There is an abundance of co-parenting guides out there. I have a fair few lined up on my bookshelf. I have even read a couple of them. The advice is similar. Co-parenting success is when you put the child first. Co-parenting success is when you are respectful to your co-parent. Co-parenting success is when you communicate effectively.
All of this sounds sensible in principle, but what does co-parenting success actually look like in practice?
I have a friend who invites her ex round to her parents’ (her daughter’s grandparents) house for Christmas so that they can spend Christmas as a family. My ex came to my parents’ for Christmas when we were still engaged. It didn’t go too well. Is this what co-parenting success looks like?
I listened to a podcast essay the other day about a separated family who went on holiday together so that their children could be with both of their parents at the beach. My ex now has another new girlfriend who has two children of her own. Are we all supposed to holiday together? Is this what co-parenting success looks like? I sincerely hope not.
I read an article about a couple who had since both remarried, but got along so well that one couple invited the ex and his new wife to visit their new baby in hospital so that they could meet their son’s new sibling. Is this what co-parenting success looks like? Gulp.
I never thought this co-parenting relationship would be easy. If the relationship with my ex were easy then we probably wouldn’t have split up, but I didn’t think it would be quite this hard at times.
Thus far, my definition of co-parenting success has been that we are able to hide any discontent and frustration with each other from Cygnet. We have mastered the façade – just. Our handovers are jolly and happy, our conversation trivial and our talk small. Our conversations are always short.
We have managed to arrange our holidays this summer. Cygnet will have six days with me in June and six days with his father in August. We have agreed on a pre-school (although the options were somewhat limited). We alter our schedule to accommodate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and important birthdays and such like.
We also alter our schedule to accommodate my ex’s social life (weddings, golf weekends, ski trips, meals out with friends). At first this was irritating, but more often than not, it means that I get to spend more time with Cygnet, and if there is one thing I want in the whole world, it is to spend more time with Cygnet.
There have been disagreements, like when my ex introduced another new girlfriend to Cygnet without telling me, or like when we had a bit of a bust up over our arrangements for last Christmas.
But Cygnet doesn’t see these disagreements. Cygnet doesn’t see the anger and frustration. In front of Cygnet we could almost be successful co-parents.
But, and there is always a but…
Our parenting approaches are very different, and although Cygnet doesn’t see any arguments, he doesn’t see harmony. This is a tale of two homes, and in our homes we have very different rules and routines.
Cygnet knows that he can kick a ball round daddy’s house, but if he kicks a ball in mummy’s flat he will have to stand on the naughty mat.
Cygnet knows that mummy will drag him into her bed if he walks into her room in the middle of the night, whereas daddy will frog-march him back to his room.
Cygnet knows that daddy will bribe him with lollipops to get him to leave the swings and slides without a tantrum. Mummy will bribe Cygnet with pudding to get him to eat his broccoli.
Cygnet knows that he has to stand on the mat until mummy takes his shoes off, whereas in daddy’s house you keep your shoes on until you get into the bath.
The co-parenting guides say that I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. This is the small stuff and I am not sweating it. All I can say is that Cygnet must be really intelligent, because at two, he is already learning that mummy’s rules are not rules at daddy’s house and vice versa. By four, I have no doubt that he will be playing one of us off against the other.
I can never predict what will happen next on this co-parenting journey. I have learned how to negotiate with my ex to make him feel that he has come out on top. Co-parenting with a narcissist is an altogether different skill. I have a lot more to learn.
There will be more ups and downs, of that I am sure, but I do think that we are getting better. Slowly, although not steadily, we are getting better at managing our co-parenting relationship.
I don’t know what the future looks like, but I can tell you that co-parenting success for us will never reach the dizzy heights of a joint Christmas, holiday or heaven forfend a maternity ward!