The first time I messaged my husband’s ex-wife on Facebook, my heart thumped through my chest a little. I wanted to ask her about a picture of my stepdaughter that she had on her page. It was adorable. Where was it taken? How old was she in that picture? Sending the message would be admitting that I was looking at her page. It’s one thing to Facebook stalk, it’s completely another to admit it. She politely answered me. I know she felt as awkward as I did having this glimpse into a life reserved for “friends”.
Up until this point we had been merely cordial. It took us years to get here. At the tail end of a bitter custody battle, our wounds were still fresh. We were both trying very hard to be get along and so far things seemed to be going well. A few days later, I sent her a friend request. Initially, it was so I could take a look at the rest of her pictures. I’m a bit of a voyeur. I’m just being honest, the idea of having a view into my stepdaughters life at her mother’s house was intriguing to me. I admit that I was nervous that I may be overstepping my boundaries.
Now that we have been “friends” on Facebook for awhile, I have learned to process how this makes me a better co-parent. I’m not going to win any awards or anything, but it definitely has made me more thoughtful and open-minded about my fellow co-parent(s). While many people use Facebook for many different reasons, the platform has opened up a communication between our families that is comfortable.
1) Sharing photos:
School photos, holiday photos, recital photos, cute random photos. I’m not going to ask for these, but I can right click and save. If these are shared on FB then they aren’t private photos, so I don’t feel uncomfortable snagging them for my own albums. Given that I have several sets of co-parents, and grandparents, FB has been an effective way of getting copies of pics I might otherwise feel uncomfortable asking for, and sharing pics that I might not otherwise volunteer.
2) Chat sessions, and messages.
If you an avid user of FB (which I am), you may check your wall, chat sessions, or message inbox more than your email. There’s less chance of an important message getting lost within FB; my email inbox is ridiculous. I’ve even had my ex-wife (yes, that’s what I call her) initiate a chat session with me on FB when I didn’t answer a text message she sent me. I was at work and had FB open and it was a quick way to get in touch with me when all other methods failed.
3) Friends and family members don’t feel like they have to choose sides.
When my ex-husband and I divorced, and my new husband and his ex-wife divorced, we (four) had mutual friends and family members that were clear about not wanting to choose sides and others that did. It’s a small community. As a result, I would sometimes go places and run into people I had never met, who knew who I was and treated me horribly. I’m not clear as to why anyone’s opinions matter when you’re going through something as heartwrenching as a divorce and custody battle, but when it’s all said and done and you’re eager to heal, here’s where a community is helpful. When friends on both your pages see that you are on each other’s FB page, leave messages on each other’s walls, and comments on each other’s pictures, it sends a clear statement to everyone else. “You don’t have to choose sides. We’re okay with this, now you be okay with this.” In a weird way, it shows a united front to a community whose opinion has torn us apart in the past.
4) Align parenting styles.
Kids on FB tend to act the way they do in real life. They leave silly messages and insults on each others walls, take ridiculous pictures, etc. While it’s a relatively small arena compared to what kids are facing on a daily basis, it provides an accurate reflection on what their life at school may be like. If your child is a popular and outgoing kid at school, his/her FB page will reflect that. If not, then…well, you’ll know. FB allows for both sets of parents a window not only on each other’s lives with the shared child, but on their life when not at home. Tuning in to their FB activity can give you an opportunity to better align your parenting styles so that you are raising a healthy happy kid with parents who are aware of every aspect of their life.
5) Not sure if you should post that pic?
Back when Myspace was popular, this girl I knew had a horrible reputation for posting sexually suggestive pictures of herself online. She had a child and was in the middle of some custody issues. Maybe she thought they were harmless, maybe she thought she was expressing her inner Playboy model, but the pics were eventually used against her in the court case. If you don’t want a co-parent seeing pics of you drinking and partying like a rock star, guess what: you’re a parent and probably don’t need those pics to be public anyway. You don’t need to be a complete saint, but a co-parent is the worst critic you’re going to have. If it’s safe for them to see your pics or status updates, then it’s probably safe for your boss, co-workers, or kids to see as well.
6) You might actually become “Friends”.
My ex-wife and I are never going to have coffee or go shopping together. Our personalities are very different and she isn’t someone I would be comfortable with hanging out with socially. However, as FB friends go, she’s an entertaining person to have on my page. She puts cute pics up of our daughter and her dogs. Her updates are sometimes funny. And she makes sweet comments on my photos. A few years ago the only way we could communicate was with attorneys present. This is a considerable improvement if you ask me and doesn’t cost $200 an hour.
Where once our only interaction was awkward drop offs and pick ups, the Facebook relationship allows for us to be more intimate,while maintaining a safe and comfortable distance. A surprising avenue for healing, the familiarity we exchange takes away lots of the animosity that is normal, even natural between a wife and an ex-wife. Facebook won’t help you navigate through the more difficult parts of co-parenting, there are always going to be disagreements. This isn’t going to work for everyone, but the everyday interaction does make it easier for us to communicate the bigger issues and makes us better co-parents — which makes for a healthier and happier child.