My ex-husband and I have been apart for a decade now, divorced for nine years. It was an ugly marriage and an uglier divorce. It was not, in any way, amicable. It was not kind. We were foreign to each other and largely still are. There is very little we agree on, and this is most apparent in our approaches to parenting. He is very much the benevolent dictator with strict schedules, structured playtime, timers on EVERYTHING and everything planned out to the nth degree and I am very much the free-range parent who desperately wants her children to explore themselves and the world they live in even when it scares me to death, as long as they’re getting enough sleep, doing their homework, and being kind and respectful humans. I revel in their goofyness and giggles, he delights in their good behavior and academic achievement. I push, sometimes too hard, to get them out of their comfort zone and expand their experiences and he grips them closely trying to protect them, sometimes too much, from everything, even disappointment.
There are two things we are in full agreement on though, Hank and Sarah. We both, in our own ways, absolutely and unquestionably love and are devoted to our two kids. Because of this, despite our incredibly contentious divorce and the months of battling over a parenting plan, we agreed, pretty easily, to celebrate their birthdays by having dinner as a family. Neither of us could stand the thought of not spending their birthdays with them. For 10 years we’ve gathered at a restaurant of the kid’s choosing and had dinner together.
Last Thursday was Sarah’s birthday. The restaurant of choice this year was Mi Ranchito, a little local Mexican restaurant. Nachos were eaten, New Kids on the Block were discussed at length and the little girl who had come into this world squalling 12 years earlier spent her evening seated between both of her parents giggling. We told stories about when she was little, bragged about how smart she is and always was, teased her about silly things. This trip through history was neccessary as we had a new addition to our group this year.
My exhusband is seeing someone and it seems to be pretty serious. We’ve come a long way from the early days post-divorce when he decided to turn the kid’s karate class into date night much to my, the kids, and his girlfriend’s mortification, but he still tends to be a little TOO inclusive, or maybe it’s better to say he’s recklessly inclusive by inviting the girls he’s dating to all sorts of family events without telling anyone he’s doing it beforehand. When he does let the group know in advance, it’s generally to demand a change to the plans to accommodate his date. His girlfriend has now come along to parent/teacher conferences, birthday parties, and me showing the kids the house I was buying for us. 8-10 years ago, this would have made me apopolectic, fortunately though I’ve learned that this simply is who he is. I’m not even sure he realizes how awkward it is for me, her, the kid’s teachers, and my realtor when I’m trying to explain who she is, without implying more than they’re comfortable with or insulting her by minimizing her relationship to the kids. My attempts to discuss this with him, of course, falls on deaf ears, which I should expect, it’s always been that way.
I think what has helped me most in learning to co-parent with him is realzing he is what he is. No amount of begging, pleading, yelling, barganing, arguing, or rational discussion will inspire any adjustment on his part. It’s why we’re divorced. Divorcing him did not make him into an easier person to deal with. Realizing this suddenly made him much easier to deal with. I started to look at his behavior through the lens of “Does this hurt the kids?” and if the answer was no, I let it go.
Not only did this make him easier to deal with, it made my life much easier. These days we fight far less and when we do it’s about issues that are worth fighting over. I still find him to be a huge pain in the ass, and I’m sure he’d say the same of me, but the kids are much happier, and isn’t that the point?