This one is all about setting boundaries after divorce. Ask Divorce Coach is Women’s Divorce Coach’s divorce advice column. Have a question? Send it to Cindy here. It’s anonymous!
Dear Divorce Coach,
I’ve been divorced for less than a year but am having trouble setting boundaries with my ex-wife. We have two kids that we co-parent and I want to keep things going smoothly for them. I feel like she’s really good at asking things in a subtle enough way and then says that the knowledge is “for the benefit of the kids.” A recent example is that when I asked to switch around a day I had scheduled to have the kids she asked if was for a “hot date.” When I ignored the question, she said it would be helpful for her to know if I am dating because of the impact to our children. I really don’t think it’s any of her business if I’m dating but I’m slightly confused about how to answer these kinds of questions because my dating might eventually affect the kids. Can you help?
– Setting boundaries after divorce
Dear Setting Boundaries after Divorce,
It sounds like you have good instincts about when information should be shared and when it doesn’t need to be shared. Dating after divorce can be tricky for many reasons including running into exes and co-workers on online dating apps. Many conscientious parents are concerned about how dating will affect their mental headspace and their time regarding their kids. I encourage you to think about and talk about this with trusted family and friends. Out of extra caution, you may also want to choose date spots where you wouldn’t run into your kids. With your ex, however, I think it’s more than appropriate to set a boundary. Dating during your non-custodial time is frankly no one’s business but your own. Setting boundaries can feel scary because we tell people the parameters of what we will allow and not allow into our lives. Doing this can actually be the most loving thing we can do for ourselves and for others. The delivery is also important. Bill Eddy’s model of BIFF is often a very useful one when dealing with exes. BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. In this case relating something like, “I understand you are concerned about our kids in regards to my dating, but you don’t need to be. If I get into a serious relationship and decide that I’d like to introduce the kids, I’ll let you know. Until then, I will not be asking you about your dating life, and I ask that you respect my privacy as well.” By mentioning that you will not be asking her to share her dating experiences, you are reminding her that privacy is a two-way street. If she breaks the boundary you’ve set by asking you again about your dating life, I recommend the “broken record” approach. Restate the boundary and don’t waver. Good luck!
Dear Divorce Coach,
My ex-mother-law helps out by watching my son after school while I work one day a week. I am vaccinated and so is my ex-husband but she isn’t and refuses to get vaccinated. Since my son is too young for the vaccine, he is not vaccinated either. I am not happy about this situation but I feel stuck as my ex-husband insists that we continue to use his mom for free daycare. I could afford to hire a babysitter but it would not be ideal as my son loves his grandmother and I don’t have a lot of extra money lying around. I work as a waitress and am around people all day long. I worry constantly about my son bringing home Covid from school or me bringing it home from work and infecting her. She insists it’s a risk she’s willing to take. I am totally confused here. What do I do?
– Vaxed mama
Dear Vaxed Mama,
That sounds like a tough spot to be in. It sounds like you value the relationship that your son has with his grandmother, appreciate her willingness to care for your child even with risk involved and you are genuinely worried about her wellbeing. Knowing what boundaries to set when our values do not line up with others can be very challenging. I think getting clear with what you can live with and what would wreck you, is important in these situations. For example, it could be argued that if your mother in-law contracted Covid from you or your son, that she has accepted responsibility for the consequences. If you don’t feel that this line of reasoning resonates with you, however, then I’m not sure you’re going to stop worrying or feeling guilty. I also encourage you to think about this as not an “all or nothing”. Could there be a temporary break in her care of your son if/until Covid is less of a concern? If you decide to look at other options you can explain to your mother-in-law that your decision is centered around her health and not around political or philosophical differences. She will react how she will, but you are not responsible for her reaction or feelings once the boundary is set.
Dear Divorce Coach,
I am recently separated and found out a few months ago my ex-husband was unfaithful during our marriage. I am devastated and am having trouble making sense of this and coming to terms with it. I am so sick of people asking me “what happened” in terms of my marriage ending. Some of these people are friends and others are more like acquaintances. Their prying into my personal life feels like a real boundary violation and it’s hard to explain succinctly to people what happened when a marriage ends after 15 years. It’s gotten so bad I don’t even want to leave the house if I think I’ll run into someone I know. What do I owe to myself here and what can I say to other people?
– None of their business
Dear None of their Business,
I am sorry you are hurting. Infidelity is a hard thing to contend with and is part of your marriage story that you’d rather not share or discuss with most people. I’ve always loved Brene Brown’s idea that your story is something that someone earns the right to hear. For you that means that telling your story, especially the hard parts, is something best shared with a trusted friend, a coach, or a therapist. For all the other people who are curious, let them be curious. It’s not your job or your responsibility to provide a soundbite to explain the end of your marriage. If you feel you want to say something just to acknowledge them and get them off your back, you can tell them you appreciate their concern but are not feeling open to talking about it. Decent people will respect your boundary and move on. Setting boundaries after divorce isn’t an easy practice but protecting your feelings and self at a time when you are hurting is a wise choice.