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.