By Dena Landon
Ugh. No matter how well you’ve structured your parenting plan, no matter how many baby-sitters, family members or friends you have to help out, there will come a time when you will need to ask your ex for a favor.
I’d scheduled a vacation with my ex-MIL and my son, giving my ex-husband three months notice rather than just the one month our custody plan required. There was no response from him until about a month later. Due to “unforseen scheduling issues” he’d now scheduled his second wedding for the weekend of our vacation. Could I move our vacation?
In his email, he did not use the words ‘please’ or ‘thank you.’ He is not inviting his mother to this wedding. And if you’ve ever tried to switch four plane tickets and a vacation home rental you know this was not a small favor. I was irritated and annoyed. While I’ve asked him for favors in the past, nothing of this magnitude. I took a deep breath and texted my ex-MIL, “How do you want to handle this?”
If you’re in the position of either asking for a favor from your ex or having him ask you for one, here are some tips on how to handle it.
Be Polite and Civil when Asking your Ex for the Favor
Oh, it’s so tempting to remind them of all the favors you’ve done for them in the past when they ask you for something. The time you took a half day because your child was sick and your ex really needed to go into work for a meeting. Dropping off snacks at school when the other parent forgot snack day. But, like emotional labor, you really did all those favors for your kid. Don’t trot out the laundry list of past favors you’ve done – it just makes you look petty.
Use ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and ‘I appreciate it.’ To give him full credit, my ex finally said “Thanks, I appreciate it,” roughly four emails into the exchange. If you’re on the asking side, remember your manners.
Acknowledge the Work that Will Go Into the Favor
In a way, this validates the other person. It establishes that you know there is work involved to perform the favor. Four plane tickets. A vacation home. It took us almost two weeks to rearrange it all, which we did for my son’s sake. Even if it’s just asking your ex to pick up an hour early, say something like, “I know it’s a pain to drive across town during rush hour, thanks for doing it.” If you can mitigate that work in any way, for example by meeting them halfway, be willing to be flexible.
Be Reciprocal, but in a Good Way
Don’t get into a tit for tat mindset, but if they’ve done you a favor, the next time they ask you for one do your best to come through. It’s only adult, right? Being an adult means putting aside your differences for your child’s sake and acting from a place of good intentions. If you’re feeling put upon if the favor-asking is decidedly one-sided and not reciprocal, vent to a friend. If you feel like you’re asking too many favors, consciously choose to lean on your support network instead.
When things come up and either of you need a favor, try to handle it with grace and class.
Let It Go
“Aren’t you lucky I’m willing to do this for you? Would have been hard to find a babysitter on such short notice.” It’s hard to resist the urge to snipe, particularly if they haven’t said ‘thanks.’ We’re only human. And they may snipe at you when they do you a favor. But let it go. It’s just negative energy. It’s unlikely to make either of you want to perform a favor for the other in the future. If your kid is there and hears the sniping, they could feel trapped between you. Take the high road, bite your tongue, and remind yourself – often – that your child is the priority.
When you have a child together your relationship with your ex is never really over. If you divorced when your kid was young, like I did, you have a lot of years ahead of you trying to get along with your ex. At times, you will both need to lean on each other to provide the best life for your child. When things come up and either of you need a favor, try to handle it with grace and class. We moved our vacation and my son will now be able to attend my ex’s wedding. It was a huge pain but it was the right thing to do. And doing the right thing is always worth it.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.