My ex-husband can be a bit of a flake. Yes, that is a nice way of saying he’s not only forgetful, but thinks he can change plans and make decisions about our children, and our custody schedule, without checking in with me. He has a tendency to think his feelings matter so much, there’s no need to check in with anyone else because if it works and feels good for him, who the fuck cares? In his mind, it probably feels that way for everyone else, right?
Needless to say, this is a big reason for our divorce. I was the nurturer and the one who made sure everyone had what they needed. I baked his favorite meals and celebrated his birthday and Father’s Day hard while it was a struggle for him to plan anything on Mother’s Day.
If I didn’t say anything about what I needed from him, he figured all was well and he was in the clear. But if I did say what I needed, it really put him out. Hence our divorce.
After we split, he didn’t change. I would literally clench my asshole every time he did something I didn’t like and try to challenge him on it, only exhausting myself further. It wasn’t working for me or for anyone else in the family for that matter.
Thank god my best best friend doesn’t let me get away with playing the victim for too long. One day while ranting away, she gave me some tough love and said, “This is who he is. He’s always been this way, Diana. He’s never going to change.” And she was right.
We’d gotten in an argument because he bought tickets to take our children to NYC during Christmas vacation without even asking me. He showed them pictures of the hotel, told them all the things they were going to do, and they were over the moon about the trip.
I was not. I not only felt like I was getting robbed of valuable time with my kids around the holidays, but their plans were killing me. I’d always wanted to go to the city with my my family when I was married, but he never wanted to take the time off work and thought it was too expensive. But now he could make a getaway to NYC happen? WTF.
The talk with my bestie flipped a switch in me and I was able to calm down (after breathing into a bag for several long minutes). I realized I needed to learn how to deal with this way of parenting with my ex — this was our life from here on out.
There would be other things I’d be pissed about. There would be times I’d be tempted to put my feelings of anger and resentment before my kids’ feelings, and I didn’t want to be that person, ever.
I started doing two things that helped me find my way through co-parenting with my ex-husband with a smidge of grace. It’s helped me keep my eyeballs on what’s important and not want to box his ears every time he does something dumb (which is often).
First, when we are stumbling, or can’t come to an agreement, I make the decision about whether this is worth sticking to or whether I can relent or compromise a bit. Then, I either agree or I stand my ground.
If I make the decision to relent, I don’t look back or hold on to anger and resentment. AT ALL.
I started doing two things that helped me find my way through co-parenting with my ex-husband with a smidge of grace.
For example, this week my ex decided he wanted to take our son out of a camp I paid for so they could go to a water park and spend the day at the lake. My initial reaction was to want to break something, because changing plans makes my head spin. But I took a breath (co-parenting involves taking lots of these) and asked my son what he would rather do. He was super excited about the water park and jet skis, so we went with that. I agreed and then forced myself to be fine with it and never think about it again.
Instead of my old, “What the fuck is your problem? Why do you always do this? You are so inconsiderate and this is why we aren’t married and you suck,” I said, “Okay, he’d like to do that.”
We had a pleasant exchange, and I felt like the bigger person who deserved a trophy and crown for the way I handled it. Then he deposited the money for two days worth of camp into my bank account (even though I didn’t ask for it), and we all felt jolly and great.
I can honestly tell you, if I’d taken the low road and ripped him a new one there’d be no reimbursement in my bank account, but more importantly, no jolly feelings. Jolly feelings make for really fucking good co-parents, which is the long-term goal here.
However, there are times when I have to put my foot down. Like when I made reservations to take them on a little weekend getaway. I told my ex about it, but later he wanted me to change the dates because he got rare concert tickets.
I could have gone on a rant about how I made plans first and he was being unreasonable, but I cut through all the drama and said in a very kind tone, “No, we are keeping the weekend as is, and I’m not changing my mind.”
Jolly feelings make for really fucking good co-parents, which is the long-term goal here.
He’s seen me as a mother and knows when I say this to my kids, I’m really not changing my mind, so I decided to tap into that magic, and it works like a charm.
Listen. Co-parenting is really, really hard. You live in two different places, you likely parent two different ways, and there are so many things your ex can do in their parenting styles that can feel personal and bring up a lot of old shit. It’s really hard not to spiral, and there was a time when letting myself spiral would bring me a bit of relief. But the arguing and yelling was just a buffer It never solved anything.
You can stand your ground without the drama. You can give in and make a decision about what’s important (your kids, of course) and show your kids a healthy way to co-parent.
I’m not saying doing these two things are easy. What I am saying is they feel so much better than the alternative. Besides, you can always punch your pillow in private and rant to your best friend to let off all the steam you need.