Learning to live as a family post-divorce

Lottie Lomas (author of the Secret Divorcee blog) talks about learning to live as a family post divorce - and what that has meant for her relationship with her ex. 

It’s three years to the day since I asked my husband for a divorce. During that time, I’ve experienced dizzying highs and terrifying lows. I’ve avoided depression - I don’t have the chemistry for it, apparently - but I have, at times, felt overwhelmed with life’s ‘stuff’. On the other hand, picking my way through separation and divorce has given me a confidence that I didn’t know existed. Some sort of peace. A calm happiness.

Our children - two boys, aged 14 and 12 - are happy and settled. We talk about our family set up from time-to-time, and they seem ok that theirs is a dual life of two houses, two sets of everything, one parent at a time. They’re doing well at school. We laugh a lot (usually at me).

It’s been a sod of a journey though. Much, much harder and more complex than I could have imagined. Although I blamed my ex at the time for his completely unreasonable behaviour, it wasn’t his fault. Divorces are, by their very nature, extremely difficult and unwieldy beasts.

D Day, Day one - The surprise

When the day dawned - ‘D Day’ -  we were still on speaking terms. Our relationship had cracked beyond recovery but I had always assumed that we'd manage to co-parent pretty well - albeit separately. I mean, we were decent human beings, right? So supporting each other in raising our children, as well as supporting them of course”¦ well, it should be second nature.

My assumptions were wrong. After I'd uttered the phrase, "So, as we live so close, we can babysit for each other, can't we?", my ex's look of disdain, horror and, frankly, unbridled hate took me by surprise.

"I will never babysit for you. I will never enter your house. If I had my way, I would never see or speak with you again."

To say I was taken aback was an understatement. I had completely misjudged his feelings, the depth of his hurt. He told me that he wanted his surname back. He told me that the only way I could communicate with him was by email. There would be no financial support. And when the children were with him, I was not to contact them.

When you're divorced with children, you still - generally speaking - have to maintain some sort of relationship with their other parent.
Lottie Lomas

If you are in this situation now, I have good news for you. Things will get better. My ex husband had not mutated into The Hulk; he was trying to adjust to some very, very bad news. Over three years - and yes, it was that long - we have negotiated, held our tongues, ranted...but gradually come to some sort of agreement about money, the kids, holidays - and all the rest.

Day 2 to Day 365(ish) - the dismantling and the rebuilding

Throughout those first weeks and months of separation, I made an awful lot of mistakes. The most fundamental was my belief that my relationship with my ex was over.

In fact, when you're divorced with children, you still - generally speaking - have to maintain some sort of relationship with their other parent. Your children, I’m afraid, join you together, and you might as well make the best of it - because there’s no escape. There will be money swapping hands, Christmases to discuss, help needed on both sides. There may be emergencies to deal with.

Our relationship was like an old house; it had crumbled during our marriage, and post divorce, we dismantled it further, razing it to the ground. Believe me, negotiating settlements through solicitors is enough to rock anyone’s foundations. But, once you’ve pared everything away, you can start to rebuild.

I will never babysit for you. I will never enter your house. If I had my way, I would never see or speak with you again.
Lottie Lomas

That first year was a stressful time for both of us. Not only were we fighting tooth and nail for what we believed was ours, but we were maintaining an outward calm so that our children wouldn’t get a sniff of our true feelings. We both felt that airing our grievances to our kids would be an awful thing to do. So we kept shtum.

Plus: we were also coming to terms with what it means to be a single parent. For me, that brought a sense of freedom that I loved, but also a weight of responsibility I wasn’t used to. When they were with me, they relied on me. Only me.

However, this did mean that we could all do whatever I liked. So that meant: eating an enormous amount of ice cream, trips to Alton Towers, driving with all the windows open, and getting an extremely fat and fluffy cat. Every cloud...

Day 365 and onwards - the softening

Year two - and there was a definite softening. He had a girlfriend, and after a few months, the kids met her. They even met her parents, who gave them both presents. It was odd at first, this feeling that my children were being looked after by another woman; but they liked her, and I told myself that this bizarre situation was all part of modern family life.  My ex and I still avoided contact wherever possible, though. Our main bone of contention was flexibility; I wanted our childcare pattern to be flexible at the edges, and when one of us needed help, the other could step in. He didn’t. And it became a massive deal.

Occasionally, the word ‘thanks’ appeared on the end of emails.
Lottie Lomas

And yet - there were occasional shafts of light in the darkness; a card from his mum, a discussion about school, a short sentence of condolence when my stepmother died. Occasionally, the word ‘thanks’ appeared on the end of emails. It sounds like a tiny thing, but the wind direction was changing. I could feel it in my water. (Or something.)


And then came Tween’s accident. I called my ex straight away, asking him to meet us at the hospital. I’ll always remember that he said, “thank you for calling me.” I looked at him, bewildered. Of course I would call him. Of course.

We took turns to be with our son whilst he was in hospital. My ex bought me coffee. He not only brought me coffee - he paid for it, too. A tiny thing, maybe, to anyone else - but to me, an olive branch. A sign of support. We talked quietly together in a way that we hadn’t done for years. Or maybe ever. And when Tween came home from hospital and I was struggling to arrange childcare for him while I worked, my ex came round to help. I made him tea. I went to work, and he babysat.

I even forgave him when he didn’t use a chopping board and put bread knife marks on my new worktop.

So it has taken three years and a serious accident for us to rebuild our relationship. Or at least, put the foundations back in. Yesterday, I wondered about asking him over for Christmas. The children would like that.

And so would I.

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