Co-Parenting Through Thick and Thin
This is a guest post by Dave Taylor. If you would like to guest post on this blog, email us here.
The “fantasy divorce” is that you and your partner come to a point in your lives when you realize you're just not happy, things just aren't going very well, and it would be in the best interest of your spouse and child(ren) to get a divorce and split into two separate households. In this “fantasy divorce” you'll still remain friends because you have this big life-long job of parenting that's not going to stop just because one of you leaves the house. As the years go by, you find there are things about the other person you remember you like and admire, and even when there are new partners added, you're all one big happy extended family and the kids grow up surrounded by peace, love and harmony…
…on the other hand, my experience has definitely not fit that “fantasy divorce” image…
By the time my wife and I decided to divorce, we'd been separated for almost a year. We then went through an incredibly difficult and contentious divorce where she had my business audited, we accused each other of being poor parents and various other things that demonstrate just how much we were both hurting -- things that were quite the opposite of the halcyon image suggested above. Mediators threw up their hands and quit on us, lawyers resigned after documents were signed, but we struggled through, trying to convince ourselves that it wasn't going too badly and since we both had the best interests of the children in mind, after all, somehow it would all end well.
Zoom forward three more years and I'm the statistically unlikely divorced dad who is highly involved with my children and we've settled on a schedule where our three kids are with me more than they are with their mom. There's still a lot of water flowing under the bridge, and there are still things we dislike about each other both as people and as parents, but we're trying to make it work.
So how the heck do we co-parent, and how do we keep the lines of communication open so we can have important discussions about our teen daughter, or our tween son's desire to be treated as if he's a high school senior, or our youngest (almost 9) and her fears around bedtime, not to mention the million day-to-day issues that crop up?
For us, it's worked out that we rarely if ever talk face-to-face, even at pick up/drop off, but instead use text messaging for immediate logistics -- "be there in five!" "do you know where their bike helmets are?" -- and email for more involved discussions, trying our very best to not judge each other, not criticize each other, and just stay focused on the topic at hand.
The myth of "walking away" from a relationship and moving to the next one, the lovely image of "turning a page" to a "new chapter" in your life, is great intention, but the reality is there are a lot of shared experiences with your former spouse, experiences that are expanded each and every time you have to communicate about your children and your co-parenting strategy, something that for us happens about every 2-3 days, and even more frequently during the school year.
With that much communication, I have no expectation that it'll be perfect and I'm not surprised when snark or petty criticism creeps in the messages I get from my ex. I expect I do the same. We're getting better, almost five years after we went our separate ways, but it's a long journey and I think it's important to recognize that our all-too-human foibles and weaknesses are just part of being an adult, a parent, and that if we have best intention and can endeavor to forgive the other person for being who they are - for better or worse - then we can proceed with the incredibly important job of co-parenting our beautiful children and making new lives for ourselves, without the ex being an invisible ball and chain around our ankles.
I don't have a perfect solution for communicating with your ex about your children; or how to create a healthy and mature arms-length partnership with them. There are reasons you got divorced, after all, and there's nothing more difficult than parenting, except perhaps parenting when the kids bounce between two households that are inevitably going to be different in rules, schedules and expectations.
Perhaps the real secret? Keep your attention on your children and keep a sense of humor about everything. Those wee ones are surprisingly resilient and odds are very good they'll grow up to be lovely adults so long as they grow up with an involved father.
What’s the best advice you ever received about communicating with your spouse/former spouse about parenting?
Visit Gold Medal Dads…Communicate with Mom for tips on how you can connect with your wife and/or the mother of your children. Remember to share and connect with other dads this week of The Dad Games on the blog, Facebook and Twitter (#DadGames12).
This is a guest post by Dave Taylor. Dave writes about life as a single father when he's not mired in the chaotic lives of his three children. Read Dave’s blog and follow him on Twitter. If you would like to guest post on this blog, email us here.
photo credit: Manu gomi