I’ve been co-parenting with my ex for 10 years now. Actually, that’s not true, we were parallel parenting for many years only to move to co-parenting a few years ago. I’ve been a stepmom for 3 years now and while this is a controversial topic - I passionately believe that stepparents play a part in the co-parenting role either directly or indirectly (I’ll get to that later). In these years, I’ve learned A LOT and it’s part of the reason I do what I do. My counseling journey naturally took me to working with divorced families in part because of what I’ve learned personally.
When we started co-parenting, it was easy. We didn’t have a contentious divorce, in fact we didn’t use lawyers. I wrote our parenting plan, which is still in place today (though we’ve added to it as our girls have gotten older). We talked or texted almost daily to update each other on the kids and there were no hard feelings, until outside influences started to change my ex’s behavior. When he would vent to his friends (as he should), they began telling him to get back at me for asking for the divorce, take me to court for child support*, follow me or have me followed to see if I was dating anyone, and to take the kids during his time (which wasn’t what we had agreed on prior to our written parenting plan). That’s when co-parenting stopped and parallel parenting started. Every message I sent was met with hate. I’ve seen the messages you’ve received and I’ve received them, too. The first lesson I learned was that friends and family can have a bigger impact on co-parenting that you realize, but only if you let it.
My ex started dating earlier than I did, and that was fine. He didn’t bring the people he dated around our daughters until he had seen them for awhile, but what I learned when he did bring them around our daughters is that there is a sting when another woman comes into their lives. Don’t get me wrong, I want my daughters to have a healthy, happy relationship with their stepmom, but that doesn’t make it easier to know that they have a mom-type-figure when they’re not with me. That’s nature. Moms can be very territorial, the ducks and geese protecting their babies at the park every spring shows you that. The next lesson I learned is to be confident in the relationship my daughters and I have. They’re better for it and I am, too.
Finally, as we’ve transitioned from parallel parenting back to co-parenting, I believe it has something to do with my letting go of many (MANY) things that have been done to exclude me in my children’s lives. For example, my co-parent would take the kids to the doctor without telling me when they were going or even who they were going to. He even scheduled and took my daughter for mouth surgery without telling me. It wasn’t until my daughters told me this that I learned of it. You can imagine the anger I felt. Not only was he in contempt of our order, but he created a huge gap between him and his own daughters by purposely excluding their other parent. They were so upset over this. I could have taken him to court, according to some lawyers, I could have had some rights removed from him and given the extent, he could have spent time in jail for contempt. What I learned is that when anger guides decisions, the only people who get hurt are the kids. We went to mediation, the mediator spent quite a bit of time yelling at him, we came to an agreement and he still doesn’t follow it to the letter, but it’s better than it was. The people that won in this were the kids.
The journey hasn’t been easy, but as I near the end of a significant portion of it as my kids grow, I realize that their adolescence is such a small portion of their lives, but what we do shapes our relationship with them as they grow. What lessons have you learned as you’ve gone through your co-parenting journey?
I wish I had a video series like the Co-Parenting After Divorce series. I wish I knew I wasn't alone and I wish I had the tips and tools you can have by watching those videos. Click on the button below to learn more.