Co-Parenting, The Minimalist Version

by Abby M. King
Originally Published: 
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I’ve been divorced five years, and I’ve accepted that I cannot change my ex. He does what he wants, doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want, and my opinions and concerns hold little weight. That which didn’t work between us in marriage will definitely not work between us in divorce.

Like most couples, intact or estranged, my ex and I have the same recurring arguments. One issue, the instigator of dozens of emails and endless texts, frequently holds the title of MVP: the defining of co-parenting.

My ex requests that I only parent on “my time” and asserts that it will be better for us if we don’t question what goes on at one another’s houses. Co-parenting is limited to the basics, via email and iCal. Debating who takes our son to his frequent orthodontist appointments and who needs to RSVP to a birthday party evite is as deep as we dive. So we each parent in a vacuum, doing what we each please on our own days with little interaction, minimal communication, and low stress.

It sounds so nice and easy, doesn’t it?

Well, for me, not so much. I wish I could take things nice and easy, but it just isn’t how I’m wired. I’m a person who puts 100% into everything I do. My kids are at least worth the same effort I put into every other endeavor, and at most, they’re worth every bit of energy I’ve got. I can’t see my children as appointments on a calendar or plants that need a little watering. They are live, evolving, intricate, and surprising people with thoughts, feelings, insecurities, goals, desires, dreams, fears, disappointments, hormones, and growing brains and bodies.

In my utopian fantasies, I’d enjoy weekly meetings to discuss our kids, meetings during which we’d make agreements on how to handle larger issues of safety, technology, and behavior. We would pow-wow on growth, our kids’ ensuing freedom and what that means for them. We’d determine boundaries and rules that transcend our two separate homes and stand regardless of the day of the week or bed my kids sleep in. It would take time, energy, and effort, and it would work only if we both commit to the agreements we make. Inevitably, there would be stress. This does not actually sound so nice and easy.

Parenthood is messy, hard, exhausting, worrisome, amazing, stressful, and rewarding. And here I am suggesting adding regular discussions and negotiations with my ex into that inescapable mess? I understand completely why he’d rather run in the other direction. My ex is right. If I would restrict my parenting to “my time,” our relationship would be that much the better for it. I’ve seen blended families that vacation together and have accepted that my family is not one of those rare unicorns. But I carried each of our kids for 38 weeks and 3 days, and I have been their mother every single minute of every hour of every day during and since. It isn’t easy to turn off my parenting switch for a whole weekend.

Every few days, my eyes see my children go to their father, and though it hurts my heart a little, my mind is at ease knowing they have a father who loves and wants them just as much as they love and want him. I would love to then turn off my parenting switch. I wish I could sleep at night without sending that email and could enjoy a kid-free Sunday with my man without texts flying back and forth. But my heart makes no allowances, and my maternal instinct often makes its desires stronger in their absence. My parenting switch was turned on over 13 years ago and there is no off for me.

So, we remain two co-parents with different ideas of co-parenting. I have an ex who does what he wants, and he has an ex who does what she wants.

I will parent 24/7. I will advocate for my kids regardless of the day or time. I will send emails or texts when I see fit, offering my requests and concerns. I will bang my head against a closed door and hope that it will open. And he can parent 24/7 or 12/3.5 — that’s his choice. When the kids are with me, he is welcome to offer opinions and concerns, or he is welcome to be hands-off and incommunicado.

I will keep doing me, and he will keep telling me to buzz off. We will both keep doing what we’re doing. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, then consider us both insane.

But, you know what? I think a small dose of insanity is evident in even the healthiest, intact families. We’re going to be OK.

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