Early school aged children are invited to lots of birthday parties. It’s a time when firm friendships have not yet been made and often the entire class is invited to celebrate this exciting milestone. Whether it’s an expensive play centre event, a lavish party or a low-key backyard gathering, what do you do when the party is on at a time your children are not with you?
In a perfect world, you and your ex-spouse would be able to attend the party together with your child. You might sit with your ex-partner and chat, or you might just navigate to your circle of friends and enjoy the socialness of the party. Either way, your child is relaxed with their friends and moves between each of you with ease, just like the other children who have two parents with them at the party.
Often this is not the case. When parents are newly separated it can be uncomfortable to be with your child’s parent. The separation might still be too raw. It might hurt you to see your ex-spouse getting on with life as if nothing has happened. If you’re arguing about time with the children or how to divide your assets, it’s not easy to turn off that animosity and interact peacefully in public.
With time, issues are likely to resolve, you’ll re-partner, and life will become quiet. Interacting with your childs other parent will not hurt you and being around them in a social setting will be just like being around any other parent from your childs school.
But what if time doesn’t heal all? What if, as time has gone on, your conflict has increased? What if your presence is enough to make your ex-partner angry, abusive, vindictive or anxious and emotional? Should you stay away from events or activities held during the time your children are with their other parent?
It is easy to say “well it’s not MY problem she can’t control her emotions”; “I’m not doing anything to him, or disrupting his time with our child, so it’s not MY problem he can’t stand to see me”.
Is it REALLY not your problem?
The logo on the banner for the Co-Parenting for Your Kids Facebook page says “How does what I am doing affect our child, and what can I do to make it better?”.
If you know your ex-spouse will react by seeing you at the event, are you increasing the conflict by attending? How will your child feel, knowing that their parent is angry, emotional or riled up? Children are perceptive – they know when their parent is putting out negative emotion – especially when it’s directed at their other parent or worse, at them.
It may not be your problem that your child’s parent is vindictive, overly emotional, controlling, possessive or ignorant. But should it be your child’s problem to deal with? Should your child be put in a position where they know one parent will get upset if they talk to, interact with, or spend time with their other parent? Does your child need to say to you “Mum, please don’t come to the party on Saturday because I know it upsets Dad when you’re there and it makes me feel uncomfortable”? Is your child even able to identify and articulate what is happening and how they feel, or will it manifest in other ways like toileting regression, poor social interaction or anxiousness?
Not attending events that occur when your child is with their other parent may hurt you, isolate you socially and deprive you of sharing significant events with your child. But if the alternative is that your child is anxious, uncomfortable, awkward or hurt, whose problem is it? You can’t change your ex-partner, you can only control what you do and how you react. Are you parent enough to put your own feelings aside, engage OUT of the conflict and stand up for your child?
How does what you are doing affect your child, and what can you do to make it better?
It’s so hard to be the parent your child deserves. Sometimes you might need to focus on the long-game because one day, choosing the high road and putting your child first, will be worth it.