My ex and I are amicably co-parenting a year after a contentious divorce

August 22 | Guest post by Amanda
My ex sent me this photo of our kids playing -- just to be nice.
My ex sent me this photo of our kids playing — just to be nice.
I did not have what you would call an amicable divorce.

By the time I made the decision to file, I was so furious with my ex-husband (henceforth referred to as X) for his addiction and his behavior that there was absolutely no chance at mediation. I hired a lawyer immediately with the goal of getting out of my marriage as swiftly as possible.

I didn't want to compromise. I didn't want to make nice. I wanted to Get. The. Fuck. Out.

Unfortunately, the court system is not set up to accommodate couples seeking to end their marriages quickly. Add that to the fact that X seemed determined to dig in his heels and make the process as slow and torturous as possible and you can see why the year between filing and finalizing my divorce was one of the most stressful of my life.

During the time leading up to filing and throughout the divorce process, I could barely stand to be in the same room as X. We had to see each other. We had to talk to each other for the sake of the kids. But every interaction was laced with contempt. I hated the sight of him. I hated his voice. I hated everything that he did. I thought every word he said to me was some kind of backhanded jibe. Often he didn't even bother making the jibes backhanded. I felt like he was deliberately making my life a living hell. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm sure I was no peach to deal with either.

Connecticut mandates that all couples with children who are seeking a divorce attend a series of parenting classes (not together, thank GOD.) The classes are intended to offer advice for co-parenting post-divorce. These classes were long. And often boring. And filled with a lot of "Well, duh" information. But I learned a few good tips that I assumed I would never use because I was certain we would never be able to effectively co-parent.

How can you co-parent with someone who has an entirely conflicting parenting style? How can you co-parent with someone with whom you cannot have a civil conversation? How can you co-parent with someone you can't stand? I was terrified. I'd watched enough episodes of Intervention to know that it is always the messy divorces and antagonistic parents that end up fucking up the kids.

I had a lot of people around me try to assure me that things would get better by throwing a bunch of time-related clichés my way. "Give it time," they said. "Time heals all wounds," they said. "Time changes everything," they said.

"Bullshit," I said. In the throes of it, I just did not think it was possible.

Flash forward to a couple weeks ago.

We are closing in on a year of being divorced (October). I brought the kids down to X on Friday after work because I thought it would be nice to give him an extra night with them. Yep, I did it just to be nice. When I got to the house, I chatted amicably with X and his mother about the kids and about my training for the half marathon and other random things.

X was cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner and L asked if I was going to stay and have a hot dog with them. I was in the middle of making my excuses when X said, "Do you want to stay and have a hot dog? There's plenty of food."

So I did.

I ate dinner with X, his parents, and the kids. And it was nice. Mildly uncomfortable? Yes, but not overwhelmingly so.

We're doing it. We're co-parenting. And we're doing a good job.

I'm not sure how it happened. I'm not sure how I got from actively wishing for his demise on a daily basis to today telling him that I hope he feels better when he mentioned he was running a fever. But somehow, it happened.

I'm not kidding myself here. We're not exactly friends. And I know it's not going to be smooth sailing forever and ever, amen. We have a LOT of years ahead of us that are certain to test our ability to communicate and cooperate and compromise. But we're making a decent go of it and right now, that's all I can ask for.

  1. It's fantastic that you are able to do that, especially for your kids. I've been divorced for nearly 6 years and anything dealing with my ex is still like walking on broken glass. Our son is 7 now and it's really heartbreaking watching him trying to figure out how he feels and what he thinks about his father – we live in different states so he only sees him every couple of months for a weekend (when I have to take him), plus sometimes a week in the summer or at Christmas, and is lucky to get 5 phone calls a year. I'm of the opinion that the parents either need to commit to being there, 100%, for their child and do what it takes to deal with each other respectfully or just completely bow out. I may be really, really wrong (having been raised by happily married parents), but I've always thought that would be easier on the child than a half assed approach.

    Good for y'all for choosing to make co-parenting work!

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    • Julie – I totally agree. At the very beginning, X was not at ALL reliable when it came to visitation or phone calls with the kids and it was HORRIBLE. I hated seeing them get their hopes up only to have them dashed. I definitely think it would have been easier at that point to just have him disappear altogether than to have him repeatedly break their hearts (in fact, I often wished for it.)

      I'm so sorry you and your son have to deal with that and I hope things get easier for you (in one way or another) as time goes on.

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    • "I'm of the opinion that the parents either need to commit to being there, 100%, for their child and do what it takes to deal with each other respectfully or just completely bow out."

      THIS. THIS. THIS.

      I'm struggling with this now, not only from my ex-husband, but from my stepson's mother. Twice the amount, and I'm surprised I still have all my hair. Neither one of them want to be parents to their kid. They only show up once a month or send a text once a month just because they feel obligated to do so. I never know if I should feel angry with them and give them a piece of my mind or just leave them be and deal with it as it happens.

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  2. As an adult child of a not-so-civil divorce (and having had a crappy separation of my own involving a small child), I really have to applaud your efforts to make it a happier and healthier situation for your children. It makes such a difference for them in the long run.

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  3. Good for you, Amanda!

    Everyone's quality of life improves when this sort of relationship is the new normal. Anger takes so much energy… how great to find that removed from your experience with your ex. Our blended family has been able to make it work this way and it's just so much better. It takes letting go of a lot of ego and history, but is so worth it. Well done!

  4. I'm not sure how it happened. I'm not sure how I got from actively wishing for his demise on a daily basis to today telling him that I hope he feels better when he mentioned he was running a fever. But somehow, it happened.

    I would love to hear more about this transformation. Did he manage his addiction and become reliable enough to deal with? Was he there for his kids and you had to admire that? Something must have changed, in him and you and your interaction. It'd be fascinating to read about that.

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    • The reliability. That was the primary change. He gradually went from randomly deciding he wasn't going to take the kids, wasn't going to pay child support, wasn't going to call them regularly to doing all those things consistently.

      There's a blog in me somewhere about living with his addiction… I just don't have it in me to write it quite yet.

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      • When you are ready that is a blog I'd like to read. Living with addiction, especially in a spouse, is a topic near to my heart.

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        • I'm getting there.

          It took me so long to finally move past it all that revisiting it through my writing is kind of terrifying. But I feel like it needs to be done eventually… if not for me, then perhaps for someone out there who may read it and find the strength he or she needs to get out of a toxic situation.

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  5. It sounds like you're on the right track and doing a great job! My husband left while I was 3 months pregnant on bed rest to date a co-worker. My husband also wanted to make it a difficult process (can't even say why that would be) and it took us two years to get divorced. It was ugly, but that was almost nine years ago.

    It really does get better with time, but for what it's worth, here's what I've learned about coping with the ugly years. You must try to do what right for your children primarily. That's easy when you know it's gonna piss off their dad. Sometimes that even felt like justified superiority. It's harder when you know the right choice for your kids will make their dad happy. He may even think you did it just to make him happy. You do it anyway. In the end, remembering always that I love my kids more than I dislike my ex, and making choices for my kids in that spirit, seemed to smooth the "transition" years somewhat.

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  6. I'm so glad to read this and so glad things are working well for you and your kids. I also went through a contentious divorce, and you are so right about doing the right thing and putting the kids first – it's hard sometimes, but it's worth it to see them come through it ok and maintain positive relationships with both parents.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing. My husband has a son from a previous relationship and we co-parent. He is with us half the week and his mom the other half. The parents are in constant contact and always get a warm welcome at parent teacher conferences when 4 of us walk in to talk about 1 kid. It isn't always easy but this is our normal and the best life we can all give our son.

    1 agrees
  8. I think two of the comments have the heart of it: your co-parent consistently meeting reasonable expectations of conduct goes a long way to repairing the cycle of disappointment and rage and it just takes SO MUCH energy to keep that same cycle up without new fuel.

    I'm an attorney who helps families deal with divorce and custody problems and I'm a huge fan of a web-based co-parenting program called Our Family Wizard (http://www.ourfamilywizard.com/ofw/) which helps put schedules, messages, bills, everything all in one place. It even comes as a mobile app. My favorite thing it does is keep a record both parents can see of when each saw messages from the other so you don't get any of that "Oh, I must have missed that e-mail…" BS.

    Good for you for pushing through to the other side. Your kids are going to feel much more secure with two households with different rules than they are with two households constantly fighting over the rules.

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    • Dara – it's funny you should mention Our Family Wizard. We were actually told at the beginning of our process by both of our lawyers to sign up for the site because it was apparent to anyone involved that things were not going be easy. I signed up. Paid the fee (that I couldn't really afford). But… he never signed up. Just didn't want to. Never had any intention to. Actually never took the co-parenting class mandated by the state either (there's a huge loophole in that that really is no consequence for those parents who simply don't take the class…but I digress…) So those are just a couple of examples of how difficult it was to deal with him for a long time. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and that was it.

      I'm glad he's made changes. It's just so much *easier* now. SO much less stressful.

      I feel like I'm ALWAYS going to be waiting for the other shoe to drop… on a number of levels… but that's for another blog post.

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  9. I've watched my mom struggle with my dad a bit, and while I was old enough to know I didn't want him in my life, my brother was only 7 or 8. The best trick she learned for dealing with the crazy is to shut it down before it escalates.
    For example: Dad would call pissed off and ranting about something, my Mom would calmly say "I am happy to discuss your concerns about our son, when you are ready to talk to me calmly, call me back." And it really worked, my Mom had to tell him a couple times that it was inappropriate to use her as his dumping grounds for his crappy attitude, since that was one of their biggest problems. Sometimes it's best to just be business like.

    • You're right. Part of what helped us get where we are is that I stopped taking his slights and behavior personally. I consciously made an effort to remove emotion from the equation. It made a huge difference.

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