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How Co-parenting Can Break Down After Divorce & Maintaining Hope

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I hoped for the best in my marriage and divorce. The mother of my two children chose a different path for all of us. Her decision to divorce me was the first blow in a series of blows she has leveled at me in the 12 years since our divorce. How love changes to hate with such energy and violence, I will never understand. How would a rational parent go after their co-parent trying to sabotage the parent-child relationship? What I still had to learn was this: co-parenting is a collaborative experience. Even though she was the one who demanded the divorce, demanded her custodial parent role, and demanded child support to help her afford our lifestyle, and STILL wound up vindictive and vengeful makes no sense to me. Obviously, we were cut from a different cloth.

How Do You Co-Parent With an Enemy?

The “co” in co-parenting stands for

  • cooperation
  • collaborative
  • dual-role
  • in the best interest of the kids, not the divorced parents

But often the “co” part breaks down in the divorced parenting relationship. There can be a number of reasons for this

  • unresolved anger
  • money troubles (child support issues)
  • disagreements on parenting decisions
  • the selfishness of one or both of the parents
  • a “fuck it” attitude towards collaboration with someone you’re so frustrated with
  • apathy
  • too busy
  • self-importance
  • mother/father knows best

I’m having a hard time getting over some of the breakdowns in the current relationship (standoff) with my ex-wife. I have been doing all I could, within reason, to accommodate her requests, to honor our agreements as it relates to the kids, and to be a good ex-husband and co-parent. But in the last few years, the “co” has been falling out of our relationship as parents. She’s sort of been winging it and not discussing or telling me about a lot of what is going on in my kid’s lives. Is she withholding? Is it a power struggle? (Still?) Is she mad or apathetic?

I Choose To Remain Positive

Regardless of what is going on for my ex-wife, I have to choose to move forward as a parent, as best I can. I can only control my response to her behavior and anti-cooperative behaviors. Any time I spend conjecturing about what she is mad about is wasted. I have to move along in my own direction, with my kids at the heart of my intention. But her animosity cannot leave the kids unaffected. Her anger and vitriol are obvious. And I would assume, that her attitude towards me when relating to the kids, is similar to her actual reactions to me. Cold. Bitter. One-way.

In our relationship as parents, we come up upon disagreements and discussions that require clear heads and open hearts. When a co-parent is shut down, or shutting the other partner out, the equation quickly goes south and everybody suffers. In the case of my ex-wife, my hope is that we have contained and that she tries to continue containing some of her rages at me. Our kids don’t need to be part of our emotional fireworks.

What I have come to believe is this. My relationship (emotional, physical, spiritual) is over with my ex-wife. My relationship with her around parenting our kids will never end. We can choose to make that a “together” experience, or we can choose to make it an “US” and “your dad” experience. I believe my ex-wife has taken the low road here and there’s nothing much I can do about it.

I can be stronger, by drawing boundaries around what I will and will not tolerate. I can be softer, by not fighting her over any topics. And I can continue to be the positive co-parent that I would like to have as a partner. I can hold up my side of the bargain regardless of her actions and words and lack of inclusion or communication. I can do all this in the name of my children.

How We’d Like Things To Be

Sure, we both want what’s best for our kids. And we have different ideas about how those things should take place, what things should take priority, and what things need to be confronted and dropped. As co-parents, we have an opportunity to collaborate about our response and desired outcome. Today, I cannot discuss anything with the mother of my children. She has started deflecting all email conversations to her husband. And while he is a nice enough fellow, she is avoiding having to look at, talk to, or consider me at all. She has erased me from her mind and from her life. Maybe that’s what she needs to do to get closure for herself.

For my kids, I think the isolation between us is unhealthy. Her wall of anger towards me must be obvious to them. But, I suppose there’s not much I can do with that information. I have only one option, keep being a positive influence in their lives and let the sleeping dog of their mom’s rage lie. It’s not the way I wanted it. It’s not the way it should’ve been. She got the divorce she wanted and the terms she wanted and the money she wanted. Why is she not happy? Well, that’s not my issue to solve, ponder, or give too much attention to. Best to steer clear of an angry ex and do my best as a single-dad. As my kids grow older more of the divorce and reasons for the divorce will become clear to them. Life is long. Parenting is forever. Love will win out over anger.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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image: dancing family, creative commons usage

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