I Am Not the Problem, We Are

The family of origin - The Whole ParentThere are bumps along the road to single-parenting and our hopeful arrival at co-parenting cooperation. And what ripped our marriage apart is probably still the dysfunction that we deal with as separate parents, doing our best.

The thing to remember is this: the other parent is doing the very best they can.

It’s hard to swallow sometimes. When the discussions get difficult, it’s easier to blame the other person for the issue. But if it’s an issue it’s a joint issue.

A few of the rules have changed, but if we can return to the memory of that love that existed, and see how it is transformed into the love of our children, and “for” our children, we can do a better job at responding with compassion and empathy.

The hard fact is this: We are no longer married, but we are in a relationship forever. The things we used to fight over as a couple are still between us. And just because the loving relationship is gone, the love and anger at loss-of-love is not gone. So, this morning when I got another “you done me wrong” email from the mother of my children I chose a different path.

I offered information. I answered the questions that I could. I suggested an in-person chat, which she has rejected over the last six months of “parental” negotiations, and then I stopped. I stopped short of contradicting her accusations. I stopped myself from responding in-kind with my grievances. And I tried to imagine the woman that I fell in love with, as a friend, struggling with some parenting and financial issues.

We are triggered by our ex-mates. We could not have married them, and had children with them if the connection was not elemental and deep. That connection is still there. A few of the rules have changed, but if we can return to the memory of that love that existed, and see how it is transformed into the love of our children, and “for” our children, we can do a better job at responding with compassion and empathy.

Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slapstick had a memorable line that framed a good portion of my young adult life, after I acquired it. It is my mantra when dealing with family matters.

“A little less love, and a little more common decency please.”

I am sad sometimes that I no longer have a partner and cheerleader in navigating these difficult times. But that role/relationship ended several years before the marriage did. And now I have two fabulous kids and their mom.

Own your anger. Process it with someone else. You’re ex-lover, ex-partner, and the other half of your co-parenting relationship does not deserve it, and will not be served by your venting.

I don’t have to take on her issues, I don’t have to make her priorities my priorities, and occasionally I have to get mad and stand up for the NO that needs to be said. But I don’t ever have to say it in anger or personal frustration. That shit is mine. And I will do well to deal with it here. Outside of the relationship with my ex-wife.

Finally, in my self-recovery process I learned about how important it was to get the anger out. To write the anger letter. (This is a great gestalt for most relationship problems.) WRITE IT, BUT DON’T SEND IT.

Own your anger. Process it with someone else. You’re ex-lover, ex-partner, and the other half of your co-parenting relationship does not deserve it, and will not be served by your venting. Do vent. Find a healthy release for YOUR stuff. And then return to the love of your kids, and the memory of the love you once had for their other parent.

Always love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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