Live and Let Live

by Brette Sember

toddlerGetting accustomed to the divorce and the new parenting schedule was a huge change for you and your child. Once you've got a schedule hammered out and have started to adjust to it, things should get easier, right?

Well, not always. You and the other parent are now living apart and have embarked upon separate lives. This means you're both changing a lot. Particularly in the first year or two after a divorce, people tend to make significant changes in their lives.

It's not uncommon to start a new job, move, make new friends, discover new interests, develop a new life philosophy, and, really, in many ways, be reborn after a divorce. This is a healthy thing. It means you're both moving on, healing, and recovering. But what it can lead to is conflict with the other parent.

You knew each other one way and now you're starting to become different people. What's scary about this is that is erodes your comfort level and sense of trust for each other. In my practice, I saw many families return to court because one of the parents couldn't handle the other's new lifestyle.

One family I remember vividly. They had a seven-year-old son who lived primarily with his mom. After the divorce she was shaky on her feet and moved back in with her parents. The boy spent weekends with his dad, who had bought a new very modern house and was living with a new girlfriend.

They had an active social life and the father was moving forward fast with recreating himself. The dad had also bought a boat and used it every weekend over the summer. He was into water skiing and tubing and everything you can think of that went with the boat. This was a completely new interest for the father and he wanted to take his son along and share it with him.

The mother was still angry from the divorce, uncomfortable because she really didn't know this new man her ex had become, and as a result she was certain he was going to drown her son. She believed he drank all the time on the boat (although she had never witnessed this) and questioned his judgment.

She demanded that the court refuse to allow him to take his son on the boat. Not only did this put a major hitch in his lifestyle (and build on the resentment between them), but it also kept the son from being a part of his dad's new life and new interests. The mother was right to be concerned about safety, but her concerns turned out to have no basis in fact.

If your ex has a new lifestyle that bothers you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this new lifestyle truly put my child in any realistic danger?
  • Does the new lifestyle create situations in which my child is exposed to inappropriate things or uncomfortable situations?
  • Has the other parent stopped being a concerned and loving parent?
  • Is my child improperly supervised when with the other parent?
  • Has the other parent changed in a drastic and negative way that might mean addiction or psychological problems?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you are probably right in wanting to keep your child out of a situation that seems dangerous or unsuitable. If not, your concern is normal and natural; however, you need to think carefully about whether your underlying feelings about your ex is coloring your reactions to this situation.

It's normal to feel uncomfortable with changes in the other parent's life. You are growing apart and that makes it difficult to maintain trust. Remember that you are parents together and need to connect at least on that level. To foster trust, it is a good idea to have meetings with each other in which you talk about your child and have relaxed conversation about what is new in your lives.

You do need to maintain some kind of connection even though you no longer are partners. Completely closing each other out of your new lives only harbors distrust and suspicion. Sharing things with each other keeps you up to date on what the other person is doing, so that you have time to adjust to changes, understand why they are happening, and become comfortable with the new people you are evolving into.

Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:

Learn more about Brette on her web site.

Copyright © Brette McWhorter Sember. Permission to republish granted to, LLC.