The Pact I Made With My Ex-Husband That I'll Never Break

by Vanessa Torre

We fought hard for our daughter. Most of my first marriage was spent taking my temperature every day and marking it on a fertility chart that hung on the back of the bathroom door.

My first pregnancy ended in a doctor’s office where my husband and I went for my latest check-up, anxious to hear that little baby’s heartbeat again. Only this time, there was silence. I was sure my dreams of being a mother were gone with that heartbeat.

Some months later, I was sitting at a stoplight on my way home from work and I had a realization as plain as day. I was pregnant. I felt it. There are some things a woman just knows. I stopped at the drug store on the way home for a pregnancy test. I was right. That day I learned I was pregnant with our daughter, Caroline, was the same day our first baby would have been born.

She became my miracle baby.

She wasn’t even three and I was barely in my 30s when I realized that being her dad’s wife was not my place in this world. I made the choice to find what that place was knowing her life would never be the same.

When I made the decision to end my first marriage, it took my husband by surprise. He wasn’t in a space to see our issues and it made him impervious to try and change them. No amount of work or therapy could have changed the one universal fact I knew so far deep down inside me that it couldn’t be denied: we were not the right people for each other.

I had no idea what I was doing as a parent when I had another human being in my house and now I was going to have to figure it out on my own. In the beginning, fear of failure, guilt, and shame seemed to be my only guiding forces.

I quickly came to understand that co-parenting was never going to be easy because we are dealing with a human being that is not fully grown. Not yet fully grown human beings are inherently difficult to manage.

My daughter is now rapidly approaching adulthood. We have been doing this co-parenting thing for 14 years. She has no recollection of her dad and I ever having been together and the fact that we were once married amuses her. We are incredibly different people.


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I am a spirited, quasi-hippie empath. Her dad is a linear, by the book, rule follower. This has to have been the crux of all the confusion my daughter has dealt with in her young life. Bouncing back and forth between these two homes could not have been easy.

I’m proud of my ex-husband and me, though. We both have owned who are, the decisions we’ve made, and have stood our ground on them. Our ideologies and personalities may be different, but my daughter has moved back and forth between two homes where her parents have been true to themselves.

This never would have happened had we stayed married. One of us would always be bending to the other in some form or fashion. It’s part of marriage but without proper intentions leads to loss of self and misery.

Last week, my daughter and her dad got into a heated argument that ended with him dropping her off at my house just before midnight. This is not a big deal. Life happens. Arguments happen.

I heard her tears and saw her tall, willowy shape in the hallway outside my bedroom door. For the first time in years, she climbed in my bed next to me and told me about the argument.

Without invalidating her feelings, I supported her dad. My job is not to placate her. My job is to honor my co-parent because he does the same to me.

She’s kind and loving but, at times, can be savage with her words. She doesn’t intend to but she’ll go for the jugular. I reminded her that it is not okay to prey on her dad’s, of anyone else’s, vulnerabilities.

The next day, with tears in his eyes, he told me he was afraid he was losing her. He’s not. There’s still a bridge between them and there always will be. That bridge is me.

I may have broken a promise I made to my husband 19 years ago when I told him I would love him in good times and bad. But I’ll be damned if I break my promise to be the best parenting partner I can possibly be.

Our favorite game to play is “if it’s okay with your mom/dad.” This is what you do when you are totally fine with the decision but not the responsibility of what happens if it goes horribly wrong. Tag. You’re it.

My daughter’s favorite game is to push her dad’s button just enough to get him to mutter, “You’re just like your mother!” Then she laughs, says, “Thank you,” and skips off to her room.

We both know where our strengths lie and being polar opposites means we complete one full circle of parental fortitude. My superpower with our daughter is connection. His is taking care of the tactical things like making sure her sports therapy appointments get made.

Over the years, the fear and shame dissipated. It happened as I saw that my kid was going to be just fine. Our home was broken but she is far from it. Co-parenting has never gotten easier and I don’t think it will. But, together we made it as easy as we could. We owed that to this beautiful creature we created.

The amazing part is that she knows this. It’s not because we tell her, it’s because she feels it. The best we could be was good enough. It was better than that. It was great.