Together. But Not. A Co-Parenting Story.Nov 25, 2019
Reaching for my red flannel plaid robe, I quietly open the creaky door of my bedroom and tip toe my way into the living room lest I wake up the boys before it’s time. The Christmas tree stands majestically in the center as I look out the window into the gentle darkness of the early morning, which glistens in the reflection of the fresh snow. I close my eyes and inhale the stillness around me, fully aware that in just hours, my home will be filled with magical moments that we’ve created together.
“Hey Mom. Dad has to come with us to cut the tree on Sunday. And he has to be here on Christmas morning to open presents because that’s how we do things and because that’s how it’s always been” says my middle son as he interrogates me over dinner. He ensures that he’s got my full attention as I mentally calculate all the moving pieces of this conversation.
The holidays are a time of some tough decisions around here. Even though it’s been six years since my ex and I separated, sometimes the wounds feel new and raw depending on what’s been transpiring in both our lives. Holding on while letting go has been a craft carefully skilled only to be tweaked time and time again with love and labour.
Having to co-parent our three boys has been one of my life’s biggest work. Actually, let’s turn the narrative around. Getting to co-parent our three boys has been my life’s biggest work. It’s both a blessing and a curse. A curse because it’s pushing me way out of my comfort zone and a blessing because, I’m growing through this process. It’s humbling to say the least.
Flashback to the time I was gripping the grey armrest of the sofa as I listened to my ex’s version of how I parented our boys to the mediator, consciously making an effort not to interrupt him while the chatter in my mind conflicted with all that he had to say. But I also thought to myself: “It’s so different when someone else is in the room. The conversation is much smoother and calmer. Why can’t we do this ourselves?”. Of course I know why we can’t. We push each other’s buttons. But this was the feeling I wanted. The feeling of no matter what, we’re on the same team-for our children.
Why does it have to be any other way?
Shuffling around the hard corners of the wooden stiff dining chair, my tousled hair boy had had a rough day at school. He was edgy, quick to argue and raising his voice as he often does with me. These days, his behavior was difficult for me to cope with. My self-doubt started to rise deep from within my chest and into my throat as I raised my own voice to match his, in anxiety and fear. Thinking to myself as I always do, “these boys need their dad around. It’s so so much harder to manage this solo parenting thing especially with three crazy, high energy emotional beings”, I retreated from the escalation.
In moments like these, I have regrets (although transient) about my marital breakdown full well knowing it was the best decision for all of us. Desperate for help, I’d often call my ex for advice and words of comfort but mostly to problem solve. I demanded family meetings. I fought for a unified approach. I had uncomfortable conversations.
He was the only other person who loved my boys as much as I do. This energetic connection will never falter. I trusted him to be there for them. And I wanted to do anything I could to make it easy for all of us to be a “family” because I still saw us as one-very much so.
So. We set out to create a new now.
You’ll often find me heading out for a quick bite to my (ex) mother in law’s home and cozying up next to her as we chat about all things under the sun. She spends her winters in India and it’s not at all unusual for me to wake up and find her loving texts, full of heart emojis, wishing me a safe drive as I head out to work.
By my bedside, I have a list of Netflix recommendations from my ex of shows I should watch just because he knows what I like. And oh! I still use his Netflix account ‘cause I can’t be bothered to get my own.
During birthdays, mother’s days, father’s days, graduations, and in all kinds of celebrations, we’re always together-all five of us-in some fancy resto of my choice (I still rule this department!).
Sunday night cooking has found its way many a times to my ex in a take out container.
Gathering for holidays and milestones is very much about both our extended families coming together to clink those glasses. And when I say both, I mean my parents and my ex’s parents! They still reminisce, laugh and rejoice – it’s a warm and fuzzy scene from where I stand.
My (ex) sister in law was visiting Kingston and didn’t she just stop by Wok In – a spot where my ex and I spent an obscene of time eating during our Uni years- and brought me back #9, the dish that still holds its own after almost 30 years!
Without fail, my inbox alerts me to an email from my ex with his typical annual message, “send me your Christmas wish list”, as he prepares to get me my most desired items of the year on behalf of the boys. I’d say he doesn’t spoil me but I’d be lying.
Just yesterday, our family room was full as I settled into the bright blue sofa while admiring the beauty of the space, the glow of the candles and the chatter of the boys. My middle son pulled out his laptop as he prepared to present us with his top choices for universities. My ex sat across from him, sipping his Second cup hazelnut coffee blend, and I secretly wondered in delight when did this kid become so savvy?
All this…and more.
I can’t say that it was easy to create a new us.
What I will say is that it was worth it like nothing else.
Things are not always seamless in our world by the way! We both have our triggers still. There are heated calls and conversations especially as we talk about sensitive topics like my eldest and his future, the kids’ eating habits, academics, travels and everything under the sun really. Out of the corner of my eye, I’ll catch the eye rolling and the head phones all coming out as my boys give us the customary look of “here we go again”. They’ve adjusted to our humanness. These arguments are short lived and a thing of the past no sooner than they started. A stark contrast to what they used to be.
It took (and still takes) both of us to continuously challenge ourselves as we worked through our own hurt to show up for our kids. It also takes one of us to lead, to persevere and to stay with it. You won’t always be on the same page and that’s okay. As long as you’re on the same book, you’ll more than manage.
Recently, my ex and I found ourselves in the office room of a brilliant male coach who illustrated to us what it looks like to have uncomfortable conversations. If you’d told me years ago that I’d be in a room with my ex and a coach, having a heart to heart, you can only imagine what I’d say to that.
Clearly we’re capable of shifting and I’m grateful for that. I wouldn’t replace the beauty that is us, even with all the messiness, because it pushes my family to step outside of the box towards a path of resilience.
It’s unconventional but it works.