Splitsville: You Don’t Need To Be Best Friends With Your Ex

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

When it comes to divorce and children, the most-talked-about situations fall into one of two extremes. Either the split is totally amicable and everyone goes about their happy, adjusted life all smiles and rainbows. Or, the divorce leads to bitter resentment and barely stifled anger, creating a tense environment for the kids stuck in between.

Often, newly separated couples are so terrified of becoming the second example, where hatred for your ex becomes much more powerful than the love you both feel for your child, that we attempt to become best friends the moment after we separate. Needless to say, it’s  not always easy to “kiss and make-up” with someone that you used to kiss and can’t anymore. When a relationship ends, of course there are some hurt feelings and anger. Parents try to ignore those feelings for their children’s sake, but how far can that go?

One of my best friends, Sarah*, got divorced from her husband almost two years ago. Although he claimed that their “lives were moving in different directions,” he was really dating one of their close friends from church. Before the divorce was even final, they were engaged. Now, the newlyweds are expecting their first child, and they are using the name that my friend and her ex had planned on for their future son. Obviously, this is a tense situation.

And yet, Sarah’s ex and his new wife really want to be besties with Sarah, for the sake of their elementary-aged child. They want to sit together and gossip at soccer games. They want to chit-chat on the phone and hang out for a while after drop-off. Sarah’s ex has even contacted her family to try to repair the damage he caused when he left without any notice or discussion.

To her credit, my friend is a lot stronger and more forgiving than I could be. She’s accepted the situation and really tries to be kind to both her ex-husband and his new wife. She tells me, “Of course it’s hard, but I’m doing what’s best for my son.”

It might just be my protective instinct for a dear friend, but I can’t help but be furious on her behalf. The whole situation makes me wonder if we really need to be best friends with our exes or their new spouses.

Of course we need to be respectful to one another, that’s a given. We should never bad-mouth the other parent, especially in front of our children. We should be able to come together for school functions and recitals. But do you need to sit side-by-side in the bleachers sharing snacks? I’m just not sure.

As much as I think that we need to be strong and mature for our children’s sake, I wonder if there’s also a need for honesty. After all, pretending to be friends isn’t easy, and kids are pretty good at reading false emotion.

Some couples really are able to move past their former relationship and bond together as friends. Some mothers and stepmothers can create lasting friendships. Personally, I really hope that my daughter’s soon-to-be stepmother and I can get along. But in my context, my ex and I have been separated for years and have already moved on to a moderately friendly relationship. Even more, I think there’s a difference between being joined by a shared love of a child and being friends outside of that relationship.

If you aren’t able to be friends no matter how much you both love your child, if you need time to move past the hurt or pain from your previous relationship, should you fake it til you make it? Should you pretend to be happy and friendly with an ex that you’re still angry at? And how far should that false relationship stretch?

Every couple will have to decide for themselves. My friend is smiling over lemonade and accepting tours of the new nursery for her ex-husband’s child. It’s her choice to make, but I can’t help wondering if I would be able to do the same thing in her position.

(Photo: Thinkstock)