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How my ex-husband and I put our differences aside to raise our boys together

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About a year ago, my then-fiance and I were at lunch discussing our upcoming wedding when I received a text from my ex-husband. He and our younger son were spending the afternoon together.

“Do you have a certain color scheme for your wedding?” he asked.

“No, why?” I texted back.

“We’re shopping for suits and I wondered if there was a particular color of shirt and tie you wanted your youngest groomsman to wear.”

“No, anything is fine,” I wrote. "And I’ll pay for his shirt and tie.”

“It’s okay,” he answered. “I’ve got this.”

A year before my ex and I ended our 20-year marriage 10 years ago, we engaged in hurtful rounds of verbal volleyball while our two boys slept. While they were awake, we served as poor role models of how a husband and wife should interact with each other. Aside from growing apart, my ex and I no longer had anything in common, with the exception of our sons. We could have stayed together “for the children” in an anxiety-filled home that would have caused our sons irreparable emotional damage. The other choice was to divorce and provide two separate, stress-free homes.

The decision was clear, yet emotionally draining to implement.

Before filing for divorce, I did an Internet search for “How to make divorce easier on children.” Every website offered the same advice: Get along with your spouse (at least in front of the children) and don’t bad-mouth the other parent. We knew two other couples who had recently divorced and their incessant fighting was affecting their children. The kids alternately acted out and shut down. We didn’t want the same for our sons.

While we negotiated the terms for our divorce, we moved into separate homes — three short blocks from each other because of coincidence, not planning — and promised to put our children first and make peaceful co-parenting a priority. Although we still argued, it wasn’t in front of our boys. Instead, we saved our occasional snide comments and verbal gut punches for phone calls and texts.

Less than six months later, we started communicating more effectively than we did during the last year of our crumbling marriage. What changed, aside from no longer sharing a home? We stopped being defensive. We stopped all futile attempts to change each other. More important, we stopped expecting anything from each other, leaving little room for anger and disappointment.

Living in the same neighborhood, and working out a carpool schedule, made it convenient for us to see our sons every day. During the weeks my ex had the boys, then 11 and 13, I picked them up from his home and drove them to school. The following week, during my time with our sons, their dad picked them up and took them to school. We respected each other’s boundaries, and didn’t know if we were welcome in each other’s homes, so we waited for our sons to come outside. Eventually, I invited their dad to wait inside as the boys ate breakfast or collected their things. The next week, he did the same.

When I became a single parent, I lost my tribe. So I built a new one.

One afternoon, on the way home from picking up my younger son from school, I realized our system of informing each other about our kids was working. Earlier, my ex had sent me an email with a heads-up about the electronics ban he had implemented in response to our son’s poor choices over the weekend. He asked me to continue the ban through the end of the week.

“I heard you lost TV and computer privileges for a few days,” I said to my son as he climbed into my SUV.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “That was at dad’s house.”

“No, it’s at our house too, until Friday.”

“Why can’t you be like other divorced parents and not talk or text each other?” he said.

A few months after the divorce was final, I began my relationship with my now-husband, and my ex started seeing his now-fiancé. Before he brought her to school events, I hadn’t formed an image of how she would look, dress or sound. I even resisted the temptation to troll her profile on Facebook. My sons filled me in. They agreed that the new woman in their dad’s life treated them well and on the few occasions I saw my ex, he seemed happy. I sensed that she and I would get along well, and we do.

She has never attempted to be a “bonus mommy.” She adores my sons and has welcomed them into her family. With both my family and my ex’s relatives living hundreds of miles away, my boys have an extra set of grandparents, scores of aunts and uncles, and plenty of cousins nearby to celebrate special occasions. Their close relationship with my ex’s fiance and her family could bother me, but it doesn’t. My sons enjoy spending time with extended family members who treat them as their own.

A few years ago, around Christmas, my eldest brought home a clear-wrapped package filled with thick slices of rum cake. He told me it was a gift for me, from his dad’s fiance. A few days later I made a dessert, which happened to be my ex’s favorite, and asked my youngest if he would take half of it to his dad. We are expanding our relationship along with our waistlines.

Our sons are adults now. We still work diligently to provide them with a healthy family dynamic. Between their dad’s relationship with his fiance, and mine with my husband, we do our best to model what it means to have a positive, caring connection with a life partner. I’m proud that my sons treat their girlfriends with kindness and respect. And the lack of stress they feel at family gatherings, where they are enveloped by the love of their combined families, confirms that my ex and I made the right decision to divorce. A bonus: We were both lucky enough to get a second chance at finding love.

Lisa Kanarek is a freelance writer, essayist, and the author of five books about working from home. She lives with her husband in Texas, where they are parents to a combined six sons. Find her on Twitter @LisaKanarek.

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