'I didn't want them to grow up thinking their parents were enemies'

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Indy Lifestyle Online
WHEN children are involved, as I have discovered after more than two years' separation, it is possible for former partners to salvage a lost friendship, even though getting back together is out of the question.

It is not an easy route, however, and I had every reason not to take it: a husband who walked out after 12 years, leaving me to cope with two young children, pets, a demanding full-time job and daunting financial outgoings. I endured six months of emotional upheaval while he dithered over whether to return or not. Unable to stand his indecisiveness, I finally told him that was it, and for nearly a year could scarcely bring myself to speak to him. He saw the children quite often, but our nanny acted as a go-between, and I communicated in writing only when absolutely necessary.

The strain was intolerable. The children, especially my elder daughter, now nine, hated the arrangement. I could see that I might have to make a clean break (several friends urged me to do so), taking the children away and giving up my home and job. But the girls had always had a close relationship with their father, and I could not bear the idea of loosening the bonds. My own parents had been divorced, and I remembered their relationship as being an intensely bitter one. I seldom saw my father, something he and I both still regret.

Gradually, as I got over the worst of my grief and disappointment, I came to realise that I did not want my children to grow up with, or later have memories of, their parents as enemies. Nor did I want them to be deprived of their father - however much I might consider him a lousy role model. From a practical point of view, too, if I was to continue working full time (crucial financially and essential for my own independence), I needed his co-operation. My nanny did not live in, and I had no family nearby that I could call upon.

After a holiday last year, when I had time to think things over, I began speaking to my former partner again, and eventually suggested that he join us for tea one evening. The children's happy faces as we sat round the kitchen table together for the first time in 18 months convinced me that I was doing the right thing.

I explained to him that, for the children's sake, I wanted to do things together regularly as a family. I am sure he was amazed at my change of tune but agreed to give it a try. He also agreed that he would see them at home and not at his place. The olive branch was not extended to his girlfriend.

As a result, the children now see their father several times a week. He shares the school run and is occasionally able to collect them from school, bringing them home to make tea and supervise homework. We have get-togethers every other weekend, mostly at home doing ordinary things, which the children now take for granted.

We celebrate birthdays and special occasions as a family. My former spouse and I present a 'united' front at school, attending teachers' meetings, concerts and sports days together. Best of all, my social life has received a much-needed shot in the arm: I now have an excellent free babysitter to hand.

What began with cool tentativeness on my part and a large measure of awkwardness on his has slowly warmed to more than just a semblance of our former friendship, which was always rooted in common interests and similar work. We have plenty of opportunities to talk about the children, and discuss their progress and any problems - and simply share the pleasures of having them.

The children seem to have taken all the changes in their stride. They no longer ask me where Daddy is because they are confident of seeing him again soon. They are free to get on with being children without having a load of our emotional baggage to deal with. Nothing is perfect, of course, but when hiccups occur, we sort them out together; at least we know it can never be as fraught as it was, ever again.