When you’re divorced and things are going smoothly with your ex in the co-parenting department, you can’t take anything for granted. The lack of gratitude you may have felt in your marriage gives way to thankfulness for how he (or she) has stepped up as a co-parent. If you’re like me, you also feel a huge sense of accomplishment that you and your ex have been able to coordinate for everyone’s benefit–not just for the kids but for each other and eachother’s families.
There’s a popular notion in in circulation that when it comes to co-parenting, “it’s all about the kids.” Actually, happy, healthy family systems on both sides should be the goal; and yes, the kids are a very important part of that. But the well-being of both parents should not be forgotten. Each parent should respect the other’s right to experience the joys of parenting and to influence and shape the child. A flourishing family life for both homes the child participates in is ultimately best for you, too–even if you don’t like your ex or think your ex doesn’t deserve it.
Co-parenting with an ex is a delicate matter, and to say that all decisions need to be made to put the children first is an oversimplification. I liken co-parenting to core strengthening. You can do 200 standard sit-ups a day and get a reasonably strong stomach, although you might hurt your back. Or you can do ten different kinds of core exercises (muscle confusion) that work your muscles in nuanced ways. You’ll get a much stronger core (and better definition) all around. Similarly, children benefit from the different parenting styles each parent brings to their lives.
Co-parenting is not all about the kids. It involves considerations for your children, your ex, your extended family, your ex’s extended family, your blended family (if you have one), your ex’s blended family…you get my drift. There’s just a whole heck of a lot to consider, and you have to be a magnanimous person to take all this on. You have to grow exponentially. And you absolutely can–you’ve already begun.
Jolted into co-parenting
I have a friend who wondered why evolution has allowed the newborn stage to be so challenging for first-time parents. “You aren’t getting any sleep. You have no clue what you’re doing. Your baby needs you for every little thing. Disaster seems more likely than not.” Why isn’t the human condition such that new babies break their parents in gently?
My theory is that we need to be jolted into parenthood, shaken up by the demands of our infant, because nothing short of a transformation will usher us into the state of mind of a connected, attentive parent. Never before have we been entirely responsible for the life of another.
Divorce is another big shake-up, and I have a theory about that, too. Divorce flattens you. It really levels you, and forces you to totally re-group. It’s an opportunity to rethink your life and start fresh. It’s an opportunity for growth. Divorce opens you up to life’s possibilities, and if you have children, divorce delivers you into the hands of a co-parenting relationship. Could it be that the upheaval of divorce is what allows you to be the kind of person who can deal with complexity and thereby become a competent co-parent?
Who’s to say what’s best?
I find it suspect when I hear a divorced parent say about their ex that he/she “is so selfish and doesn’t think of the kids first.” Really? Or do you have a different idea of what’s best for the child and therefore reject your ex’s ideas and plans? Have you gotten so caught up in what you believe is best that you’ve transferred that to your child and convinced both yourself and the child of what is best, to the exclusion of the other parent? Then you’re dancing dangerously close to the parental alienation zone. Don’t do it! Step away from the parental alienation zone.
There’s no one way that’s best for a child. Mom might think certain schools, friendships and activities are best based on her subjective view of the world; dad could have an entirely different perspective. To co-parent effectively, parents have to be willing to let go to some of their parenting agendas, however deeply ingrained they are, and try to coordinate with one another to create a life for their kids. A whole new agenda emerges: one where working with the ex to build a set of values and plans to raise the children takes priority over individual preferences. This applies to choosing schools, cultivating relationships, encouraging activities and fostering religious beliefs. You might even consider accepting your ex’s leadership sometimes. Be willing to view your ex as a person bursting with valid ideas, whose vision for your child’s life is every bit as justified as yours is. ~by Sarah Kinbar
Side-note: I recognize that there are some situations where healthy co-parenting is not possible because there is a parent in the mix who is not committed to child-rearing; one parent is very ill or incarcerated; one parent is an abuser or addict; or one or both parents are hard-headed extremists who are incapable of being flexible. If any of these describe your situation, my heart goes out to you.