By: JEREMIAH KIEHL
I couldn’t make my marriage work so how do I make this co-parenting thing work?
Listen, divorce is hard enough when there are no kids involved. It’s an emotional roller coaster that can take years to recover from. It leaves you with intense thoughts of doubt, regret, failure, abandonment, fear, loneliness, and pain. No matter which side of the coin you’re on, it’s the ultimate second-guessing game. Is my life really going to be better without this person? Am I ever going to find anyone that will really want me? Do I even believe in love anymore, and if so, do I deserve it? Yes ladies, us men ask ourselves these same questions, even if we don’t admit it. I am about the most confident person I know and there are still days when an incredible emptiness fills my stomach and I can literally feel my heart sink. Now, for me those moments are few and far between, but none of us are exempt from these emotions. Especially since what we thought was “till death do us part,” really was, “till one of us changes and we can no longer stand each other."
All of these feelings are only intensified when there are kids involved. If you want to have a relationship with your children, then for better or worse, you have to have a relationship with your ex-spouse. You don’t get that departure, that space you need to let your heart heal. Instead, you still have to converse with, see, and interact with this person frequently, while also trying to grow, mend, and learn from your recently failed experience.
This can be made especially hard when the relationship ended particularly badly. Way too often, couples fight in the courtroom and use their kids as some sort of battleground to simply hurt the other person, without any real concern or thought as to what is actually best for the children. Nothing makes me sadder as this only leads to real, long-lasting pain for everyone involved.
So how do you make co-parenting work when you couldn’t make your marriage work? I don’t have all of the answers, but I do have an awesome relationship with both of my exes and my kids are all amazing and happy. I figure I must be doing something right.
The first thing that people in unhappy, co-parenting relationships always tell me is, “man, you’re so lucky that your exes are so cool.” Really? If they were that cool we would probably still be together. I don’t say this to be mean, both of my exes are in fact wonderful woman, but luck has absolutely nothing to do with it. My relationship with my exes has been a calculated, thought-out decision on my part. I refuse to have a bad relationship with them because I refuse not to have an amazing relationship with my kids, and that’s all that matters to me.
So how did I do it? I swallowed a lot of pride and I put in a lot of work. It’s that simple. I refused to make any of it about me because I’m one of the grownups in the situation. I’m the only person whose actions and words I can control, and although it took a while, I learned how to control them, even when it was really difficult to do so. I took a personal inventory and accepted and apologized for the pain that I had caused. Then, I forgave myself and my exes so that I could move on and focus on the only thing that mattered now, my kids. I tried my best to let go of the bitterness and anger I had, and I certainly never expressed it because there is no good outcome to that. Even when I was on the receiving end of that same bitterness and anger, I just took it. I humbled myself and did whatever I could to make the situation easier for everyone else, even if meant making it harder for myself. I sacrificed money and time so that my kids never had to see or experience their parents fighting.
A funny thing always happens when you humble yourself and keep your mouth shut. Time also does its' part. Eventually everyone moves on, and more often than not, to better places. You create new relationships and routines with your exes that are completely based on your kids. You grow, and you even begin to wish your ex all the happiness in the world, because you know that if they are happy then your kids are going to be that much happier as well. Just like sadness, happiness is contagious and infectious.
Where I did get lucky is that both of my exes are amazing moms who truly truly love our kids; and they both know that I’m an amazing father who would do anything for our children. Once you can admit that truth about each other, and have trust in that, then everything is so much easier. But even that is not luck, it’s part of the original vetting that we both did before we ever had children together. Subconsciously, I was attracted to these women in the first place because part of me knew they would be excellent mothers. That fact didn’t change just because our marriage didn’t work out.
Now 8 years after a divorce, and 1 year removed from my last relationship, I’m in a completely different place with both of my exes. I have a new respect and admiration for them as mothers. Although some of the same old issues that arose when we were together still rear their ugly heads, I just step back, take a breath, and do my best not to let them bother me. It’s not about me and my feelings, it’s about raising these amazing kids surrounded by love and affection; and that’s a job I take deadly serious.