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It’s Not About You: A Mom Reflects on the Difficulty of Co-Parenting With Her Ex

Submitted by Rita Brhel on 12 September 2023

For me, early separation and divorce were messy and complicated. 

Aside from the inner grief, bruised egos, shame, and anger, my world fell apart. My children's reality shifted from a home with two parents to a home with only one parent present at a time. My reality of expecting a marriage to last "til death" shattered and was replaced with "til it doesn't work anymore."

I never expected this to be me, yet there I was. When it happened, I was hurt and angry and yet also able to appreciate how lucky I was. My former husband and I both have well-grounded, realistic, and practical parents who did not take sides and encouraged us to take only one side: the kids' side. His parents reminded us that our children had no say in our decision to marry, have children, or dissolve the marriage. These were our choices and ours alone. 

My former husband and I didn’t agree on much, but we always agreed that our children are innocent. We are to be their voice. 

Quickly the reality hit us: If I hurt my ex, it will only hurt our kids.

We successfully resolved to settle our divorce out of court and without lawyers. There was a lot of mutual anger and hurt, so it was extremely hard to talk to my former spouse to discuss custody, schedules, parenting decisions, and how we would divvy up what little assets we had together. 

In the back of my mind, I had to remind myself that an act against their father is an act against them. Every one of us is someone's child, so in proceeding with divorce agreements, we resolved to do nothing against the other that we wouldn't want done to our own child.

Our goal as parents always was to have strong connections with our children. Divorce does not, in any way, change this goal. Divorce can certainly complicate this when each parent is not respectful of the child's need to have a unique and special relationship with the other parent. Divorce can also impede the child's need to have both parents present at special moments in their life.

Regardless of how we felt toward one another, we decided together that our divorce needed to have nothing to do with us coming together to show support for our son's first soccer game or their birthday parties or their school celebrations. We could be mad at each other as much as we wanted to be in our own time alone, but when it came time for the children to be in the spotlight, all of that noise needed to be silent. 

If it was hard to sit near the other, we gave each other distance. Our family team was still there, full of support and full of love, as all families should be regardless of their marital status.

When making arrangements for this past Christmas, I asked my children what they wanted to do. They decided where they wanted to have Christmas dinner and who they wanted to invite. 

Three years ago, during the turbulent time of early separation and co-parenting, I wished that one day we would be able to gather again in peace. I never expected it to actually happen.

Yet this past Christmas, my children and I sat around a table with my former mother- and father-in-law, my former husband, my mother, and my boyfriend. We ate a delicious feast, shared drinks and stories, and created a wonderful memory for my children by celebrating this holiday together.

Their father and I are not close friends, but if we see each other out in the community, we will be social with one another and then part ways. Time has allowed us to heal and let go of old wounds.  

At some point, my children will be grown. They will look back at us and look at how we treated each other. I want them to look back and know that, while we were unable to maintain our marriage, we maintained our family and became a strong family that would always be there no matter what.

How do you support your child's relationship with their other parent?

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