John McElhenney appeals to our better natures and asks us to take the high road when it comes to parenting after divorce.
When you become a parent everything in your life changes. The world is miraculously transformed into a mystical, spiritual, and magical place. For me, I was able to rise above myself as an individual and recognize the gift that happened in our lifes. That process started long before the birth of my first child, but from the very moment that I helped wiggle his shoulders free from his mom’s body, I was forever aware of my new role and responsibilities.
And now we’re divorced. Hmm. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, but that same moment of awesome realization is present with me all the time. As often as possible, when I remember to pay attention to this universal responsibility, I am an awesome co-parent. Other times, I get tired or distracted and I think my ex-wife is more of “the ex” rather than the “mother of my children.” Maintaining my perspective is important. I am constantly trying to raise my own bar and do better.
I am always in the process of becoming the best ex-husband I can be. Yes, your kids are the priority, but it’s important to remember the sacred bond that your children create between you and your ex-spouse. There’s no escaping it. You both agreed to the deal, you both ushered in new life. And you both have responsibilities not only to them but also to each other. YUK. It can be hard sometimes to remember this inclusiveness.
There have been plenty of things in the course of single parenthood that I would rather strangle my ex over. The trick is to embrace the idea that she is doing the best she can. Always. It may not seem that way when things go differently than you had imagined. It can appear that your co-parent is out to make your life miserable. But in my case, that’s not the truth. It’s how I feel sometimes, but my feelings don’t accurately reflect reality. They are just my feelings. I cannot accurately project or predict her thoughts and actions or determine her intent. And obviously, that is not my job. My job is to listen and respond, with compassion. Again, easier said than done, but it’s an ongoing process of growth and release. As you release your ex from his or her faults in your eyes, you can begin to support them, no matter what. It’s not their fault they are so stressed out. There is nothing you can do to make them less tired. But you can provide a flexible and supportive response as often as possible.
I find when I celebrate the strength and resilience of my co-parent, I begin to let go of my past resentments. One of the hardest transitions for me was dropping the blame and self-delusion that getting divorced was her idea—and her fault. It sure seemed that way when everything was going down, when I was asking for a reconciliation. However, today, from the 30,000 foot view down into the wreckage that our relationship had become, I can acknowledge that she was indeed doing the best she knew how. She made choices towards what she felt was her ultimate survival plan. Good or bad, the divorce freed us both up to develop into the next iteration of ourselves.
At first, for me, the loss of my primary residence and my unlimited access to my kids was nearly unbearable. The depression and feelings of loss caused me a lot of down time. I struggled. And for a long time I tried to figure out what I might have done to save the relationship. I tried to unravel when I had done wrong, or where the two of us had broken some sacred bond. But there were no easy answers.
We both entered the marriage in order to have kids. Perhaps we compromised or overlooked some of the early warning signs because we were so focused on becoming parents. We did the dream, we had the kids, and we began our lives as a family the best we knew how.
Then, after struggling along for a few rough years, in the best interest of all involved, we divorced. We split into two houses, and resumed our parenting duties.
Today, I’m closer to believing that I am happier, that my kids are happier, and even that my ex-wife is happier now, after the divorce. And even if that is not true, I can only work on my part, my perspective on the situation. I can only do my side of the co-parenting equation. Sure, there are opportunities for escalation, and just over the last two days, she’s been trying to get me to engage in some drama about the family dog, that I simply won’t bite on. Nope.
I can always take the high road. I can refuse to fire back when she’s hitting below the belt, or complaining that things aren’t working out. But I have made a firm decision not to respond in kind. Compassion first. Then firm resolve to deal with only the part of the relationship I can control: me and my responses.
I am certain of a few things now, from this 30,000 ft view.
- I am happier than I was in the final throes of our failing marriage.
- There were incompatibilities between us that we overlooked in order to become parents.
- As a young family, we did the best we could at shepherding our babies into young adults.
- When the mystery and magic of being parents gave way to the more mundane tasks of parenting, chores, and money, we became more functional and less romantic.
I wish my co-parent all the joy and love in the world. I can no longer provide any of those things. But I can be a soft cushion when she needs to hit or collapse into something. I resolve not to hit back. But, I won’t stand in for the drama any more. I will only take my responsibility. I will only pay attention to the business between us as we continue together in co-parenting.
back to Positive Divorce
- That Silence Says A Lot: What Are You Paying Attention To?
- Celebrating a Drama-free Christmas as a Single Parent
- Giving Your Co-parent a Break
- Loss of the Proximity Effect as a Divorced Dad
image: dancing, raul r. goncalves creative commons usage