What Went Down: Divorce is Not Kind. Co-parenting is a Myth.

What Went Down: Divorce is Not Kind. Co-parenting is a Myth.

The biggest blow in my divorce has been my ex-wife’s decision to not co-parent with me.

Let’s get real.

Two people agree to have kids and a huge shift happens in their lives and their future together. You are committing to a lifetime of connection with this person, even as you are agreeing to bring new dependants onto the planet. It’s a massive transition, this becoming a parent. Deciding to divorce your co-parent is another huge shift. You are altering the bond between you, your co-parent, and the kids forever. There is no turning back from divorce.

I believe the shift happens when one of the partners begins looking for completion or satisfaction outside the marriage. That connection might be emotional (as it was in my ex-wife’s case), sexual, professional. But in all of the cases the exit takes place. One of the partners begins to turn towards others and away from their co-parent. As the shift takes root, more and more of the current relationship to the other parent begins to erode. As we find delight in the eyes of another person, we notice the dullness in the eyes of our partner.

No matter how it happens, when the subject of divorce is broached, the marriage, as you knew it, is over. My ex-wife consulted an attorney rather than bring her issues into our on-going marital counseling. What a huge miss. We were paying someone to help us connect and reconnect our marriage, and she goes to ask an attorney, “What am I going to get?”

From that moment on, my then-wife was on a trajectory away from the marriage and towards some idea she had of where she would rather be. Of course, the devastating part is she’s strapping all of us into the rocketship of divorce without giving any of us a chance to discuss what’s going on. I’m not sure what her thought processes were, but not bringing this up in therapy seems like a major break in the trust we had been jointly building for the eight years of marriage. The therapist, when he understood what happened, was quite surprised as well. We ended therapy with a final “goodbye” session.

As my marriage promise evaporated at that moment, I began down a road towards divorce and then divorce recovery, that continues to this day, eight years later. It seems like the process for divorce is a lot like Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief. I certainly went through several cycles of emotions as I came to terms with the fact that the next 10 – 12 years of my life were going to be as a single parent with 30% parenting time. In one coup de tat she grabbed 70% of the parenting time, a hefty child support payment, and agreements and negotiations to keep the kids in the house, with her, of course. The phrase, “In the best interest of the children” becomes the catchall battering ram to get one of the co-parents to do what the other co-parent or the other co-parent’s attorney wants the other co-parent to agree to. In our case, it was agreeing to something much less than the 50/50 parenting I was hoping we could agree upon.

Co-parenting is like love, it’s an ongoing process between two willing partners. When one partner decides to abandon the parenting plan and go it alone, there is little the other parent can do.

Anger

My first response was disbelief and anger. “You mean, you think I’m going to walk out the door of the house and you’re suddenly going to be happy?” It quickly became about my kids and not about me. I was furious that my kids were going to have to experience this huge loss, just like I had when my parents got a divorce. For three days after she’d let me know she’d seen an attorney, she wavered in her decision. At least, she would not give me a straight answer. “Are you asking for a divorce?” I demanded. Eventually, she said, “Yes.”

Shame

How is it possible my marriage has failed? Does everyone now think I cheated on my wife? Am I the one to blame for the divorce? How will I tell the kids? How will I make it up to them?

Fear

How can I go on without my kids? I’m going to fall into a hole of depression and never recover. I’m going to be financially ruined. I’m going to lose not only 70% of my time as a dad, but 100% of my time in the house I helped put together. I don’t know if I will survive.

Resentment

How can she decide to leave the marriage? Isn’t it “in the best interest of the kids” to stay together? Is the greener grass so enticing… Is she so unhappy… Is she depressed? How come I’m the one who has to move out? How come I am the one who has to make payments equivalent to one full-time job? How come the law says she’s the nurturer and I’m the provider?

Righteousness

This is not my fault. This is not what I bargained for. I am doing all I can to be a good dad. (Now, a good single dad.) Why is she entitled to all the time, all the money, and the house? How is this possible. It’s not fair. And she’s not being reasonable. And besides, the whole divorce was her idea. She’s getting exactly what she wanted.

In my current mode of understanding, I can see how these stages of grief and devastation are not accurate or fair to my ex-wife. I realize, that she was fighting for her survival, against her own demons, and for what she believed was the only way forward, to survive. She was doing what she thought best to protect the children from the divorce, that she decided she wanted. My feelings, my decisions, my parenting, would all have to come second to that survival instinct that was overwhelming her. And perhaps, that moment of courage was the best thing that ever happened to us all. Perhaps, the divorce gave us all a different life, better from the isolated and unhappy marriage we’d found ourselves cultivating. Perhaps.

If she had turned towards me and the marriage in her struggle to find happiness, we might have worked things out on a spiritual and emotional level that we cannot do alone.

The biggest blow in my divorce has been my ex-wife’s decision to not co-parent with me. There is nothing I can do. No ablutions have not been paid. No friendly request has gone unasked. Her answer in the last few years has been a resounding, “No.”

Co-parenting is like love, it’s an ongoing process between two willing partners. When one partner decides to abandon the parenting plan and go it alone, there is little the other parent can do. Even if the parenting plan clearly states we will discuss certain parenting and school decisions, if my ex-wife decides to exclude me from the decision, there’s not a lot I can do. For years, I tried negotiating. I tried asking. And her denials only grew more defiant as our kids entered high school.

As teenagers, my kids are beginning to form a new relationship with me outside of the divorce and outside of the influence of their mom. But it has not been easy. For years, I have been excluded from crucial conversations involving the parenting of my kids. My only remedy has been to rise above it. The only choice I have is to let go of my expectation and hopes for being a great co-parent with my ex-wife. We parent alone. She makes all the decisions as she sees fit. If I need to know something, either the kids will tell me or I’ll find out from someone else.

It’s a sad situation. And, all I can do is move forward and remain positive in my attitude. I cannot change my ex-wife’s behavior. I cannot take responsibility for her on-going anger and unresolved issues. I can only stand up, brush myself off, and let go of the co-parenting myth I had created in my heart.

I am a single dad. My ex-wife chooses to ignore our parenting plan and do whatever she feels is best for our kids. As she has remarried, I can only hope the house is warmer and happier than it was when we were starting to struggle. Was divorce the right decision? For her, the obvious answer is yes. For me and my kids… The answer is more hypothetical. If she had turned towards me and the marriage in her struggle to find happiness, we might have worked things out on a spiritual and emotional level that we cannot do alone. She turned away from me and away from the marriage.

I became a single dad who writes about the struggle of being a single dad. For that, I can give thanks. And I can move forward from this point on, trying my best to release her from my expectations of co-parenting and friendliness. We make our own way now, and we write our stories with our children in the act of living and being solo parents. I always wish my wife the best. What troubles her troubles my kids. And for me, these days, it’s only about the kids.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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