There is no perfect time to get a divorce but there may be times that are less convenient than others. Many people feel the need to wait until major events pass before announcing a divorce. Often this is done with children in mind, so waiting until after the holidays or getting through a graduation ceremony.
However, announcing a divorce is only the first step and once the process starts, there is no way to hit pause on life during what can often be a lengthy process. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, weddings and other life events of life happen during a divorce and they often involve your child. Being mindful of how to participate in these events can help to make sure that these events are as successful as possible.
Here are 5 Tips on Participating in Life Events During Divorce
1. Remember the shared goal: When couples go through mediation or Collaborative Divorce, a key goal at the outset is to identify goals and concerns. This is fundamentally different than identifying positions. For example, “I deserve the house” is a position, while “I need to be able to live in housing within the school district for the next 4 years” is a goal.
Pose this same question for a life event: “What are our goals and concerns for Sophie’s college graduation?” For most couples, the goals have a lot of overlap and include things like wanting her to have a special day, wanting her to remember the day without feeling stuck in the middle of the divorce and wanting everyone to be able to celebrate with her. The concerns might be how to be in the same room without fighting. Once you have the shared goals and identified the concerns, you have the foundation for developing a plan.
2. Create a plan: The more detailed your plan, the better foundation you lay for success. Picture the different stages of the event, including preparation, pre- or post-event celebrations, and the actual event. If you imagined an intimate post-graduation dinner with both sides of the family, consider if that is realistic. Could a catered event at a home where people can move freely and take breaks be more manageable? There isn’t a right or wrong way to celebrate. Try to be flexible to accommodate the reality of the situation. If there are areas where there is no flexibility (e.g. you have four graduation tickets seated together), resolve to bring your best selves to that portion of the event.
3. Get support: Consider who will be at the event that is supportive of you and your goals. This is the person who can help remind you that your goal is to create a beautiful day for your child, not the person who is critical of your co-parenting and pours fuel on the fire. Your child cannot be your support person. It is your responsibility as the parent to navigate the event without burdening your child. If the person is a friend who won’t be present, ask them to be available in case you need to call or text a frustration or need a supportive word.
4. Practice self-care: Leading up to the event, make sure your physical needs for sleep, healthy food and exercise are being met as well as your emotional self-care needs for support. Very few people feel like their best self during a divorce given the intense nature of the process. Being mindful to care for yourself during the process and particularly leading up to the event will help. No one copes better when they are feeling tired, hungry or lonely!
5. Limit the alcohol: There is a saying in AA, “There’s no problem that alcohol can’t make worse.” This rings true for social drinkers in stressful situations as well! Your inhibitions are reduced when drinking alcohol, so limit your intake to the celebratory toast or one glass with dinner to reduce the likelihood of acting inappropriately.
A good goal for parents going through divorce is to have their children (whatever age) feel like children, not children of divorce. If your divorce lines up with a major event, focus on how you want the event remembered by your child(ren) in their divorce narrative. You will never regret acting gracefully.