Michigan versus The Ohio State University, Chicago Bears versus Green Bay Packers, Liverpool versus Manchester United, New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, Harvard versus Yale. What do these match-ups have in common? They are some of the most storied sports rivalries; some going back a hundred years, and will likely continue to be contested for generations to come.
Yet they may pale in comparison to a match-up which plays out daily on the fields, pitches, courts and gyms of youth sports: the rivalry between separated or divorced sports parents.
Ironically, the best way for single parents to deal with their ex when it comes to your child's sports comes from an unlikely source: the lessons you teach your child. Here are five things you are teaching your children to use as a single parent to deal more harmoniously with your ex.
1. Play Fair
One of the most important lessons kids learn through sports is good sportsmanship, in other words, playing fair. You may be tempted, in the midst of a nasty custody battle, on the brink of one, or just emerging from the ordeal, to withhold information from your ex about your child's sports schedule. After all, the last person you want to have to see every week is your ex! But before you do, remember what you are no doubt telling your children about playing fair. As challenging as it may be, try to make sure he or she is given at least the chance to be on the sports sideline; don't cheat your ex out of sharing in your child's athletic experiences, whether they be good or bad. Make sure that their email address is included in the team mailing list so they receive pertinent information about practices and games directly. That way you won't have to be responsible for sharing it, or, worse, be tempted to say you "forgot" to let them know about the big game.
2. Be Nice
If you are standing on the sidelines with or near your ex, remember the advice you give your child to "be nice" by trying to avoid nasty verbal exchanges or vocalizing the negative thoughts you may be thinking about your ex when your child is listening (and they are always listening).
3. Follow the rules
As parents we are always teaching our children the importance of obeying the rules. You need to walk the walk by obeying all the terms of divorce and separation agreements, whether contained in a court order or judgment or drawn up between you and your ex, especially the provisions requiring parents to share the cost of extra-curricular activities, concerning travel (which will come into play for away games, travel team play, or away meets or tournaments), and concerning day-to-day residency and visitation, which may have an impact on transportation to practices and team events, such as post-season awards banquets. If you and your ex haven't spelled out the rules already, try to come up with a document containing terms to which you both can agree. It's a good way to avoid disagreements and misunderstandings in the future.
One of the most important things team sports teaches kids is how to work collaboratively with teammates, to put team goals above individual goals; in other words to share. It's good advice for separated or divorced parents to follow. If possible, share the responsibilities of your child's sports participation. Obviously, dividing the transportation and finances as equally as possible works best, but when that is not possible, if you are the custodial parent, try to avoid having to shoulder all the responsibilities yourself. Set up car pool schedules with other parents, and investigate scholarships, grants, payment plans or sponsorships from local businesses to help defray the cost of sports participation. Keep in mind however; that the most important responsibility to share with your ex is encouraging your child at all sports events.
5. Show and Tell
As parents we are always asking our kids to tell us what happened at school that day or how practice or the game went. To keep the non-custodial parent in the loop, try to get extra copies of videos, news clips, and team photos to share with them. Even if they are not active in their child's sports activities, it might just encourage them to participate more, and, at the very least, it helps to keep them up to date on what is going on their child's life. Another option: give your ex a form so they can order the items of their choice.
When children are dealing with a divorce, separation or some other inharmonious parental arrangement, it is important to lessen the impact on their lives as much as possible. You are already encouraging your child's continued participation in sports, which helps a great deal. The next best way to help your kids through this tough challenge is to work on getting along with their other parent. Although the two of you are ultimately jointly responsible for raising them (despite your situation), sometimes simply following the advice you yourself give your child can be the best parenting strategy.