On the eve of Father’s Day, my heart overflows with an abundance of appreciation for the man who I share kids with and the life we are building together as co-parents.
Fathers show up (or vanish) in a myriad of ways — there are biological, step, adoptive, present, and absent fathers. There are the dads never met, and ones met then lost; some are dearly loved and departed, and others whose exit was a great relief.
I could share the painful loss of my father, the years of hit or miss in our relationship and how I think about him, his humor, and good-heartedness daily. Or I could share the story of my kind step-father, who loved my mother and took care of us. He taught me how to drive, the art of listening, and how to wholly articulate my thoughts.
Today, I am thinking about the father I have as a parenting partner. Once married, we found ourselves in an unhealthy relationship that eventually began leaking toxicity upon our kids. Instead of working our kid’s development around the ruins of our lover’s bonds, we chose another path forward; to co-parent as independent, wholehearted versions of ourselves. Four years ago, we divorced.
Two months ago, he bought a house for our kids. I live here with them; there are legal arrangements and personal boundaries set forth to protect the wellness of everyone in our family. And yes, we still refer to ourselves as a family; after all, we remain tethered through the love we created via the children we share.
This weekend, our kids are with him to celebrate father’s day and show their love and appreciation of their ever-present, perfectly-imperfect, tandem-navigator, concert-sporting-performance companion, wisdom-sharing, dope-on current events, open-minded, paddleboarding-partner, grilling-guru, witty Dad.
I’m in our home taking a break from settling in to unpack something more than moving boxes. I hold infinite gratitude for their Dad, who has put co-parenting and providing for our children above the dysfunction and disdain of our ill-fitted marriage.
It wasn’t always in the cards for us to work things out and peacefully coexist. We twisted in the wind of woes, anger, and sadness inherent in any breakup. At first, we both struggled to define our new roles as divorced parents, and we made mistakes along the way. However, there was always the thread of shared intention to put our kids ahead of our pain.
Parenting beyond divorce is rife with triggers; it navigates unforeseen paths through minefields loaded with bitter truth bombs, resentments, blame, and shame. And that’s the lighter end of the spectrum. There are many circumstances involving domestic violence and partners that choose to abandon their kids. These situations inherently prevent co-parenting, and I believe these are the times when walking away is necessary and safest.
In our story, divorce was the result of incompatibility, doubt, and the inability to break damaging patterns. In the wreckage, we slowly salvaged remains of faith in one another as people and built a new family paradigm; we created two foundations for one family. For us, the mutual prioritization of our kid’s well-being urged us to restore the central foundation of our friendship and build a new alliance as co-parents. Together, we designed a loving route forward for everyone.
I’ve discovered gifts in the process of divorce; there are tremendous opportunities to teach kids, conflict resolution, empathy, and generosity. Extracting the marital bond can be a game-changer in an unhealthy relationship. It can promote good health for everyone in the family — and yes, maybe not all people will improve and grow, but most will.
On some level, kids witness authenticity, self-love, sharing real-time moments, selflessness, fearlessness, compassion, mistakes owned and righted and learn the teaching value of failure. They learn to navigate discomfort and create paths forward with autonomy, without the weight of dueling parents in their home.
In my experience, the more I worked towards leaving the disappointment and heartache of divorce out of our co-parenting paradigm, the more I enabled a new script to unfold. Each person in our family felt safe to do the same, in their way and at their own pace.
This post-divorce family dynamic, co-created by everyone in the family and allowed our children to live without guilt for loving either parent. I’ve witnessed firsthand; the more our kids are free to love both parents, the more empowered they’ve become as self-advocates. They possess a healthy sense of self-trust and trust in their parents.
My former spouse and I bring different strengths and contributions to the family table. But, who’s keeping score? We both know that our children are the winners. And that’s undoubtedly worth acknowledgment and celebration.
It’s easy to give to your children when you’re not burdening your heart with a tally card on your ex-spouse. Then, decisions about what’s best for the children is all about the children’s needs and not their parent’s pain.
So I say, with a grateful heart, Happy Father’s Day to my former spouse, their forever Dad, and my trusted co-parent! Your efforts provide an honorable level-set of integrity for our daughters.
Your co-parenting style demonstrates forgiveness over fighting and caretaking over scorekeeping. You have shown our children in countless ways how to parent with compassion and reliability, teaching dignity along the way.
Cheers to all the fathers out there, showing up with your best, wholehearted, compassionate game. In doing right by your kids, you’re embedding good into the world!