By Dena Landon
Shortly after my son was born I subscribed to a national parenting magazine. One summer, the editor-in-chief, who was divorced, wrote her introduction about the vacation she’d taken with her son and ex-husband. Even though they’d divorced, she and her ex maintained a cordial relationship for their child’s sake – to the point that they could vacation together. I remember being really impressed and thinking, “Holy crap! I don’t know if I could do that!”
Turns out, I can’t. Or, more accurately, my ex-husband can’t. When I left him, my focus was on getting out of a verbally and financially abusive relationship. I couldn’t think beyond that point. But I’ve come to realize that I secretly cherished the hope that we’d have a good co-parenting relationship.
At first, I thought it might be possible. We co-planned our son’s birthday party the first year after our separation. My ex came to his swimming graduation even though it fell on my weekend. But it didn’t last long.
Recently, he planned our son’s birthday party and didn’t tell me about it or invite me. I’d emailed to ask if we could co-plan, or if I could host it this year since he did the same thing last year. He ignored me. He won’t pay for half of our son’s swim classes, and won’t take him to his lessons. My emails asking about college savings have also been ignored.
Divorce has led me to an acceptance of my ex-husband… that I could never reach when we were married. He’s unlikely to change. All I can do is change how I react to him.
In a way, it’s a ridiculous hope and unrealistic expectation to place on divorced couples – the idea that you’ll happily and easily co-parent. If you can’t get along while you’re married, if you don’t share the same values when it comes to providing for your child’s future, if you’re not on the same page in regard to extracurricular activities, discipline or schooling, getting a divorce isn’t going to flip a switch and change all that.
But it can still be disappointing when your co-parenting relationship, like your marriage, doesn’t go as planned. While I’m a strong believer in looking at yourself and what you bring to the table – are you picking fights, muttering nasty comments under your breath, or purposefully needling the other person? – there’s also a point at which you have to let it go.
READ MORE: By The Way, Divorce Is Not Failure
You’re not responsible for your co-parents’ reactions. If you chose to perform emotional labor on their behalf, you can learn to set boundaries around it and when to step back. Trying to guilt trip them into being a better parent is exhausting and will get you nowhere. It took me a while to stop sending emails begging my ex-husband to talk to me, to get along with me, for our son’s sake. Pointing out how his behavior hurt our child was a frustrating and futile exercise.
Divorce has led me to an acceptance of my ex-husband, who and what he is, that I could never reach when we were married. He’s unlikely to change. All I can do is change how I react to him.
It’s not easy. Particularly when I struggle to explain to my son that, yes, I’d love to be at his birthday party but I wasn’t invited. And no, I can’t just show up.
Co-parenting is tough, and no matter how hard you try to get along for your children’s sake, it may not happen. Don’t beat yourself up over it and don’t take too much of that disappointment on your shoulders. They will be the parent they choose to be. Your job is to love your kids and be the best parent you can be to them. I strive to be polite and cordial, and take the higher ground. I say, “Happy Easter,” during hand-offs, even though he never responds, and model for my son the manners I hope he’ll have someday.
With conscious uncoupling, articles about great co-parenting relationships, sometimes the pressure to have your divorce and co-parenting relationship look a certain way can feel intense. And unfair. I’ve learned to ignore it. If it’s one thing I’ve learned is that a lot goes on that no one sees behind the happy Instagram photos.
Do I wish my ex and I had a better relationship? Yes. But many of the reasons we split still exist. Much like I had to release my hopes and dreams for my marriage, I’ve had to release what I thought co-parenting would look like, too. And I think I’m a better parent for it.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.