Tuesday, September 3, 2013

11 Lessons from the First (Hardest) Days

Earlier this year my partner and I decided to separate and continue to co-parent our boys, 50/50. That's right- equal parenting in separate houses. The kids spend half the time with me in the "old house" and the other half of the time with their dad in the "new house". 

The past few months have been challenging, to speak euphemistically. Just the logistical changes have been exhausting and confusing. In this list I'll focus (mainly) on the co-parenting aspect of things. In a future post I'll talk about the inner stuff and the kids' stuff.

1. There are many ways to parent. Many of them are "right". My co-parent and I are different people with different parenting styles. There are lots of shared traits and values, but there are also some big differences. Neither way is "right", or rather, they are both "right". Life in Daddy's house is one way and life in Mommy's house is another way. Both ways are good for the kids. 

2. Friendship and respect are essential for a healthy co-parenting relationship. I think they are essential just to do the work of caring for your kids. Without the mutual care and respect, it would be very difficult to ask for help or request a change to the schedule. I don't know how people live in acrimonious co-parenting situations. I would lose it. Separating and co-parenting is difficult even in the most "ideal" circumstances.

3. Ignore what other people think. They do not live your life. Yes, sometimes people give good, thoughtful,caring advice. That stuff you know when you hear it, and you should consider those things. I'm talking about the subtle (and not so subtle) judgements and ignorant or intrusive questions. It's funny how people will feel free to ask me all kinds of things that they never would have asked before. I know its mostly out of love or shock or a need to understand what will never be explained satisfactorily. It's not my job to explain my life to anyone. To quote the great poet Jay Z, "Either love me or leave me alone".

4. People react to the news of a separation in a few different ways: fear, shock, and pity. The pity makes me want to rip out eyeballs and shove them down the sewer. Don't pity me. Project on somebody else, please. The fear is interesting because its almost as if the break-up is contagious. You can see the thoughts cross their faces: "If they can split up and everything seemed good between them....well, is it going to happen to me?!" I say this because I have had these same thoughts. It's human. No, it isn't contagious as far as I can see.

5. Protect your children from the adult issues/concerns. Those details will only confuse and scare them. Just tell them the facts and let them make some decisions/choices. Don't over-explain. Kids don't understand what adult romantic relationships/marriages are about. So don't put that stuff on them. They care about Mommy and Daddy, playing with their friends, and their toys. Trust me, that's about it.

6. Family time is essential. Doing things as a foursome on a regular basis has helped us all so much with the transition. This might not work well for other situations, but if you can stand to be in the same room/car/park as your ex, well then plan some family time for this month. I think it helps the kids and adults know that we are still all in this together. We will always be a family.

7. People will judge and offer advice. Let them. Then refer to #3. Seriously, let people say whatever it is they want to say (within limits). I find it is easier to listen to them or at least just bear it. They will get it out; you can then move on to other things. People don't actually expect you to do what they think you should do, they just want to get all their 'You should's' out. And on occasion, you just might get something worth considering. 

8. Honesty. Openness. Communication. Without the ability to be honest about my feelings, needs and wants this separation would be awful. I can tell my co-parent (former partner? What do we call each other now?) that I'm feeling sad or worried about the kids or that I need him to get his damn stuff out of my house (really, I mean it.). We have had some of the best communication over the last few months, better than the bulk of our ten years together. You can probably hazard some guesses why. I'm not going to here. 

9. Keep an open heart and mind. Love doesn't just disappear. Anger and hatred are not inevitable. Don't get dragged down by the petty stuff. It's all petty stuff. 

10. Focus on the big picture. Don't get caught up in the spreadsheet of life of who owes what to whom. Be brave enough to be generous and open. Keep your eye on the prize of healthy, happy, loving children. Everything else is just details and noise.

11. Growth comes through struggle. Being your own woman is liberating. Seriously. As much as all of this has been terrifying and heart-breaking; it has been equally freeing and strengthening. This separation might be the best thing for us all in the end. I really believe it is. 

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts.