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Do You Have to Coparent?
In the legal community, the answer to the question, “Do I have to coparent?” is, YES, YES, YES! You will destroy the children if you don’t! My answer to that question is, “No.” Because I know that it is best for children when their parents can get a long and make joint decisions, it is not the answer I would like to give, but I am a realist. I have studied relationships for my entire life. I understand dysfunctional relationships much more than most people do. I lived with many toxic relationships until I learned better ways, and chose to surround myself with positive people who bring joy to my life rather than pain.
I found the court authorities were not credible about coparenting. They heavily promote the idea, along with the parents forever meme, and while it is true that you will share these children forever, there are just some cases that are the exception. There have been exceptions built into the family court laws because some wise people understood that there are some relationships that are not healthy, and parents who have lived those exceptions, will not be able to coparent effectively.
I remember years ago, listening to court authorities talk about coparenting in some sort of fairy tale way and thinking, ‘if my ex had died, no one would pressure me into finding someone to coparent with. They would not bring a parade of men to my door and insist I choose one because my children could not survive without two parents’. Many people have been raised by a single parent and turned out just fine. To decide that every couple with children who divorces can, must, and will follow the wishes of judges, lawyers and case management types, is the la-la-loony-fantasyland of family courts and ridiculous nonsense. Behavior cannot be controlled or court ordered. If it could be done, there would be no murders, rapes, drunk drivers, drug addicts or D students in the entire world. There would also be no need for lawyers, police officer, parenting consultants and many other roles.
When I followed my gut, kept in mind exactly who my ex was and how he behaved, things went better for my children. I knew what I had to do, what he could not be trusted to do and I was able to cope with the bad coparenting relationship in the same way I had to cope with the bad marital relationship. I did not have to live in the constant disappointment of believing he could change. I had long ago learned that he was not miserable enough to want to change. It was very confusing to listen to court authorities tell me what I knew not to be true. It is quite frankly cruel and unusual punishment to fill someone full of hope for something that will not happen. Just like me, you know the truth about your ex, too. The legal people did not live with your ex all those years, you did. You know what his/her motives were. You know when they were able to make positive changes in their life and when they could not. That knowledge is probably the main reason that the marital relationship had to end in the first place. How would you fix it now? Once you see someone for who they are, you cannot un-see.
When divorce was first brought up, it was my husband who wanted a divorce. He thought that his problems, alcoholism, infidelity, anger and abusiveness, were my fault. He was unhappy and blamed me. His unhappiness grew when I realized that I was the one responsible for my happiness, and I started to live my life with my children in the way my heart wanted me to live my life. My ex was always welcome to join us if he chose, but I made it clear that the children and I would not miss out on life because he did not want to participate. Most of the time, he would not join us. He preferred to spend his free time at the bar.
In the early years of parenthood, I would not do things with the children if their dad would not participate. My idea was that the four of us had to do things as a family and it was not the same if it was only the three of us. That made me feel deprived and sad. My children were missing out. I finally realized that I could not change my husband, I had to change myself. That change meant that I would not allow life to pass me by just because that was the path he chose. I would have to walk my own path with the children. Maybe he would one day realize the importance of my path and joins us. He would always be welcome if he wanted to.
I would take the kids to the park sometimes before dinner and I always left my husband a note to tell him where we were and invite him to join us. One day, I cried, because he did come to join us at the park. It meant so much to me that he wanted to share this moment as a family! Sadly, I can think of very few good, happy moments like that. I can remember some where he reluctantly joined us and made the experience a bad one with his anger and temper or sometimes even with his drunkenness. There were many more of those bad times of coparenting than there were good times. When you share children with someone like that, you learn that it is better to have good times as a family of three, than to be a family of four, with someone who has other things higher in their priority list and are very reluctant to join the family for fun.
Another thing I remember is the light bulb moment I had about my marriage. I did not want to divorce. At the time, I was feeling happier and still had hope that he would see my happiness and want to experience that kind of happiness for himself. I tried everything to repair the relationship and spent an agonizing six months trying to do just that. What I realized was, I was the only one trying to save the marriage and I couldn’t do it by myself!
You cannot coparent by yourself either. It cannot be done. What happened with my light bulb moment was that I came into acceptance and focused on my best interests and the best interests of my children. My ex wanted me to focus on his best interests, but I only had so much energy. I was not going to expend any of it on his needs. As coparents after the divorce, I also only had so much energy. I could only worry about my part as a parent. I could not listen to court authorities with their fairy tale notions. I believe that families are not a one size fits all proposition. You are not a bad person if you and your ex cannot co-parent and you are not a bad person when you don’t want to coparent with someone you have never been able to coparent with.
I guess as a realist, I know, and others know, too, that if a person has to be pushed to join you in parenting the children, it is not a real, tangible relationship. It may work as long as you have a parenting consultant pushing people to do the right thing, but those consultants are not there forever. When no longer pushed, the person will go right back to who they are, if they haven’t changed their ways for themselves. Why deal with false, temporary relationships in any area of life? Deal with what is truth. That will be better for the children than having them believe one parent is someone who they are not, and living with the disappointment of watching that parent swoop in and out of the parenting path that you are walking with your children.
want a parenting consultant who understands how deeply the marriage affected you and your children, and how hard it was to come to the understanding that you would have to walk a different path from the one the other parent walks, I am the court authority for you. If you want to work with me as a coach to figure out your own path, while allowing your children to sometimes walk the path of the other parent, I know how that can work. Feel free to contact me, no matter what support role I could fill in your life. No matter what, remember to feel confident in what you know in your heart to be true.
About lifesdoorsmediationI am a mediator, Life and Divorce Coach and an Instructor of a High Conflict Divorce Program.
© 2010-2017 by Susan Carpenter and Life’s Doors Mediation. All rights reserved
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