As parents, we do anything and everything for our children. We move to better neighborhoods to get them into better schools. We sign up for carpools and sports for them to be part of their kids’ communities. We work extra hard to earn enough money to make sure they never need anything. Some continue to spend time with their other parent with who we literally couldn’t stand to spend another moment living in the same house with.
I know it is no coincidence that whenever I post a photo of my boys and their father of us all looking like a happy family, it gets by far the most engagement, usually ending up on the explore page. Everyone loves to see a happy family thriving. The idea of the family unit is universally appealing. So, what happens when your reality just isn’t that. When your family falls apart, and that dream is shattered.
That’s what happened to me, to my family. When my marriage finally came to an end, and my ex-husband moved out, I was crushed. I was embarrassed. And I was devastated for my children. I felt like a failure and carried such guilt for how it might affect the boys.
I, myself, was the product of a broken marriage. My parents had separated for good when I was five years old and have spent the past 32 years making sure I knew it was the other one’s fault for every negative experience that transpired from then on.
Very early on, after our separation, my ex and I knew one thing with certainty. We had to do things differently. We both were the products of broken marriages of parents who just could not find ways to get along in our most formative years. We were always in agreement that we didn’t want the same for our children.
That’s why whenever I’m sent a personal message from anyone asking how we got to this place because they are struggling with co-parenting with an ex, my answer is, it is a choice that two people have to make.
I understand that for some, this is a lot to ask. I know it very well, having grown up watching my parents. There is always a need for one side to take the high road first. One who will have to be the bigger person, likely more than a few times. With some time, patience, and tongue biting, that one will have to prove to the other side that they are not trying to fight or seek out conflict. They are willing to do what they can and what they have to for the children’s sake to get along and make things easy because the wellbeing and happiness of those children are the most important thing.
Of course, there are always exceptions… such as domestic violence, substance abuse, or any unsafe situations for either a parent or child.
I suggested a meal in a public setting for me to lay it all on the table to express that I had no interest in fighting and that for the children, I would do what was needed to get along and try and make the transition as smooth as possible. I could see his literal shoulders relaxing at the sound of those words. And with each opportunity to keep that promise, relaxing even more… until we’d find ourselves hanging out a little longer during exchanges. Sharing more of our individual experiences with the kids that we’d thought the other might enjoy—sending pics and anecdotes about the boys. We plan outings with the boys as a family. Figuring out how to do holidays together rather than splitting them up.
Whenever we encounter a conflict,—and believe me, they do come up. I sometimes have to speak slowly and wisely choose my words to get my point across without blaming or getting too emotional to feel heard. I then allow myself to listen to his side. That act alone is an expression of mutual respect, which furthers our ability to find common ground. It enables us to take care of each other while also taking care of ourselves. Do that long enough, and you might find yourself in an actual friendship. Weird!
At one point, I was in another relationship, which at one point had gotten very serious. I went into that relationship explaining my friendship with my ex and that it was vital for me in how I wanted to raise my children. I even arranged a meeting over drinks for the introduction to add my new partner to our arrangement hoping for teamwork from all sides.
I’d say that’s where we’ve landed. We love doing things together with our boys, and we notice the boys are always excited about it.
We are and will forever be family, and whatever is best for our children, including one another’s happiness, will be what is best for us. Our children will know that they have two parents who love them more than anything. My hope is that they won’t have to miss out on the things in a childhood that creates lasting memories and forge good habits in loving relationships just because their dad and I are not together.
That happy family you see when we all cheese for the gram, it’s real. We are happy. Happy to not be together while still getting to be awesome parents to our amazing little boys as great friends