I don’t believe in making new years resolutions because they tend to slip on the priority list by the time Valentines Day comes around. I usually make decisions about what to start, stop and continue long before the midnight hour. Topping the ‘start’ list for 2016 is being a more conscious parent. It’s one of those ‘continuous improvement’ things that always gets me thinking. Recently, I’ve really started worrying that I’m going to screw up my kid. A painting that Bunny did depicting her family triggered this particular round of this specific insecurity. The painting had mum, maternal grandparents, the nanny and the cat… but no dad.
This really got me thinking about co-parenting and the relationship that Bunny and I individually have with her dad. Our agreement is crystal clear on access and the corresponding responsibilities so technically he should be in the picture she painted. Alas, humans get the feels, which complicate what should be a straightforward legal arrangement. This makes drama free interactions with the ex a proverbial unicorn. But I still think about it, and wonder if there is something that I should be doing differently so that Bunny is as well adjusted as possible.
It’s tough having to change the way you relate to a co-parent once they become an ex, usually because the relationship is now so different from what it used to be. I’ve been told that my exes have it hard… I’m a cancerian with pretty low EQ. It manifests such that I really care until I don’t. When I care, I do so very deeply. My love is a real and tangible thing that will overwhelm you with its beauty. On the other hand, when I don’t care, it’s Siberia in January. You’re out in the freezing cold with your nose against the windowpane trying to get close to the fire. In short, I compartmentalise very well. In my opinion it’s a strength, but I can appreciate the difficulty someone would have adjusting to life on the outside. What I am struggling with is why this should matter. Is being friends with the ex a prerequisite for effective co-parenting? Should the feelings of estranged adults towards each other determine how well they co-parent?
I suppose part of the reason one would co-parent is because the relationship deteriorated, quite likely as a result of not seeing eye to eye. With that kind of background it’s probable that people would have difficulty reaching consensus on a vision about raising children. So no, we do not have to be friends. We just have to be effective co-parents. Effective, not good. Good is a subjective standard and yet another proverbial unicorn. Effective (in my mind) means that you are both considerate of your child’s needs and fulfilling your individual roles in making sure those are met.
Look, I get it. Co-parenting with an ex is not easy. We’re human and likely to stuff things up every so often. Sure, there are prototypes that have managed to crack the code, but there are also a lot of others who haven’t gotten it right. Ultimately though, co-parenting is about making a conscious decision to come together in peace and partnership to raise children. Failure to partner leads to so many unintended consequences for children because things slip through the cracks as one parent tries to cover the distance of two. This is where we fail our children. This is where I’m failing Bunny, and I’m worried about it. I worry that by having to play such contrasting roles I’m screwing up my child. I am both nurturer and disciplinarian, I am bacon provider and fryer. I worry that the dichotomy of roles is schizophrenic and she won’t be able to reconcile them. I am ‘sole person manning ship’, but I am also human. I get tired and I have needs. I have to take time to care for myself so I can be a present mother. I worry that I’m being selfish.
Effective co-parenting is as important to me as it is to Bunny.
When one whittles it down to what really matters, effective co-parenting does not require friendship or mutual like and admiration for one another. All that is required is a level of maturity that enables people to set aside their personal differences for the sake of the child. It’s not about you, or me. It’s about what’s best of that child and what is reasonable and practical. Does your ex need or want to know about your business or your struggles? You tell your friends what’s happening in your life, and they’ll tell theirs. All that’s required of you is to show up for your kid when you’re supposed to and pay what you’re supposed to so that your kid gets what they need. It sounds cold, but that’s the bare minimum of what you should be doing for your offspring.
Speaking of bare minimums, I’m going to Segway into rights & responsibilities here. These are two sides of the same coin. One counterbalances the other. Honouring or not honouring responsibilities is what separates fathers from sperm donors, and mothers from incubators. I’ll just leave that there to marinate…
With my not so unique co-parenting arrangement and Bunny’s family portrait, it has occurred to me that we need to do better. Having a part time parent does more of a disservice to a kid than a completely absent one would. It’s a controversial opinion, but honestly, nothing hurts more than watching your offspring monitor the window all day waiting for dear mum/dad, who has had something come up and is no longer coming. Then to top that off, one has to field the “mummy/daddy doesn’t like me because she/he doesn’t visit me” statements. I have peers who have vivid memories of this. No one wants that for their offspring.
Here’s my proposal to derelict dads and mum’s alike: either show up consistently or don’t do so at all. If you don’t, we’ll even be gracious enough to preserve your memory by ‘killing’ you in some heroic way. Maybe you died fighting for human rights, or drowned while saving kids from a flood? Your choice, but know that it’s a tad difficult to bury you when you randomly pop up a handful of times a year… However, should you decide to show up, then do so in every way, shape and form. Be a super co-parent! If you do so, maybe the next time your offspring paints a family portrait you’ll be in the tree next to Lola the cat.
Think about it…