Like many of us, I was looking forward to the New Year. Fresh start, blank slate, drama free, whatever you want to call it, I was ready for it. And like clockwork, two days in, I got a text from my daughter's father, "contact me so we can discuss discontinuing child support and taxes." My oldest, was turning 18 in 21 days.
While I have been preparing myself for her upcoming "independence," I wasn't prepared for what felt like a breakup via text. We've been divorced for almost 17 years now; while we haven't always gotten along since then, our co-parenting relationship was now over. Besides when she graduates in June and starts college in the fall, we no longer have to "put up" with one another.
When we divorced, I told myself, to get through, "I only have to deal with him until she's 18." And 17 years ago I remember feeling like that was an ETERNITY. And here I am. I made it to the finish line. Our joint custody arrangement is done. No more disagreements; no more trash talking; and no more pettiness.
While I'm more than relieved to be at this place of so-called freedom, I'll admit I am a little saddened. There isn't anything left to do for our daughter, together. Obviously, there will be some things that will come up - but for the most part I will only have to discuss those things with her as she'll be an adult. I won't have to agree to disagree or fake compromise to come to a solution I'm less than happy with.
And that about sums up what our co-parenting/ joint custody relationship was like for me. I wish I could say it was easy. But it wasn't. When we had an issue, it seemed to build onto the next issue that came up and so on. It was a snowball effect that turned into a giant hill that we fought over year after year. Who was going to knock the other down to be the last man standing? But the bell has rung. The never ending game of "King of the Mountain" has officially ceased.
So looking back, what would my present self tell my past self (and my ex)?
You may have divorced your ex, but your child didn't - There's a perception that once you divorce, that person doesn't play a part in your life anymore. When you have children together, that is absolutely false. For whatever reason, it didn't work out, accept that and move on. But also accept that your relationship created a life. You are forever joined as parents, til death do you part. Find a way to co-parent together, maturely, for your child's sake. Leave your resentment out of it.
Not everything has to be discussed, but check just to be sure - Communication is vital to any relationship, forced or not. Just because you don't think it's a big deal, doesn't mean the other parent will feel the same. Being divorced doesn't eliminate you from divulging information about your child or something that happened to your child. If you fail to tell the other parent, you can guarantee the child will let them know. Hearing things from the child is the worst. You don't get the whole story, it creates another problem on top of the one you have to deal with in the first place and it puts your child right in the middle where they don't need to be. Think of it this way, if you were married, you would let your spouse know what happened with your child. Be willing to share and be receptive of all news - good and bad.
Accept that you failed as a couple, don't accept failing as co-parents - It takes two to make or break a relationship. No one wins with a divorce, so why try and win the "best parent" title? Both of you are equal parents, regardless of what faults you want to continue to point out about the other. Your child loves you both; don't make them feel as if they constantly have to choose. Let them openly love you both and let that love be enough to guide both of you in raising your child, together, as happily and peacefully as you can.
Our daughter has blossomed into a beautiful and talented young lady that works part-time, is set to graduate and has been accepted to a handful of universities. That could not have happened without both of us (did I actually write that?). And that's the most important thing to remember about divorce when there is a child involved.
You both matter, maybe not to each other, but to that kid that calls you mom and dad. On the 23rd of January, the claim on that hill that we created and fought so hard over will expire. As much as we wanted to be the sole victor, we both came out on top. Whether we meant to or not.