I haven’t written about co-parenting recently. I’d like to be able to report that all is going swimmingly, that we are working well together and that we are doing what is best for our child. That’s the goal obviously, but then this is real life, and as we all know, real life doesn’t like to follow a smooth path. Real life seems to object to a plan.
It’s been nearly two years since we separated and we have been living apart for 18 months trying to navigate this co-parenting journey. A lot of the time, although we may have the same agreed destination (what is best for our child, our son), it feels like we have a different map.
All co-parenting, divorce and separation literature is quite clear that both parents have to do what is in the best interests of the child. This is indisputable really; it’s a no brainer. Both my ex and I would wholeheartedly agree that our son is the centre of our separate universes and that his best interests are primary. The problem is that we both seem to have very different ideas about what is best for our child.
Take a recent example, a recent obstacle in the road if you like. We have just about been managing to work to the same schedule for a year. This schedule involves Cygnet spending every Tuesday night with his daddy and one night and one day at a weekend. This means that Cygnet gets to see both of us frequently and gets to spend quality time with both of us every weekend.
It can be a bit tricky: we are always operating to an agreed handover time; our activities have to fit into the allocated time slot, but it is working. Cygnet spends time with both of us frequently and for a two year old with no real concept of time, ‘frequently’ feels really important.
Cygnet’s daddy wants to change things.
He wants to go to an alternate weekend schedule whereby Cygnet spends the whole weekend with one or other parent. This is not an unusual arrangement for separated parents, but Cygnet is barely two and I think he is too young to be able to understand these longer periods of time and will suffer from not seeing one or other parent so frequently. I think the current schedule is working for Cygnet and I see no reason to change it. My ex disagrees. Therein lies the problem; we both have different ideas about what is best for our child.
After some negotiation over at least three months, we have now just about come to agree that we will need to change the schedule anyway when Cygnet starts pre-school in about nine months time and this will be the time to introduce the alternate weekends. Arriving at that agreement was long and painful.
Another recent example was the fraught discussion that we had about Christmas. Cygnet spent last Christmas Day with his daddy. You can read about my first Christmas Day as a single mum here. I had assumed, naively as it turns out, that we would do the reverse this year and that Cygnet would spend the day with me. Anger and fireworks followed as my ex argued that I had no right to assume anything and that he felt that I was always dictating plans.
Negotiations have been tricky. I can honestly say that I have learned more about negotiation, diplomacy, calm influencing and which battles to fight through negotiation with my ex over the last few months than I have in fifteen years of work. I am learning from my mistakes. Co-parenting with a narcissist requires extra consideration, planning and objectivity, but lets not go into that again here.
What has struck me most on this co-parenting journey so far has been my inability to predict how my ex will react. He is predictably unpredictable and that’s about it. Some days he is angry and I receive long, passionate and illogical emails and text messages. Some days, when he says things aren’t going his way, he cries. He is a master of manipulation. He is like a wounded dog, licking his wounds and seeking sympathy one minute and barking and biting angrily the next.
At other times, he is totally reasonable. He’s agreeable and easy to talk to. He puts his position across in a clear and straightforward manner and I can feel that an agreement is within reach.
The thing about divorce and separation is that you no longer share a life with your ex. You share a child with your ex, but you live totally separate lives. I don’t know therefore when my ex has had a bad day at work, has a cold, has had two flat tyres in one week, has had a big argument with his mother or his sister (I know this happens a lot). I do know that all of these things will influence how he is with me. I am still his metaphorical punch bag most of the time, but unlike when we were living together I cannot foresee the punches.
What we have managed to do, just about, is avoid having any difficult conversations in front of Cygnet. There have been a couple of occasions when I have had to say to my ex that we cannot have a conversation in front of Cygnet. I did once ask my ex to leave because things were getting a little tense in Cygnet’s presence. Most of the time though we manage to make sure that Cygnet is the centre of our joint attention when the three of us are together. I guess we should give ourselves a pat on the back for that.
It feels like the co-parenting journey has already been long, but I know that we have only just set off. There are many twists, turns, obstacles bumps in what will be a very long road. It is going to be hard work. I am going to have to maintain my calm, concede in some areas and stand my ground in others. I do know that Cygnet is worth it. He is worth every single second.