Question: Now that we live apart, I want my ex to stay involved with our kids. How can I encourage him to be more active in their lives?
Answer: Your children have a right to enjoy regular contact with both of you, but it's hard when you're fighting over custody or avoiding one another. One way to rebuild trust with your ex is to go out of your way to do something unexpected. Here are some ideas:
- Invite him to a school event. Whether it's Back-to-School Night or the annual school picnic, including your ex is a tangible, concrete way to support his or her relationship with your kids. It also sends a message to your children that you're on the same page regarding academic expectations, which can work in your favor.
- Invite him to your kids' sporting events. Likewise, inviting your ex to your son's lacrosse game or your daughter's gymnastics competition doesn't just say "I think you should be there," it says "We want you to be there."
- Invite him over for dinner. Not every family can do this, but if you've remained on good terms with your ex, and you're capable of pulling off a meal together, try it once in a while. One caveat: use caution regarding this tactic if you suspect your children are hoping you'll get back together! The last thing you want to do is cause confusion or mislead your kids toward hopes of a romantic reconciliation.
- Schedule regular phone calls. Encourage your children to call and say goodnight or make contact by phone (or email) at least once between visits or scheduled blocks or parenting time.
- Encourage between-visit video chats. Today's technology makes it easy to see one another -- literally -- between visits or scheduled blocks or parenting time. Use tools like Skype or FaceTime.
- Be flexible about visit changes. The rule of thumb here is to be as flexible with your ex as you'd like him to be with you. Even if you feel that your ex hasn't extended the same courtesy toward you thus far, set a new precedent by accommodating schedule changes when you can.
- Call or email to communicate academic updates. Keeping your ex informed about your kids' school progress presumes that you anticipate his future involvement. It takes only seconds to send a quick email, and it's another easy way to keep your ex in the loop and encourage involvement.
- Express your appreciation. Simply saying, "I'm so glad you stopped by today. I know Jake really appreciates seeing you," can go a long way toward normalizing regular contact.
- Let little irritations roll off your back. There will probably always be things that irritate you or that you take personally, but for the sake of encouraging your children's relationship with your ex, make the effort to put those aside. As you work toward encouraging your ex to be involved with your kids, remember that your co-parenting relationship may function differently than your previous partnership -- and that's okay, too.