I just cleaned my ex-husband’s bathroom, stocked his fridge with the list he sent me, and wiped down his grimy kitchen counters. I have classical music playing in the livingroom and the kids are quietly doing their homework. In a few minutes, he will arrive home to a more orderly house, with dinner ingredients laid out and ready to be cooked. I will kiss my kids goodbye and head out for dinner with a friend.
Why am I going out of my way to clean his house and buy his groceries? After all of the nastiness of separation, and 5 hard years of martial strain, the last thing I want to do is spend my free time tidying up after him yet again. And yes, even though its time for my former spouse to start wielding the Windex, Lysol, and Vacuum in his new apartment, its also time for me to swallow my pride and keep my eye on the prize: A mutually supportive, kind, and helpful relationship that prioritizes the kids emotional well being.
What does this mean, practically? It means that when I drop the kids off at his house, I spend the 30 minutes or so before he gets home making his life a little easier, and my children’s environment a little less chaotic.
We don’t love each other in the romantic sense, but we are still co-parenting partners. Even when we’ve had a rough week. This week, for example, we got an unexpectedly large tax bill that we do not currently have the cash to pay- I resent him for not communicating with me about finances. He resents me for not earning more money. Its one of our unresolvable arguments. Things are tense between us, to say the least.
But even when things are tense, I want my kids to have milk and fresh veggies in his fridge, so off to the store I go.
My kids will either remember our separation as a time of tension, arguments, anxiety, and fear, or they will look back on this time positively, remembering only that their parents still did little favors for each other, put the other’s needs ahead of their own, and treated each other with kindness and compassion.
My hope is for the latter. Long term studies have shown that kids from happily divorced families fare better than kids whose unhappy parents stayed together, miserable and fighting for decades. If 30 minutes of household tidying makes our relationship a little smoother and less tense, I will put on a happy face, grab the windex, and wipe away the negativity. The annoyance of doing these nonessential tasks is temporary, and I am laying the foundation for a positive and productive future working relationship. It’s not easy, but I try to keep that in mind in the midst of all the frustration and anger of dealing with a former spouse who, let’s be honest, I sometimes wish I never had to see again.