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Separate but Together After the Divorce
By Brette Sember

When we talk about families, togetherness is one of the core concepts mentioned as key a happy and healthy family. Togetherness with your child is probably something you're pretty tuned into. But what about togetherness with your ex if you're divorce? If you recoiled at that, your reaction is common. However, doing things together as a family after the divorce can be a great way to give your child a sense of stability and to improve relations with your ex.

Why Together
You and your ex are always going to be parents together and unless you're not able to be civil to each other at all, doing things together with your child reinforces that you are both still parenting together and that your child is still part of a family. Just because you're divorced doesn't mean you can't sit together at a table or in a movie theater once in a while. Doing things with your child also gives you a sense of partnership and helps you both remember that you do need to work as a team.

For many people, it is just unnatural to go from living in the same house (no matter how poorly you got along) to suddenly never being all together again. It's a real shock to everyone's systems, and just because you're divorced does not mean you can't continue to enjoy your child together.

How to Make It Work
I'm not suggesting you and your ex having a standing Saturday afternoon at the movies date with your child. You don't need to do this every week or every month. However, once in a while, spending some time as a family can be a healing and peacemaking step.

The two keys to making this work are to start small and stay busy, at least in the beginning. Having your ex come by for cake and presents for an hour on your child's birthday or meeting at the park for half an hour are perfect examples. Plan short periods of time, so that you don't have time to get sick of each other and your pleasant smiles don't fade. Have a plan of action so that you've got something to do and aren't just sitting there.

Limit Conversation
If you do plan to do something together as a family, make sure you both understand from the get-go that this will not be the time or place to talk about child support, the visitation schedule, or any other issues between you. This time is meant to be a benefit to your child and that won't happen if it turns into a negotiation session.

Don't Be Afraid to Think Big
If short, busy activities go well, you might want to consider expanding your time together. There are some divorced families who even take trips together. The key is understanding what your limitations are and what you're comfortable with and what you're not. I know one divorced family where the father comes and spends the night on Christmas Eve every year at the mother's house. This arrangement is comfortable for them. For years they planned to take their son to Disney World together, but finally realized that was more time than they could comfortably spend together. They recognized their limitations and didn't push it.

Stepfamily Togetherness
If you or your ex has remarried, doing things together as stepfamilies is another way to enhance your child's sense of family. You may not have any connection to your ex's new spouse or stepchildren, but your child does, and doing things together can actually help tear down resentments that sometimes build against stepfamilies.

Brette Sember is a former attorney and author of many books, including How to Parent with Your Ex, The Divorce Organizer & Planner, and No-Fight Divorce. Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.

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