Could you peacefully co-parent with your ex after a less-than amicable divorce?

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The dreaded ‘D’ word can get ugly quickly, and if not managed properly, the kids can get caught in the middle, with very little to zero chance of continuing healthy relationships with both parents. Which is no doubt the last thing you want to happen. Many of us who have ended a marriage know exactly how challenging it can be when kids are involved – and, more often than not, there will be children in the mix: according to a report by Statistics South Africa, more than half of divorced couples have children under 18. Stacey Lewis, who’s a mother of four, author of Divorce 101: Survive & Thrive (Batya Bricker Book Projects), and the founder of thedivorcesource.co.za, knows all too well how hard it is. But, using her own divorce experience, she decided to write a book to help others navigate the end of a marriage – with kids in tow. Studies show that children cope better with divorce when they spend equal time with each parent; in other words, when the parents have shared custody. But ii You’re no longer in a romantic Stacey Lewis with second husband Anton and daughters Yakira, ‘DanieUe, relationship, but you and your ex-spouse still need to work as a team how does this happen when the divorce is less than amicable? ‘This is where a “parenting plan” comes into play,’ says Stacey.

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According to Joburg- based attorney and mediator Nicki Macartney, a parenting plan is essentially a road map that will direct how your children will be raised after separation or divorce. For it to work, it needs to be drilled down to the very last detail, so that it pretty much makes any potential conflict between you and your ex nonexistent. She advises that when creating your detailed parenting plan, you need to first take into consideration things like your kids’ ages, each of their personalities, the family schedule (of both you and your ex), their schooling, and what will need to happen in an emergency. This plan should be in writing, and planned together with your ex. Making it work Harmonious co-parenting after a divorce can seem impossible, but, with a little help – as well as a detailed parenting plan (see box over the page) – you and your ex will be able to carve out a new ‘relationship’, where the end goal is to raise well-adjusted children. As with any new relationship, you will need to establish rules. Here are three methods that Stacey says worked for her family:

Mind your language ‘At first, it may be easier to limit communication strictly to only issues that concern the kids – no nagging about the still-broken gate motor, or quizzing them on who they are spending time with. Use language that’s not emotive, and avoid sarcasm or criticism, or phrases such as “you always…”. It might also be better to use text-based communication like WhatsApp or email.’

No bad-mouthing ‘Remember that your children are composed of both of you, and that any rejection of the other parent could be perceived as a rejection of a part of your child. Always try really hard to talk positively about your ex in front of your children – if that seems impossible, rather say nothing.’ Adjust your attitude ‘You are still a team; you need to think of your ex as a co-parent, rather than as your ex-spouse. You may need to seek impartial help to get to this point, like from a mediator. Acknowledge your ex when they do something positive (if they get the kids home on time, for example), and always pick your battles.’ ESSENTIALS 27 LIFE TODAY | family ‘We’ve mastered the art of compromise for our daughter’s sake’ Divorcee Shelley Southey, 40, lives in Roodepoort with her daughter, Anna-Bella, 10. She co-parents with her ex-husband, Morne.

After being married for 10 years Morne and I decided to end our partnership peacefully. We just didn’t work as a couple anymore, but we have always maintained the attitude that Anna-Bella shouldn’t have to suffer any of the consequences of our failed marriage. Some tough decisions At first it was really difficult; things got especially heated when it came to the custody of Anna-Bella, but after hours of discussions with our lawyers we came to the agreement of joint custody. Both of us realised that we had to put our egos aside and do what was best for our daughter. With the help of lawyers, we agreed to have her live with me, but anything to do with her upbringing and welfare would be our joint responsibility. The first year was hard, as Anna-Bella had to get used to the idea that she now had two different houses to stay in, and that things were never going to be the same. Two years after the divorce I was diagnosed with breast cancer so it was a struggle to be on my own and fight health issues alone, but by the third year life started to get better: I went into remission and we had some kind of comfortable routine in place, which helped tremendously.

A shared goal Both Morne and I want to remain involved in Anna-Bella’s everyday life, and that means attending all school functions together where possible – we usually sit together at these events. It was awkward in the beginning, but we’ve just had to be adults about it. Anna-Bella is quite sporty, too, and, if one of us can’t make one of her sporting events, the other can easily step in, which is great. But it has taken a lot of work to get to this point, of course.

We’re still a team Morne and I make decisions together when it comes to our daughter – it’s not just so that we can project a united front, it’s also because he’s her father and he should also have an equal say in her upbringing. Sleepovers, for example, were a topic we discussed at length. When you are divorced, you often move in different circles, and that could mean Anna-Bella spends time with grown-ups or children that the other parent doesn’t know. We were both prepared to find the middle ground, so we decided that sleepovers are not the norm and we keep them to a minimum. Ultimately if Anna-Bella is with me, I will make the final decision and vice versa, but I’ll never do something that I know Morne is totally against. We try to remain fair We try our best to spend equal time with Anna-Bella: we alternate spending time with her on long weekends and public holidays – I’ll ensure she spends Father’s Day and either Christmas Eve or morning with Morne. I also remind Anna-Bella to call her dad when she is with me, and he reciprocates when she’s with him.

There are no hard and fast rules with Morne and I, but we try to remain fair, and we never use our child as ‘bait’ or a bargaining tool – which often happens in a divorce, sadly. Something that’s learned over time is the art of compromise, which we both have, fortunately, come to master. it Studies show that children cope better with divorce when they spend equal time with both parents Feature Lucia Walker Photography Thinkstock; Supplied ‘I’ve had to be kind to myself – and my ex’ Kerry Nel, 39, co-parents her daughters Leilah and Naomi Jankelowitz (10 and 8 respectively) with her ex-husband. She is now married to her second husband Shaun and lives in Oaklands. I always follow these three fundamental rules when it comes to co-parenting with my Sometimes ex-husband: both of us always need to be the adults; if it’s not in the best interest of the kids, don’t even think about it; and above all, our two girls must be able to have a solid relationship with both of their parents. In my mind, if you apply these rules to whatever scenario you’re presented with, you would’ve done a great job under very difficult circumstances. I’ve learnt it’s not humanly possible to get these rules right 100% percent of the time, so I’ve also had to be kind to myself – and my ex. My divorce was not amicable and we find it difficult to always be on the same page, but, even when we disagree, I know that we both want the same outcome: well-adjusted, independent children who have a solid sense of self.

A united front When we disagree on something that involves the kids, we try and anticipate certain decisions by communicating about them before we talk to the girls. If it happens that we can’t present a united front, I will back his decision unless I feel it goes against some core principles -sometimes keeping the peace is worth more than being right. Money can be a source of many arguments, but my ex-husband and I decided to split all the girls’ expenses right from the get-go of the divorce. I was able to do this as I earn well, but I realise it can be far more complicated than that. keeping the peace is worth more than always being right A new kind of family When I met Shaun, I was confident he would be an amazing step-dad, but we took things slowly, and I made sure that Naomi and Leilah still respected their dad, while also respecting Shaun. My ex and Shaun both share the same values when it comes to raising kids, so that helped, and my girls adore their step-dad. It’s taken work to get to this point, but it’s been worth it.

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