It’s rare to find a Yahoo Parenting article that provides real-life co-parenting philosophy. The author takes this approach to co-parenting that I can get behind: It’s not about you!
By Cris Gladly
These days, complaining about your ex-spouse is as common (and cliché) as married people making snarky comments about their “dreaded in-laws”.
Talk for five minutes with any divorced person and you’ll soon hear a gripe about their ex: “Can you believe what he/she did now?! What a self-serving assh*le!”
You likely have a few gripes of your own about YOUR ex, right?
Well, I’m in that camp, too. At least, I was.
Between skipped child support payments and his propensity for frequent, nasty, overly dramatic emails, it’s safe to say I’m not a fan of my ex. But I didn’t feel true outrage until he started a new relationship.
Was I jealous? Actually, no. Not in the least. He and I were not in love, so when we split, I felt pretty nonchalant about the idea of him meeting someone new. I truly wished him well in that department.
But, what I was NOT prepared for was how much my Mama Bear instincts would rear up and let out a primal ROAR when he introduced his new girlfriend (now wife) into our daughter’s life.
What’s crazy is that, at the start of our separation, my ex is the one who insisted on strict rules regarding how we could and could not introduce a new love interest to our daughter. Items on his “how to move on” list? Our daughter was not allowed to meet a new partner in either of our lives until we knew we were marrying that person (uhm, say what?!) and that (when that time came) the ex-spouse was to meet that “someone new” before our daughter ever did.
So, how ironic that despite all of his posturing about that agreement being necessary for the good of our daughter … my ex broke his own rules just three months after we separated when he started dating a kindergarten teacher at our daughter’s elementary school.
During the two and half years of their courtship, engagement, and subsequent marriage, I disapproved of just about EVERYTHING related to how my ex (and his new love) inserted their relationship into “my” daughter’s life.
From how I found out about them dating (the very drunk, very gossipy drama teacher ambushed me with the news at a social event in front of others). To him refusing to let me meet his girlfriend in person for a year and a half, yet allowing the girlfriend to spend time alone with our daughter (including driving our daughter around in her car). To the rather un-celebrated role our daughter played in their wedding.
And don’t even get me started on what happened to my daughter’s poor cat after my ex’s cat-allergic new bride moved in. (R.I.P. Maddie Cat.)
But, here’s the thing … even though I took HUGE issue with a lot about how my ex’s new relationship unfolded in our daughter’s life, I bit my tongue and kept quiet about 90 percent of it.
Why? Because, frustrating as it is, there are four harsh but vitally important truths we ALL must suck up and accept about handling life post-divorce:
1. If I don’t have legal grounds to complain, I need to shut up about it.
A very hard pill to swallow? Yes. But the truth is (as my lawyer explained) that unless our children are in clear physical danger (abuse, neglect, etc.) or either party “significantly or consistently” violates terms of our legal custody agreement (child support, visitation, information sharing, etc.) the court simply doesn’t give a f*ck about what upsets us personally. (Boo-hoo. Too bad. No one cares. Buh-bye!)
Our opinions and feelings on any matter outside of legally enforceable agreements are, in a word, irrelevant. So, even if I personally think my was wrong to let our daughter be alone with his girlfriend before I met her, I didn’t have one legal leg to stand on.
Like it or not, what my ex, or your ex, does and who they allows around our children during their visitation is his judgment call to make, just like the same is true when our kids are home with us. And that is perhaps the most terrifying reality a divorced parent must face. Is it not? No longer having full control over who is around our children anymore.
But the law is the law. So, if there is no legal recourse for addressing a matter that frustrates me, I’ve learned to think twice about picking a fight about it.
2. Not doing something my way does NOT make my ex wrong.
Oh, our big mommy and daddy egos — always so certain that the way we do something is the one and only right way. And, of course, our exes are vile villains if they dare to deviate from that way, right? I occasionally fall prey to this ego trip, too.
Uhm, newsflash: Our exes (and the people in their new life) don’t remotely care what we think.
So, if I think introducing a new relationship to our daughter should go differently, then the one and ONLY place I have a say in that, is in my own new love relationship. But I have no right to expect a say in my what ex does. He can court the new woman in his life, propose, and have a wedding ceremony any way he wants.
And getting over myself on this one allows wonderful benefits for our daughter. Because, as long as none of the “adults” on either side ruin it with unnecessary snarkiness, our daughter now gets to see multiple examples of how people choose to show up in relationships and show love.
3. How would I feel in his shoes?
Being a kind and gracious person is an important priority to me (yep, even when my Mama Bear temper is flaring up). So, one thing I make myself do every time I got annoyed at my ex and his new wife is imagine how I might feel in their shoes.
Sure, my ex made a big, ridiculous stink with the whole “good faith” new relationship rules that he immediately broke, but I’d like to think that occurred because he wasn’t in a new relationship yet. Our marriage was a very unhappy one. And I think when he suddenly did find new love, he just wanted to protect it. And while I certainly did not appreciate some of his choices, I understand his instinct to keep that new joy as safe as possible.
My ex has every right to move on and be happy on his own terms. Just like I have the right to do the same (and have happily done so). I mean, isn’t moving on the whole point of divorce?
4. My job is to worry about MY relationship with our daughter, not his.
What I want most in this world is for my daughter to feel valued, safe, and loved. Did some of the choices my ex made in his courtship, engagement, and new marriage negatively affect her, even if unintentionally? Yes. She says fairly often that she feels left out and less important to him.
I want that to not be so. But here’s the thing: ultimately, she is safe at her dad’s. Her dad loves her. And his new wife is actually a really nice person. Are there some kinks in their father-daughter dynamic? Yes. But, that’s his job to notice and work through. And lord knows when the teen years hit, my daughter and I will likely face kinks in our dynamic, too.
My job is to focus on making my own relationship with my daughter happy, strong, trust-filled, and wonderful. Part of doing that is teaching her the conflict resolution and communication skills she’ll need for success in any relationship in her life (with her dad and even in her relationship with me).
The bottom line is, whether I wish my ex harm or wish him well, nobody cares. My opinion of my ex and his new life just doesn’t matter. The only opinion that does actually matter is the one my daughter holds in her heart about her life and relationship with me.
So, is biting my tongue and letting ex-drama slide easy? No.
But there’s an amazing benefit of taking the high road first, as often and as consistently as you can. It sets a precedent that keeping the peace is possible and that, for everyone’s sake (but most especially for our daughter’s) the right thing to do is end the nit-picky opinionated b.s. so that we can ALL (him, me, and) our daughter) truly move on.