How I Learned to Coparent Alone

The word coparenting is a lie, really.

Coparenting is generally defined as a parenting situation where two or more adults work together to raise a child even though they are not necessarily the biological parents, living together or in a romantic relationship. This implies a kind of rosy glow over the group and kindly includes stepparents and others as well.

But, in my experience, coparenting doesn’t always mean two people working together.

In our house, for a long time, coparenting meant one person working alone.

Coparenting seemed easy.

I naively thought when my children’s father and I divorced, we’d both come to the table ready to parent in the way we had before we separated. I’m not sure what prompted that thought; probably overly romantic Hallmark movies and a hefty dose of viral photos of parents teaming to get childhood right for their little ones.

You can imagine my surprise when my ex stopped speaking to me shortly after our divorce was final. At first, I sternly lectured him on the benefits of coparenting. Then, I began to plead with him, painting weepy pictures of our childrens’ future as the unfortunate offspring of warring parents. All of this transpired via email and text, of course, given he was dropping the children off in the driveway. None of it worked. Some of it prompted responses I can’t print here.

I began to get angry.

I decided if he wasn’t going to respond to my texts and emails, I wasn’t going to share pictures of my time with the kids. I began to think about time as mine and his. If he wasn’t going to be flexible to cover my work travel, then I was going to make sure he had a clear idea of just how the child support I paid tied to days the children slept in my home.

No reason to put myself out there. No reason to make extra effort when he was making none.

I somehow forgot the three reasons spilling cereal in my kitchen.

I began to operate independently.

I didn’t share the information I got from the school. If he wanted it, he could ask for it. I didn’t consult him on after school sports enrollment because he wouldn’t answer me. I planned my time with the kids, and I presume, he planned his.

The children began fill the space between us.

Caden wrote himself notes about what was happening at school to be sure to tell both of us. Simon began asking for pictures of special fun we’d had together, and I would often see those texts forwarded to his father. Lottie began to worry about what nights she spent where, and whether we were being fair and honest with each other.

The tension and anger weighed heavily on their narrow shoulders. It’s hard to carry adult burdens.

I told myself my ex was the reason we weren’t coparenting.

I saw what was happening to our children. I knew their behavior was a result of our friction. I blamed their father for not speaking to me, for starting it all, and got angrier. I withdrew further, until Caden started having trouble sleeping and Simon’s stomach was perpetually upset.

I told myself this story: I was ready to coparent. My ex screwed that all up when his anger and resentment stopped our communication. When he got better, so would I.

That story was a comfortable one, because it absolved me of any responsibility. This wasn’t my fault. I was ready to change as soon as he did. I was the hero, and the victim, and he was the villain.

Except I was wrong.

My children were the victims. And their father and I were equally villains and heroes.

It took me a long time, and lots and lots of sitting by nervous kids with stomach aches late at night to see our situation a different way.

I’d been thinking of coparenting as an arrangement between their father and me, one where each of us had responsibilities. In my mind, he wasn’t shouldering his responsibility to me, and thus I had no accountability to him.

But it wasn’t about him and me. I wasn’t accountable to him.

Coparenting is an arrangement that exists for the children.

It didn’t really matter what their dad did. Not speaking to me was his choice, made in his new house. I couldn’t control it. I controlled only what happened in my house. And in my house, I was a resentful, angry mama hidden behind a mask of “It’s just fine, Sweetheart. Mommy’s just fine.”

No one was fine in my house.

I needed a different way to support my children.

I got help.

I began to talk to my counselor about my grief, both the divorce grief and the grief that we were failing our children. I learned how to manage my emotions so that I didn’t spiral into Negative-town every time dad didn’t come to the door. I began to redefine my ex as my future parenting partner rather than my past romantic partner.

It wasn’t easy.

I worked to change my language and to visualize a different future.

I failed often. Once, after two drop offs that didn’t trigger anger, I completely regressed and found myself nearly chasing his car down the street. It wasn’t my finest hour.

I kept practicing. I worked to see him as the man he was today, not the man I’d shared a life and bed with. I worked to see him as my children saw him. I remembered people change, and that just as I was changing, he could too. I worked to allow him grace.

I remembered what I showed my children was up to me.

Little by little, things started to get better.

Better able to control my triggers, I was no longer held hostage by every text or email exchange. My neck and jaw didn’t tense when he didn’t come to the door, I accepted that what he did or didn’t do was about him, not about me.

I started to send him pictures and invite him to dinner, even if I got no response. I began to be able to share our children’s view of their daddy because I no longer held onto my own outdated perceptions.

I began to be the mother I wanted to be, the happy coparenting partner, even if their father had not arrived in the same place. That mother was the best version of myself I had to offer my children, and they deserved her even if she wasn’t part of a matching set.

Our story could end here.

As my best self, I was comfortable in my house and in my skin. I’d rid myself of the tension and anger about my ex’s behavior. I’d reframed him as my children’s father. We owed each other nothing. What he chose to do was up to him.

Our arrangement wasn’t entirely comfortable. I’d smile and sit next to him and be greeted with stony silence. I’d send pictures and texts and get nothing or worse in return. It was awkward, but still vastly better than where we’d been before. One parent hating the other is better than two.

Our story doesn’t end here. My children’s beloved daddy was on his own, one-man coparenting journey.  Today, we coparent together. but many years ago, we each began alone.

Coparenting can work with just one person.

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Coparenting | Parallel Parenting | Coparenting with a Narcissist | Divorce | Anger Management | Blended Family | Single Mom | Single Dad
By | 2017-08-17T09:30:51+00:00 July 31st, 2017|Blended Family Tips, Coparenting, Divorce|

11 Comments

  1. Michelle July 31, 2017 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    I can appreciate what is said here but I think there also comes a time when you have to accept that your ex isn’t going to change their behavior and you have to focus on building the best life you can for you and your children. If drop off is too tense and upsets your children, do drop off at school or daycare when you don’t have to see your ex. If you can look at yourself in the mirror and truly believe you have tried, then you have to accept that there’s nothing you can do. You can choose to be the very best parent you can be or choose to do whatever you are doing today but realize it’s not working. Moving on is done for you and your children – you can’t change your ex. If you had one day left to live your life, would you prefer to live that last day worrying about your ex or about your children.

    • Kate Chapman July 31, 2017 at 11:14 pm - Reply

      Absolutely and totally agree, Michelle. That is what i meant by our story could have stopped at me working on me, being the best I could be regardless of what my ex did. We’re on the same page!

  2. Tikeetha T August 1, 2017 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Love this.

  3. Vincent August 1, 2017 at 10:05 am - Reply

    How do you coparent with an ex spouse that consistently lies ?

    • Kate Chapman August 1, 2017 at 10:47 am - Reply

      Vincent: here’s the thing: lying is their choice. That’s about them. It doesn’t affect the choice you make to release your negative emotion and support your children by being the best dad you can be. Releasing the tension and anger and hurt and managing your emotions so you’re not triggered is for you and your kids, not your ex. So, my answer? Just keep keeping on. People lie and the world keeps spinning. You don’t have to manage or address it. For more on that, check out this post: http://www.thislifeinprogress.com/2017/03/16/trash-talk/

  4. Ilise August 1, 2017 at 10:20 am - Reply

    I didn’t find this super helpful. My soon to be ex spouse lies, asks our 3 year old daughter to lie, shows up late and constantly puts his needs before our kids. I know I can’t control his behavior but how do I help myself and my kids deal with it? Especially the lying?

    • Kate Chapman August 1, 2017 at 10:48 am - Reply

      Ilise, check out my reply to Vincent. You can release your anger and hurt about it and just let it roll. It affects you and the children, but that is his choice. Your choice is to be tense and resentful, to hold on to the hurt, or to let it go. Set your boundaries and move forward with joy. You might find this post helpful too: http://www.thislifeinprogress.com/2017/03/16/trash-talk/

  5. Cherise Parra August 2, 2017 at 4:06 am - Reply

    What do you do when your ex is constantly putting you down to the kids. It’s gotten so bad that my 14 year old son will think like his dad. He will act on his dads words. I have remarried and my ex is even worse. His dad had gotten him a phone and we have been having major issues with him disrespecting me and my new husband. I took his phone and went through it and saw all the messages of his dad talking bad about me or my husband. I sense then will not allow that phone at my house. His dad has actually told my son that since that phone isn’t allowed at my house and since I don’t help with the bill he will not be able to respond to me if I do call or text my son. This is just one example of things that are going on. Everything is a fight. I wanted to put my son in sports and since my son didn’t want to his dad fought me and told me to take him out or he just wasn’t going to take him to practices or games on his days and he wasn’t going to help pay for it either. This is after my son picked a sport that he wanted to do and we told him he had to finish it out through the year. My son went to camp and called his dad almost everyday missing home and his dad yelled at me saying he’s going to write camp a letter since they didn’t get him to make new friends. i tried to get my sons hair cut for when I got married and his dad threatened to take me to court if I cut his hair. I’m at the end of the rope with my kids dad and the behavior I get in return from my son and my ex. Help?

  6. Melissa Somers August 4, 2017 at 7:31 am - Reply

    Kate, your account of the early days is almost identical to my own. I see now how far my son’s dad and I have come and a feel a deep sense of pride. It wasn’t easy but keeping my son at the forefront of every decision, every text and every action often made the right decision clear and uncomplicated. Thanks for sharing!

  7. […] This post originally appeared on This Life In Progress. […]

  8. Kelli August 6, 2017 at 9:34 pm - Reply

    Enjoyed and agreed with the comments. I keep reminding myself to manage my expectations and I can’t control his behavior…lying, ugly text messages and still thinking we’re getting back together, which is totally NOT going to happen…i manage by only responding to text or emails when it concerns the children, anything else is ignored. I believe my silence is the best approach.

What do you think?