I stopped at the grocery store yesterday to pick up a few items. Since this weekend we celebrate Mother's day I made the obligatory trip down the greeting card aisle. Of course, the seasonal section was a sea of pastel colored cards ranging from religious to sappy to funny (or appropriately politically correct kinda-funny). There were cards separated into sections "For My Wife", "From Daughter", "From Son", for grandmothers and even great-grandmothers.
But there weren't any cards in the aisle labeled "For My Ex-Wife."
One Judge in Plymouth County has a standard speech he gives divorcing spouses right before he approves their final divorce. Judge James Menno tells divorcing spouses who are also parents: "Today I divorce you as husband and wife, but you will never be divorced as parents." Divorced parents are still Mom and Dad, and nothing changes that.
In many cases (maybe even most cases), divorce involves a breakdown in trust between the two parties. Co-parenting with someone with whom you don't have a trusting relationship can range from difficult to impossible. In Collaborative Divorce and Mediation, we often focus on the ways in which couples can build communication and enough trust to co-parent effectively after their divorce is final.
One of the most powerful skills that couples can work on to build trust and cooperation is acknowledgement.
We've all heard the complaints that separated parents have about the other parent. Parenting together is difficult enough, and parenting apart is bound to lead to even more misunderstandings. But how often do you hear separated parents praise each other's efforts. How different would conversations between exes be if they began with an acknowledgement of what the other parent is doing well, instead of starting in on what's wrong. When you acknowledge someone else's strengths they are more likely to be understanding when you have disagreements, because they can trust you to see both the good and the bad.
Even in difficult cases most people will still admit that the opposing party is a good parent. However, the absence of a Mother's Day card category "For My Ex-Wife" suggests that very few ex-husbands make a point of telling their ex-wife that they're a good mother, even on the day that is specifically designed for that.
So while we wait for greeting card companies to figure this out, buy your ex-wife some flowers or a brunch or a generic Mother's Day card. Even a cliched Mother's Day gift will make a big impression because even though you're not married anymore she is still a Mom, and that deserves recognition.