that goal. Sometimes, as much as you can say No, others will be telling you No as well. Learn when to say Yes.
And I know that sometimes, especially with big life-events such as graduations or weddings, it’s not going to be just your former spouse present. Chances are, your former in-laws will be there as well. If you’ve maintained great relationships with them, fantastic! If not… well, best be on your guard there, and then some. You can’t help how others will act. But you can help how you react to others’ poor behavior. Lashing out, especially at a public event centered around your children’s achievements, is always poor form, bar none.
It may be easy to say “take the high road,” but it’s a lot more difficult to actually do it. Fortunately, there’s plenty of time to get used to the idea. That’s why you’re here, right? We all could use a little leg up from time to time. I know I do, still, to this day.
All that said – whatever you do, don’t panic. Nobody ever died from being in the same room as their ex. At least, not for that reason. Just remember one thing most important of all – the reasons you may be in the same place at the same time is for the kids. It’s their events, it’s their time to shine. Swallow your pride, and realize, ultimately, it’s them what matter during these times. Save the drama for… another time.