a co-paretning love story
Developing a new version of the family after our divorce took us down many unexpected paths of both challenge and promise. We've always wanted the same outcomes for our kids but usually, have very different modalities in mind on how to guide and care for their needs and development.
During one of our first post-divorce experiences, we attended a school performance and did not sit together. With an anguished heart, I watched my eldest daughter as she looked back and forth between her Father and myself during the performance. Her discomfort in finding a balance between us became more awkward when the cast stood together for photographs, as she posed for his camera, then my camera multiple times. Instead of enjoying her performance, she was struggling to manage her actions from the impossible position we'd inadvertently put her in; feeling torn between her parents.
"What the hell have we done?" I asked myself as I drove away in a hot mess of tears and nausea. In my mind, our divorce was not her issue to contend with, especially not at her school, surrounded by her peers and her community. This experience revealed one of many specific areas where her Father and myself needed to consider how we were showing up for our kids. Also, it offered the opportunity for considerable growth for each one of us as we became more focused on modeling all we had promised them about our new family paradigm.
On the day we told them we would no longer be married, we assured them that we would always remain connected as a family and be there for them in every way possible.
Could we sit together at a school play?
Yes, we could do this for our kids.
Moving forward, we decided to give our kids as many cohesive family meals and social events together as possible. After all, we were and always will be family. Immediately following the divorce, we both made an effort to show up as co-parents to bridge their transition with continuity of family time. We shared birthdays, a few holiday meals and all school events with our kids. They needed us as parents, to love them, to tenderly hold their worry and to remind, with our actions, that we would always remain by their side.
During one of our first family meals together, I began to experience the shift of letting go of my former role. The old paradigm where I usually had the most control of choices for our kids was no longer relevant. The new family model, co-parenting from different homes, required the recognition on my part.
As we left the restaurant, we stopped to get a couple of gumballs. As Evelyn twisted the coin wheel, I cupped my hand below the chute door to capture the gumball before it hit the floor. As Vivian turned the coin wheel, her Father held the chute door closed with his finger to prevent the gumball from rolling out onto the floor. The differences in our approaches towards the same goal reminded at once of the overall differences in our parenting choices.
We share a common desire for our kids to be happy and healthy. We apply two different sets of parenting tools to that end. In this instance, we both tried to control the outcome of the gumball's destination; one of us casting a net while the other used the brakes. At this moment, the abundance of control in the previous tug-of-war paradigm between us flooded my consciousness. This acute awareness both overwhelmed my mind and validated my heart's decision to release the marriage.
These differences had been there all along, but as a married couple, our individuality muted, we were barely distinguishable as independent of one another.
When the foggy haze of our crumbling marriage had lifted, my depth of visibility expanded. Without the weight of constant communication woes and spousal dysfunction, I gained more clarity and felt more energy to focus on the job of parenting.
We began to function better as a parenting team. With our relationship load lightened, we focused on the future. With most of our communication centered around the kids, our discussions flowed with more clarity and respectful intention. The process became a bit easier with each step as our marital hurts are faded into the rearview mirror, steadily dipping below the horizon.
The shift in our attempts to control outcomes for our children has become more balanced as we've gained independence both as parents and as individuals. There are still disagreements and disappointments however now, we aren't managing decisions from a corrosive foundation.
We no longer shared in the daily minutiae of meals, bedtimes, entertainment, free play, chores or entertainment. With separate residences, we’d inherently given up control of those details and stepped into a more trusting relationship as co-parents. Each must trust that the other is capable of figuring out strategies to manage the daily lives of our kids. We had to learn the delicate and worthy art of letting life roll out organically.
Backing off from one another and releasing the need to influence the caretaking details, gave each of us the opportunity to learn from those experiences.
In the beginning, I remember standing at the intersection of converging desires for control. There, I learned again and again that the could only control my own choices, in my own home. Many concerns and "what if" moments happened and still, nearly four years later they sporadically occur.
Ultimately, I know this. I can choose fear and mistrust, or faith and trust. That’s it.
The choices made during my daughters' time with their Father has little to do with me or my preferences and everything to do with their cherished time together and the bonds they are building.
For a Mom who’d once held tightly to control over all matters around the kids, this process yielded enormous personal growth. Each time my kids are away, the control no longer within reach, I am letting go and growing. In the beginning, I consciously chose not to over-schedule those blocks of time with errands and outings and intentionally slowed my life’s pace to nurture and integrate that growth.
Sometimes I cried with longing. Sometimes I danced with the freedom that evolution brought my soul. No net, no brakes, just letting life flow as the gumballs roll down paths of both challenge and promise.