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What a start in front of our home crowd at Westpac Stadium in 2017! Eleven tries including a hattrick to Nehe Milner-Skudder during our 71-6 win over the Melbourne Rebels Read all about it here https://goo.gl/IlEBIh Scorers: Hurricanes 71 (Vince Aso (2), Nehe Milner-Skudder (3), Ngani Laumape (2), Matt Proctor, Ardie Savea, Reed Prinsep, Julian Savea tries, Beauden Barrett 6, Otere Black 2 con) Rebels 6 (Reece Hodge 2 pen). HT: 31-6. Photos: Getty Images
I often receive emails from parents about to embark on their journey through the family court, wanting some suggestions on how to deal with their difficult ex. As I am no longer working in this area, and given this is more often than not, a difficult process from start to finish, I have dedicated a a fair amount of time to this in my book "The Modern Family Survival Guide".
IMPORTANT NOTE BEFORE YOU COMMENT: This is a public forum, so if you are involved in a family court situation, please do not post anything about your case.
Here is an excerpt from one of the chapters in my book:
Whenever anyone asks me what advice I’d give them to help them to get through Family Court, and more importantly all the complicated parenting decisions which go on before, during, and after it’s gone to court, I always say the same thing: play a straight game.
You may not be able to control what the other person says or does — although you should never forget that you can influence them — but you have total control over what you say and do. Even if the other person is a complete bastard, or a total bitch, you still need to play a straight game. If they say and do terrible things, and use the children as pawns, and every other underhanded trick you can think of, you still need to always play a straight game. In fact the worse the other side behaves, the better you need to behave. Why? Two reasons.
The first is that this is what your children need now. We’ve seen back in Chapter 8, ‘The good divorce — fact or fiction?’ that even though the gains to children when their parents have a co-operative-parenting relationship aren’t necessarily huge, they’re still gains. Anything you can do to reduce their stress is worth doing.
The second reason is that you have to play the long game. Not only will your children have a reaction to how you behave and what you do now, but they will also give you both a score at some point in the future. You can manipulate a nine-year-old into thinking that you’re the victim and your ex is the bad one, but when that little person is a grown-up they will look back on everything you have ever said or done in relation to their other parent, and they will give you a score. And remember, they will be grown-ups far longer than they were children, so your relationship with them for the rest of their life will hang on what you do now. Similarly, if your ex manages to convince them that you’re the bad one when they’re small, that will almost certainly come back to bite your ex when the children are grown. I’ll talk about this circumstance in the next chapter, but just for now let me say that, whatever you do, whatever you say, you will eventually both be given a score. So play a straight game.
How do you do that? Well, here are my suggestions. Some of them are a bit obvious, and some not. And just because something is obvious is no guarantee that people will actually do it.
1. Always put your children’s interests first. Easy to say, harder to do in practice. Most people think they’re putting their children’s interests first when often they aren’t. Doing this requires quite a bit of maturity and a generous helping of self-awareness. It’s especially hard if you feel that your ex is doing the opposite. The thing is, just because you feel that they’re putting their own interests first, it doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Put the children’s interests first. All the time. Every time. No exceptions.
2. Never put your ex down. This one is so obvious it almost doesn’t need to be said, except that so many parents ignore it that it has to be said. Don’t ever say anything negative about the other parent, even if it’s true. All you’re going to do is make your kids feel bad because you put them in an impossible loyalty bind. You might hate your ex, but they probably don’t. They probably still love their mum or dad, and so when you say bad things about your ex it puts them in an impossible position which is stressful, disturbing, and will only make their little lives that much more difficult.
3. If you can’t say something constructive because you’re angry, or hurt, or broken-hearted, then just shut the hell up. This might seem a bit harsh, and I really don’t mean to be, but seriously, if you can’t think of anything constructive to say then you really need to shut the hell up until you can find something. Even if you’re right, and even if you’re completely justified in saying whatever it is you want to say, just shut the hell up. It won’t help your kids, or you, so just don’t.
4. Vent away from the children. You’re going to need somewhere to vent if you’re going through all this, because there may well be times when you feel all kinds of things from anger to rage to utter despair. You need somewhere you can vent all that away from the children. They need you to be their rock, so, if you feel a little volcanic episode coming on, remove yourself and do it far enough away from them that you don’t need to worry about them seeing or hearing it.
5. Tell the truth, but be mindful not to add to their burden. Getting this one right, in my experience, is quite hard for a lot of parents. There is a tendency sometimes for people to disguise ‘telling the children the truth’ for ‘shafting the ex, so the kids can see what he/she is really like’. More often than not people tell their children stuff about the other person which might be technically true, or which they genuinely believe to be true, but which really only adds to the burden of stress that the children have to bear. As an example, you could say: ‘Mum didn’t come to see you guys this week because she wanted to be with her new family more.’ Or you could say: ‘Mum couldn’t come this week because she had some things that she had to do first.’ Those are both ways of describing what happened, it’s just if you choose to use the first option you’ll make your children’s hearts ache a hundred times more than they need to.
6. Never ask the children to spy for you. It’s obvious, but loads of people do it anyway. It’s unfair to ask your children to gather information about your ex. They won’t want to, but they won’t want to say no to you either, and that is a sure-fire recipe for making them feel stressed and unhappy.
7. Make it OK for the children to say positive things about their other parent. This might be very difficult, but it’s tremendously helpful for kids to feel that they can still talk about the other parent in front of you. Their lives aren’t neatly split down the middle, they overlap and intermingle in all kinds of ways, so it will likely be incredibly helpful for them if they can talk about your ex in front of you. Model this if you have to.
8. Encourage contact with the other parent. You are both important in their lives, so make sure that you do everything you can to support and encourage contact between your ex and the children. You may hate him/her, but the children will still love them just as much as they always have. The grown-ups may have decided they want to separate, but the children almost certainly won’t. Children need to see both their parents. The only exception to this rule is if the children are at some kind of risk from your ex-partner, and I’ll talk about this specific situation a little later in this chapter.
9. Do everything you can to keep routines the same. Your children will be dealing with the implications of all kinds of changes, so anything you can do to preserve routines will be of help to them. Keeping as much as you can intact of all the old things, like bedtimes, chores, homework time and weekend rituals, can be a source of comfort for children. Even if your ex throws all the routines out the window when the children are at the ex’s place, you should still try and preserve as much as you can of their routines and rituals when the children are with you. 10. Be gracious, not petty. We all can get a little petty from time to time, particularly in the face of pettiness from another. You should aspire to be gracious, and not sink into pettiness. It’s easy to do, and it feels gratifying at the time, but nothing good can come from it. Be gracious in all your dealings with your ex. Be open, and dignified, and respectful even if they aren’t. Especially if they aren’t.
11. Whatever happens, you stick to your end of the deal. If you agree to something, then do it. Every time. It doesn’t matter if they don’t, just make sure that you do. Don’t make promises you have no intention of keeping, and if you do make promises, then keep them. Deal with the other person’s lack of follow-through as a separate matter. Don’t get all tit-for-tat, for all that does is undermine your integrity as well.
12. Only make changes without checking with your ex in an emergency; no exceptions. Unless it’s an emergency, then check it out with them before you change things. And if you do have to make some change to any arrangements to suit yourself, make sure you tell the children about it yourself. Don’t leave that job to your ex to explain.
13. Keep your new partner out of any negotiations. This stuff is hard enough without bringing your new partner into it. The potential for things to go pear-shaped when your new love is trying to arrange something regarding the children with your old love is almost astronomically high. Discussions about the children should be conducted by you and your ex. No one else.
14. If you do end up in court, just remember that you will have to be dealing with your ex for the rest of your life, long after the judge and lawyers have disappeared. Just be mindful of this point is all I’m saying. If it gets heated, and ugly, and spiteful, you’re still going to both want to be at your kids’ weddings and graduations. So just be mindful of those future events when you’re lost in legal wrangling.
15. Don’t hold a grudge. This one is very hard to do, particularly if you feel entitled to hold on to a grudge. Just don’t. Grudges aren’t good for anyone. They are spikey and poisonous and will only make you feel worse in the end. Grudges are not about solutions or going forward. They are all about the problems and stagnation. Let the grudge go. Let it slip through your fingers and roll away in the wind. If there’s no wind, blow on it until the wind picks up. If there’s still no wind, just go and sit somewhere else.
I’m sure there are a load of other things you could add to that list, but I think that if you were to manage to do all of those things, then you should be feeling pretty good about yourself. If you were doing all of those things, then you’d be doing a great deal to help your children deal with the stresses of having parents who separate.
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