I have the dubious honor of having been split from my baby daddy (which I think needs a more dignified but fun term). Before and since I have been divorced and dumped. Those two I have gotten over. It took time, a lot of tasty cosmopolitans, and strong friends. You make the split, decide on the custody, and suddenly you’re a co-parent.
For me, splitting from someone who I share a child with is a whole new level of cruel, for both the child and myself. It probably is for the ex-partner too but given the circumstances, I honestly couldn’t care less about the level of pain he’s experiencing. I’d say I hope he gets kidney stones but I’m not evil. I’m sure that sounds bitter and brutal. But there are things that can be done to a person that leave indelible scars on their psyche. I was at the end of the torture stick. It’s sharply dulled my sympathy toward him and I think I’ve earned some bitter credits.
Children are naturally self-centered. Mini-me was just 3 1/2-years-old when the earthquake split the ground between his parents. I can’t help but think he thought, and sometimes still does, that the split was his fault. Recently, he and I were watching the Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap. it occurred to me in a blaze of pain and wonder that the notion of getting his parents back together must be an amazing dream. For me, that same thought is a nightmare. It’s also sad to me that Mini-me is acutely aware of the status between his parents. When he was 4-years-old, he told me from the back seat of the car that daddy hated me. I’m fairly certain I clamped my hand over my mouth to not reply that the feeling was mutual.
I’ve made it a personal mission to not talk smack about his father. I can be really, really hard. I’ve recently had to learn, via therapy, to not sugar coat his father’s mistakes. A painful example happened recently when his father forgot his medications for a visit. I had to tell Mini-me that it was his father’s responsibility to make sure he had refills and pack them. My wonderful little baby tried defending his father so hard. But I had to stick to my guns. It killed me. I could have cried for his anguish. I felt that, in some way, I was crushing Mini-me’s desire to just defend his daddy. Because Mini-me loves his dad and always will. There’s nothing wrong with that. He loves me too and I cherish our quirky relationship.
I suppose I should be thankful on some level for the amount of abuse, humiliation, and pain I endured in our 4 1/2-year relationship. Through a lot of individual and group therapy including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, EMDR, and alternative therapies, I’ve come to some important realizations. It wasn’t my fault. I’m a good, strong mother. I can model positive love relationships for Mini-me.
For me, modeling positive relationships for Mini-me is crucial. I didn’t have that healthy role modeling. And because I was with him, I know how Mini-me’s father works. Instead of that, I want Mini-me to see a couple who loves each other, communicates in a calm, meaningful way, and shows mutual admiration and respect every single day. Every. Single. Day.
Back to the topic at hand, co-parenting. I’d like to kick whomever coined that phrase directly in the shins. The term co-parenting implies that both parents are invested in the communication process on an equal level. When there are children involved, relationships never really end. When the love relationship crumbles into abuse, bitter fighting, or cruel, damaging custody wars (and I do mean wars), there is simply no ability to effectively co-parent.
Intimidated emotionally and financially, I agreed to custody terms that did not serve the best interests of my Mini-me. And, still being bullied, I submitted to years of being uninformed about my son. Although I had the legal right, because there was no communication, I didn’t know when he saw a doctor or started taking a medication. I didn’t know when school started or how to meet his teachers. Because my son was asked to start calling his stepmother ‘Mom’, confused doctors, educators, and therapists, left me out of the process.
The effect on me was awful. Already having suffered emotional abuse where I was told I was a terrible parent, the message was redoubled. I was humiliated as I explained the confusion to professionals. Mini-me is about to enter the third grade. It’s taken four years of elementary school for me to come up with a plan. When I introduce myself to teachers, I say in a straightforward manner that we have a dysfunctional co-parenting relationship and that it will take extra work on both our parts to work in Mini-me’s best interest. I couldn’t care less if anyone is embarrassed. My job is to be there for my son.
I’m sure there are divorced or separated couples out there who work together gracefully. Frankly, I’m jealous. I wish I had a former partner who was focused on what is best for our son by communicating. Instead, we only send text messages because they can be used in court. We never phone. We rarely email. Unless there’s some sort of emergency, we never talk face to face. And, sadly, I think that’s a more realistic version of co-parenting than what you see in parenting magazines and advice columns.
It makes me angry when I see media stock photography with two happy parents doing a drop off. Those false images seen in the media, or if you happen to have that one friend who does it sucessfully, set up an unrealsitic expectation for couples who split. The reality is neutral drop of locations, like restuarant parking lots, and not knowing what your child ate for breakfast or what jammies he wore to bed. The reality is if you can stand to talk to your ex on the phone for two minutes, you win. If you can walk your child to the ex’s front door and not internally cringe when you see them, you win.
I’ve mostly come to peace with my dysfunctional co parenting relationship. I’m realistic in my expectations. I don’t expect my ex will tell me when my son sees his psychiatrist. It falls to me to call every few months and check in. Saying that, I’m an honest person. I still try to look nice when I see him or his wife. Because it makes me happy to know that he dropped me (and I’m pretty cute) for a downgrade. It’s petty (I know) but it reminds me of all the strong, beautiful parts of me that are entirely independent of my ex and that I’m passing on to Mini-me.
So, if you’re going through a split with kids, remember that it’s important to find a plan that works for you. And not just you as a mom or dad. You as a person. Does it make you feel small or strong? Does it make you want to tear your hair out or confident? Does it remind you of all the excellent qualities you possess as a parent? I hope so.
I guess I’ll end with something rude but important: wrap it before you tap it. In this day and age no one needs to be having a child with a partner who they aren’t 100% sure they couldn’t someday like to co-parent with.