Sunday, May 13, 2007

Five Tips To A Successful Family Outing with the Ex

My ex came over today for our regular Sunday outing with the kids. I planned a simple afternoon at the park and followed by a short drive. Overall, the kids had fun, and I was able to tolerate the day without my ex saying he wanted to leave before the outing even started. I sometimes wonder why I plan events when my ex is stressful to be around, but then I think of the kids. The kids need some sort of regular family experience.

These outings are often stressful for many reasons. The legal paperwork for my separation is not yet finalized. Worse yet, my ex occasionally talks about his girlfriend. (This girlfriend was originally his mistress.) Today, for example, my ex said I should do what his girlfriend does with her kid--teach my kids to swim without formal lessons. This advice is not necessarily wrong. I just do not want to hear about the girlfriend. To deal with the stress, I have attempted to organize family outings using the following guidelines:

1. Leave home. To me, home places an added level of stress on being with my ex. The stress can stem from past memories or from the kids getting distracted with their toys and avoiding their dad. Leaving home offers the chance to find neutral ground.

2. Keep outings structured. It's easier for me to make it through an outing if I have a plan. A plan can be as simple as a walk to the park and then a trip to Starbucks. A plan also has the added benefit of keeping my ex informed of the day's events. If he does not like something, I find it's easy to make a change. From the moment I meet my ex to end of the outing, I keep surprises to a minimum.

3. Go somewhere that's for the kids. I try to look for outings where the kids will be engaged. If the kids are running around or exploring different environments, my ex and I don't spend as much time in awkward silence. The type of silence, for example, that leads my ex to talking about how he needs to get his body fat down from 22% to 20%. The best activities for an outing keep my ex and I moving throughout the entire outing.

4. Put a time limit on the outing. My outings are generally two to four hours in length. By constraining the time, I know there is an end. It makes it easier for me to relax and feel less trapped. Sometimes the outings are shorter or longer, but the time limit does wonders for my own morale. I am only four months out of my separation, so I strive to balance family time against the desire to keep my distance.

5. Keep discussions limited to neutral subjects. I don't have much in common with my ex anymore. He plays online gaming 30 to 40 hours a week after he works while I am on full-time kid duty with two babies. Despite these differences, we are able to talk about family, common friends, health, etc. These neutral topics help the family outing last for a reasonable length of time. Once a sensitive topic is broached (e.g., why my ex was dating and not letting me know he had marital issues) however, the outing is often cut short. I try to keep sensitive topics outside of family time.

For me, the Sunday outings are necessary. I want the kids to know they have mommy and daddy in their lives. I also don't want the kids growing up with the idea that they caused the family break-up.

This is the most painful commitment I have to honor every week, so I organize outings to stay positive and manage my stress at the same time. Oddly enough, my ex now spends more time with the kids than when we were together.