The Reluctant Co-Parents

When my ex and I divorced, one thing we spent no time at all discussing was custody and visitation.

The divorce judgment included a supervision order.  He wanted no part of supervised visitation.  So he vanished.

For the better part of three years, we heard little from and saw nothing of my ex.  I was ok with that.  I put my big girl “S” on my chest and handled my business like the Supermom I figured I had to be.  I juggled publishing parties, parent-teacher conferences, soccer games, baseball games, gymnastics and ice skating lessons for two children of different gender at different schools, often with conflicting schedules.

To manage all of this, I relied on the kindness of strangers and friends alike, but not nearly as much as I should have.  Mostly, I wore myself out.  I felt like the worst mom ever, because I was never 100% available for either child.

And then one day, my ex took me to court.  The specific relief he sought wasn’t available.  What he really wanted was to see his kids again.

I was not averse to that, in theory.  I was ready to get out of the Supermom business and back into the Carolyn business.  My life was nothing but work and the kids.  I found myself getting excited when my kids were invited to birthday parties where the parents were served wine and beer, in exchange for our staying to help out.  Drinking wine with grown-ups at kids’ birthday parties was pretty much my only adult outlet.

I found myself resenting my kids, and I knew something had to give.

We spent two years in and out of court.  Nothing was resolved.  My ex still refused to participate in supervised visits in any meaningful way.  The judge wouldn’t allow visitation until she was satisfied that the supervision order was no longer needed.  She couldn’t get that satisfaction, since he refused to participate in supervised visits.  We were at a standstill.

Meanwhile, the kids were getting older.  They were now able to speak for themselves, instead of needing a social worker to speak on their behalf.

I, too, was getting older.  And lonelier.

I finally pulled my ex aside in court one day and said, in effect, let’s just work out an arrangement, because you’re never going to get what you want here. 

Perhaps because his failure to settle the divorce had turned out to be such a poor decision, he was more willing to listen this time. 

And so two people who could barely exchange a civil word with one another, who had engaged in the stereotypical Family Court shouting matches, who had dealt with orders of protection during the marriage and divorce, and who still refused to disclose our exact addresses to each other — became co-parents.

It has been a struggle and a blessing.

My ex and our children are getting to know one another all over again.  At first it was fun, more like a mini-vacation than a regular part of life.  But when the kids asked me, on the eve of their third Weekend at Dad’s, “why are we going to Daddy’s again?” — I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy journey.

My ex and I never agreed, even when we were together, on house rules, strategies for discipline, or any other parenting decision.  The decision-making mostly fell to me.  So he tends to ask me what he’s allowed to do and not do, like he’s the babysitter. 

I told him recently, “I can’t micromanage your parenting.  When they’re with you, I have to trust your judgment as their father.” 

Those were the right words to say.  I’m not sure I really do trust his judgment in all cases.  But this co-parenting thing won’t work unless I allow him to parent when the kids are with him. I have no reason to think they’re in danger when they’re with him.  I need to relax and let go.

I do selfishly get to plan a social life around the weekends when he will have the kids, like most divorced couples do.  I have taken full advantage, and then some. 

I’ve felt a little guilty, like: Did I agree to co-parent with my ex just to get a break from the kids?  But then — what’s wrong with getting a break from the kids? 

The kids have told me when they really wanted/needed/preferred to spend time with me versus going with their father.  It’s a delicate balance, respecting their wishes versus preserving their father’s right to see them on a regular basis.  I’m sure I’ll get the balance wrong at times, right at others.  It’s only been three months.

My son will turn 10 this year.  Puberty is right around the corner.  There are things his father will need to tell him that I can’t (or would have to look up). 

My daughter turns 14 this year.  Her father has already had the “boys” discussion with her from, as she put it, “a boy’s perspective.”  She said it was useful hearing basically the same things I’ve been telling her, but from someone who could talk about how boys think and feel.

I’m still a fairly reluctant co-parent, but growing less reluctant with each visit.

8 thoughts on “The Reluctant Co-Parents

  1. I love this. And aren’t we all co-parents? I don’t always like the way my husband parents my kids. But in exchange for getting a break, I just let it go. They aren’t in danger (except of in danger of less-than-optimal-parenting, IMHO) and I get a break. They learn to adjust to different sources of authority, which is what they’ll have to do for the rest of their lives. My husband too, and the kids, had gotten into the routine of “asking Mommy” about the parenting rules of the house. I also had to put a stop to that – it sets up a bad dynamic 1) where Mommy is always the bad guy and 2) where Daddy is always the punk who doesn’t have to be listened to. Uh uhn. Do your own parenting. Figure it out. We talk about things though, and he’s working through it. I’m happy that you guys are working through it too, outside of court.

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  2. I’m in the same boat re: divorced & co-parenting. We didn’t have the same journey, but I can definitely identify with wanting to have some “adult” time. I have learned to “let go” and allow him to co-parent as he sees fit and it works because we are basically on the same page when it comes to the kids. We moms need a break and we need to learn to not feel guilty about it. I’m happy to hear that you guys are working it out.

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  3. I agree with your position. We have to let go of the parenting when the kids are with our ex. It gets easier as the kids get older and can let us know if something inappropriate happens or carries a cell phone with them and knows they can call us if they need to. My ex is an alcoholic so I’ve really had to walk the delicate balance of how much visitation is healthy – I’m not sure I always get it right either but I listen to my kids and I listen to my intuition.

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  4. Ditto on others’ comments about co-parenting, whether or not you’re still married to your partner. Congrats on taking steps forward into a co-parenting arrangement that works for better for you.

    I’m interested in you ex’s refusal to participate in supervised visitation. You mentioned that you have no reason to believe the kids unsafe with him, and I assume that is his own conception of himself. So, was his refusal, then, a pride issue? Why the refusal? If that’s what it took, why not submit to the supervision for the sake of your children?

    This question takes me back to the earlier conversation we had about whether fathers can walk away from children; whether they should be allowed to. Pride can operate differently for men than for women; could it be that his pride was so strong, that he could not get past it, even for the sake of his kids? And is that ever justifiable? Would a woman do the same?…

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    1. Yes, it was largely a pride issue: all these women (me, the judge, the law guardian, etc.) ganging up on him and emasculating him. I’ve been told by other fathers that they would have reacted similarly. I never understood why he wouldn’t just go along with it. But for him, it was easier, at least for a while, to just walk away. I’ll never understand his rationale, but I’m just glad he’s back in their lives now.

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      1. That’s a hard situation. I know that I would ultimately swallow my pride, but it would devastate me to be told that I needed to see my daughter under supervision. I wouldn’t have made the same choice, but I can understand.

        My guess is that most women would swallow their pride, and you’ve been told by other men that they would make the same decision as your ex. It’s an interesting illustration of the extent to which women often deem motherhood to be integral, if not central, to their identity. It’s important enough that we would suffer the indignity of supervised visitation. But for men, fatherhood is an optional part of identity, and something that can be discarded if it interferes with other more important conceptions of self. Both sides–men and women–seem skewed.

        And I wonder, if everyone understood that the children weren’t in danger, why the supervision was insisted on. Was it a pride thing on the judge and guardian’s part, as well–we said so, and so it must be? That doesn’t seem right if the point is really the best interests of the child. I am hearing echoes of Benee’s suggestion that the child custody system is unfairly skewed in favor of women.

        In any event, it is great that he’s back now. 🙂

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      2. I can’t get into the reasons for the supervision order. Suffice it to say it was justified when initially required. The passage of time made it less so. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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  5. Just keep on doing what you are doing!!!Your son is only 10. That’s young!!!! Yes, puberty is coming for him. But don’t stress out about it. The crucial years don’t start of many more years– high school. You still have many more years to create a plan and get a man involved with guiding him. If not another man, I think your ex will help him. High school are the easy years anyway.

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