Co-parents who find a new normal that feels "right" for them after separation are able to find a way to enjoy being with everyone for the sake of the kids. When one parent makes a move to separate, it may feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath their partner and the whole family will go into chaos. Despite good intentions to co-parent gracefully and continue spending time together for the sake of the kids, tread very cautiously when "playing house". Raw emotions, a mix of painful revelations of the present and tearful reflections of the past will undermine your best intentions.
Ask yourself... Who am I really doing this for? When one co-parent has decided to end the relationship, the other is often stuck in a divorce process regardless of what they want. Because co-parents are often in different emotional spaces at the beginning of a separation, spending time together for the sake of the kids can be a minefield. While either spouse may yearn for a few hours of “the way it used to be”, the experience of a backyard BBQ followed by watching their former partner drive off makes adjustment and recovery more difficult, especially for a partner who has been "left". Spending time together is a tumultuous experience for children once a parent moves out and they know that divorce is likely. On the one hand, they want the same old traditions – because they are reassuring, because they allow the children to have both parents at once, and it is (false) evidence of a truce between parents. On the other hand, when Dad leaves, alone, children feel sadness, anger, abandonment and even betrayal all over again, and so may the parent remaining behind with them. During a break up, family members need time to integrate the different pieces of the new reality. They need time to grieve and regroup. They need to learn how to find the light at the end of the tunnel. They need emotional or spiritual support. They need TIME. If fractured families move too quickly to recreate "the good ol days", this process of adjustment is stunted. Former partners become re-traumatized. The kids feel it. And it stresses them out.
What is separation if not at least one partner's need for a BIG.TIME.OUT.
For this reason, though you may be distrustful of time the kids spend with the other parent, and safety issues aside, it is beneficial for kids to have access to both parents without the other parent present. The resistance to do so encourages conflict and often yields court custody disputes, which are lengthy, expensive, traumatic to everyone involved and damaging to any hopes of parents ever coming together for the sake of the kids again. Be thoughtful about engaging too soon.
Who is ready?
Who is not?
How will we be clear with each other and the kids about what it means to spend time together, and what it doesn't mean?
How to know if it is too soon?
Try attending a practice or game in the stands. If anyone feels a a need to fight, flight or freeze, you (or they) are not ready.
If kids act out more when you're together and you lack a game plan for addressing the behavior jointly, you are not ready.
If you are on different pages with regards to how to parent, and your attempts to reconcile this end in conflict, you are not ready.
Getting the family back together may be healing, bonding and reassuring, but only after adults take personal time and space from each other and only after the process of healing is well underway.