Friday, October 21, 2011

Co-Parenting Alone


This piece originally appeared in the Non Custodial Mom Chronicles on Post Divorce Chronicles.

I dumped my work clothes unceremoniously in a pile onto the bathroom floor and set my beer bottle on the edge of the tub alongside a family-size package of Red Vines.   I’d had a bad day – no, a bad week, and one benefit of being a non custodial mom is the ability to wallow in self-pity every now and again without your children witnessing it.
Most of the time, I am a positive, optimistic person.  At least, I try to be.  I blog often about how to make the most of an odd or bad situation.  Over the past eight years, I’ve processed what happened to my family and dealt with it as best as I could.  I always put my children’s needs first and try like hell to do the right thing for them.  My default setting is to look for best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt, even when they repeatedly demonstrate that they don’t deserve it.
In my blog, A Non Custodial Mother, I recently wrote about how I made the decision to just sit down, face to face, with my kids stepmother and try to discuss our concerns and differences.  I truly want to work together with them for the benefit of the children.  Kids know when parents disagree with each other or don’t like each other very well, and it tears at them.  Their sense of loyalty is compromised and they are put into the awkward position of feeling like they have to defend someone they love.  As my youngest daughter put it so eloquently one day, “I feel like I’m in between two rocks, being squished.”
At dinner with the woman I (too often) refer to as “Man Hands,” I nodded and smiled reassuringly a lot.  When she insulted my husband Noah and said “You folded” in reference to my decision to let my children live with my ex husband, I didn’t argue even though inside I wanted to lean across the table, grab her by her unisex sweatshirt, and utter some magical phrase that would make her understand.   Instead, I took it on the chin.  I knew that fighting fire with fire would only make things more difficult on my children and lead to even less access to them because, unfortunately and unnecessarily, stepmother has successfully made herself their warden.
The first weekend for me to have the kids after our meeting was a marked improvement.  For the first time in eight years, my youngest daughter brought her favorite jacket to wear back to school the following Monday.  (Her insistence that the kids are never to bring or wear their clothes from the other house to mine is a major violation of co-parenting rules, written or unwritten, not to mention an indication of some serious control issues).  Wanda even emailed me to let me know the kids’ schedules for softball, baseball, and track practices that week, as well as the location and time of my youngest daughter’s Viola concert.  In the past, I’d had to email and call repeatedly before accessing this kind of information.
I had reason to believe that things really were getting better.
But my hope that we could all just get along was short lived.  We quickly fell back into the roles we were accustomed to before our dinner date.  The same day that I received a bitterly angry email from Wanda, I was asked to speak on a co-parenting radio show about being a non custodial mother.   I emailed the host and told her that I wasn’t sure I would be the best person to speak about co-parenting.  I didn’t feel like a very good “co-parent” at all.  The best trick up my sleeve was to just shut up as much as you can sometimes, and as long as it isn’t hurting anyone, to stand down from any battle with an ex or their new significant other.  It was less painful for the kids that way.
The email from Wanda sent me into a tailspin because I realized that sitting through almost three hours across the table from her, taking her insults on the chin, had equated to seven days of improvement in our relationship as co-parents before falling off the cliff again.  I spent an hour in the bathtub that night, furious and frustrated that no matter what I did, I could not create amodel co-parenting example for non custodial mothers.
Gnawing on red vines in between sips of beer, I thought about how I believed that I was upholding my part in the equation.  But as much as I might wish for my ex husband and his wife to fulfill their end of the deal, they are not on board with shared parenting.  They still hold the cards when it comes to majority time with my children and they are not willing to split time more evenly, even though I have asked them to, as have my children.  For them, having the kids full time instead of equally shared time leads them to believe that they are “better parents,” as my ex husband has told me.  Perhaps not coincidently, it also means that I pay them a considerable chunk of money in child support.
The next morning, my friend Aimee called.  She was excited because she’d heard that I’d been offered the opportunity to speak about being a non custodial mother on the radio, and she urged me to do it.
“But I don’t think I should.  I don’t have the ideal relationship with my ex and his wife.  Mostly, I just try to make it work however I have to.  All I care about is my kids not feeling like they are in the middle of a war.  Usually that means biting my lip and not disagreeing or fighting back.”
“Sophia,” she said, “if that’s really how it is, then that’s precisely why you should do the radio bit.  Show people that co-parenting sometimes means the best thing to do is to just get along—even if you don’t agree with each other. ”
She told me not to be afraid.  She was sure that there would be people who would relate.  Maybe others were giving up on co-parenting all together because they couldn’t get the other parent to go along with it.  Our co-parenting team was light years from perfect, but talking about this imperfection is a path to figuring out how to make things better.
By the time I’d hung up the phone, I’d decided to do the radio show and to just be up-front honest about the difficult task of trying to co-parent… even when the other parent isn’t willing to.
I’d co-parent alone.

4 comments:

  1. I co-parent alone in a 50 50 split and it is maddening. Ex and his new wife dont want me to call, don't want me to text "unless we are on our way to the Emergency room", all communication has to be done by email which I might get a response to and again I might not. I have constantly taken abuse of being left out of things and they are the ones who provide the exPensive vacations, toys, and she is the one that attends PTA As I am now working. She is considerably younger but married ex who had a vasectomy so my children will be the only children they have.

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  2. (continue)Some days it doesn't feel we are co parenting but that the kids have split lives and I fear for the inconsistency they are forced to deal with.

    Did I mention the kids new stepmother is a lawyer. Imagine the hell I endure composing emails knowing they would love to use anything against me to gain more time.

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  3. It is very tough for the children to be away from one parent. However, if a choice is to be taken, children do very well if they stay with their dad. You made a very good, albeit hard choice to let your kids stay with their dad. Your children have a lot to thank you for.

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  4. This is very good information.i think it's useful advice. really nice blog. keep it up!!!

    - co-parenting

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