I spent last Saturday in a parenting class for divorced parents – it was required by our county. I was not thrilled about spending four hours inside, and felt most of what would be said, I already knew and practiced (do not fight in front of the child, do not say negative things about your ex to your child, etc). But, the class did make me reflect on co-parenting, and gave me some ideas on how to improve.
My ex and I are not perfect, but, we are friends and we cooperate. We both genuinely want what is best for all three of us. It has not always been easy – putting my feelings and emotions aside, but I am proud of my actions over the past three years and believe that it has benefited L immensely. It is interesting to look back on, because I think I made a lot of decisions that were not necessarily healthy for me, in terms of how I interacted with his dad (spending time around him, trying to maintain a friendship, while I’m trying to heal from heartbreak) – BUT, in hindsight, I do think it was helpful to L. I believe the relationship they have today is due in large part to how I handle things then, and, I made it out on the other side as well. I guess that is the strange thing about divorcing with a kid – two tools that we use as human to get over someone and move on are anger and distance. I had no choice but to continue to interact with his father, when if there was no child involved, I would have never spoken to him again. I also could not focus on my anger – I had to hold it in, so that I wouldn’t lash out at him in front of L, so that I wouldn’t say anything around L, so that we could have some level of cooperation around parenting.
The class instructor talked about how to check in with your children emotionally. I often ask L “How do you feel?” I grew up in a family where feelings were nonexistent. You did not acknowledge them, you did not discuss them. I have worked very hard to master my emotions over the past several years. So, it is important for me to build those same skills in L, from a young age. But, L is too young to really respond to the question. I try to lead a little bit – “Do you feel happy? When do you feel happy? Do you ever feel sad?” but it usually does not go anywhere. The instructor of the class indicated that for Preschool aged children, coloring can work. So, maybe I will try sitting at the kitchen table and coloring with L, and see if that leads to anything.
Another point was asking your kid questions about what happens at your ex’s house. I am guilty of this. Some level of questioning is okay, “Did you have fun? What did you do?” just the way you would about a day with grammy or a day at school. But, it can get to the point of being curious, and pushing for information that you don’t need, and I realized that if there are things to know, I should be asking my ex, not L, about these things.
There were two topics brought up that I want to talk about with my ex – morals/values and consistency between households. I do think that my ex and I are on the same page when it comes to morals and values for the most part, but it had never occurred to me to have a full out discussion over how we are going to raise L, what morals and values are we going to instill upon him. I also think we could improve upon consistency between out two households – I am more strict on some things where he is more lax, and vice versa. There are things about L’s routine, responsibilities and expectations that we could improve on, that are at least worth a discussion.
The class really hit home that I am raising my child with this person, my ex, and how important that is. Being a mom is the number one priority in my life, and my main source of joy. I am not doing this in a vacuum – his father is largely present. I often feel misunderstood when it comes to being friends with my ex, but this realization of the magnitude of raising my child with a co-parent just reinforced my focus on maintaining a friendship. His father will always be an important part of my life because of who he is to L, because of this partnership in parenting. I want to be able to discuss plans and concerns, I want to bounce ideas off each other, I want to know what L’s life is like when he is not with me. I want to be involved in that. I want L to know his parents, while not together, maintain respect and care for each other.