I have to say that this 10 Questions series has proven a little more challenging than expected.
Perhaps it’s the innate difficulty of trying to limit my questioning to only 10!
Yet here we are, the last in our series of questions I think you should be asking yourself as you go through the different phases of a divorce:
6. HOW CAN WE CO-PARENT?
A huge question.
This will involve negotiation, compromise, acceptance, difficulty and coordination.
Navigating this process is tremendously difficult, but a few tips from the excellent Raising Children website might help you work out how you can do it for your kids:
a. Make a plan
A parenting plan can detail the specifics of your (changed) parenting relationship.
“A co-parenting plan is a useful way to set out the details of your new relationship. To create one, you and your former partner need to discuss your rights and responsibilities with regard to your child, and set up a way to work out disputes.
You might be able to sort this out together. If you can’t, you can get help from a family dispute resolution practitioner, mediator or relationship counsellor.”
Naturally, the last thing you might want to do is communicate with your ex. However, keeping them updated with what’s going on in your child’s life can help your child adjust to this new reality – and remove some of the friction from their lives.
“You and your former partner could keep each other up to date by using a shared online calendar that lists your child’s weekly schedule, plus any special events.
Contact your child’s school to make sure your former partner gets duplicates of school records and newsletters.”
c. Try to Accept Different Parenting Styles
This suggestion from the team at Raising Children is a tough one, but I can certainly see why it’s critical.
Being able to choose which differences to tackle – and which ones to let slide – is a key part of dealing in this process. Still, it’s a very mature approach to take and my hats off to all doing it really well!
“Your former partner’s parenting style might change without you around. It might take some getting used to, especially if your former partner has different values or beliefs.
One way to deal with this is to work out whether you don’t like your former partner’s style because of your preferences or because of serious essential requirements.
If you don’t like something because of your preferences, you might be able to let it slide. Then you can concentrate on things that affect your child’s health and safety.
This is likely not to be an easy experience. But you’ve also been through quite a few ‘not-easy’ experiences by this stage, so by preparing for the feelings you’ll have as the kids spend time with their other parent can help alleviate their impact.
“When your child is with her other parent, you might feel a sense of loss, loneliness and disappointment. It can help if you try to look at the positive side – for example, time apart from your child can give you a chance to rest, relax and pursue relationships, hobbies or interests.”
7. DO I WANT TO MEET SOMEBODY NEW?
I’m really moving out of my comfort zone here – I’m about as qualified to give relationship advice as I am to pilot the space shuttle.
So I will be studiously avoiding anything like ‘relationship’ tips.
However, this is a pretty important question for you to consider, especially when to introduce them to your kids.
I feel like the standard answer has always been ‘wait until you’re sure before introducing them’.
But after reading this article at kidspot.com.au, it’s clear to me that the standard answer is for the standard family – and when I meet a family that could be called standard I’ll be sure to consider that!
I think this captures the complexity pretty well:
“Our children want to see us happy; sure it might be uncomfortable for them when we start dating post-separation, but ultimately they want to see their parents feeling good. They don’t want to be shut out, and nor should they be, because it is important for them to see adult relationships at work.”
It all comes down to the companions that would have served you well throughout this entire process – communication, preparation, consideration and confidence.
As well as an acceptance that there are no perfect answers to some of these questions!
8. HAVE I PROTECTED MY FAMILY?
I’m coming back into my area of expertise now because helping you protect your family is something we do as financial advisers.
It doesn’t have to be as formal as what we do, but I do encourage you to go through the process of managing the major risks your family are carrying.
We’re talking about specifically:
a. Identifying the risks you and your family face
b. Working out what you can do to avoid or reduce the probability of them occurring
c. Outsourcing, where possible, the financial impacts of these risks
So, for instance, most families are carrying the implicit risk of a parent dying young.
There are steps you can take to avoid this – don’t smoke, be careful and see your doctor regularly.
You can also outsource the financial impact of your early death by paying an insurer to give your family an amount of money that would leave them financially secure.
This isn’t as fun as some of the other parts of this process (talking about death, disability or illness rarely is…) but it’s a terribly important step.
Especially because you are now solely responsible for making sure you and your family are properly protected from life’s unfortunate realities.
9. WHAT LEGACY DO I WANT TO LEAVE MY KIDS?
We’re leaving all the small questions on the cutting room floor with this post!
And I should point out – these big questions aren’t going to be answered quickly. Some of these are of lifetime importance and consideration and will take time for you to explore.
Take the idea of your legacy for example. To me, your legacy can include the financial bequests you leave behind when you’re gone.
But it goes beyond that to include the kind of person you want your kids to think of when they remember you.
It’s them remembering what made you happy and what made you sad and what made you laugh, cry, frown and grimace.
It’s the impact you’ve made on the community as a whole, as well as your friends and family.
And in my opinion it’s often not about the big, grand gestures, but instead the micro-gestures we demonstrate to our kids each and every day.
It’s about what your actions valued, as compared with your words.
It’s about what we do, say, provide, give and receive.
I encourage you to leave this question unanswered for a while, as you settle into the single life. But come back to it – a year, or two, or ten years later – and explore the kind of impact you want to leave.
What kind of dent do you want to leave in the world?
10. WHAT’S NEXT?
Perhaps the most exciting of all these questions.
You’ve been through the rollercoaster / hurricane / battlefield that was your divorce.
You have the memories, regrets and sadness that come with the territory.
You’ve gotten through it. The future is now yours.
Yours to plan, to define, to build, to experience and to live.
You can make yourself a priority again and design your best life.
You get to live this one life we all get and you get to say “no” to the things you don’t want to do.
And “yes” to all of the things you do want to do.
You’re the one that get’s to ask – and answer – “what’s next”.
Thank you for reading this series of questions.
I hope they’ve helped in some way, if only by encouraging you to try and limit your focus to a smaller set of questions as you work through your divorce.