Last November, my Ex-husband and I started co-parenting. The decision to get a divorce was definitely the hardest choice I have ever made in my life. I knew it was the choice I needed to make, without a doubt…but the consequences of that choice were so disheartening, they made me hold it in for years before I finally got the guts to call it quits.
My 3 year old son Caleb was about to be in the middle of everything. The consequence of my decision to get a divorce, is something Caleb will have to suffer with for the rest of his life. His parents would live in separate households, we would hand him off through the doorway and possibly live very far away from each other due to our military obligations.
Luckily, since we split up…we have been able to stay at the same base. We live about 25 minutes away from each other.
Our co-parenting schedule is a little unorthodox. My Ex has my son majority of the time. My work schedule doesn’t coincide with the daycare schedule, so the best option for all of us is to have Caleb stay with his dad for my 4 day work cycle, and he is with me on my 2 days off. The schedule was extremely hard at first.
The guilt I had over barely having my son completely consumed me. If I went out with friends on a work night, if I went to a restaurant, if I did anything fun, or spent money on myself, I felt like a horrible selfish person.
I was headed in a downward spiral. I needed an outlet for all the emotions I was going through. So at that point, I discovered my passion for writing. I started my blog in January, and never looked back. With the comfort from my readers going through similar situations, and even worse situations than mine. I discovered that no matter how much I cry, no matter how much I try to drink away the pain, no matter how much guilt I feel, the outcome will still be the same as if I were happy the whole time.
The reality was, my son was still going to be with his dad majority of the time, regardless of how I felt about it.
So why would I want to spend that time away from him destroying myself? Why should I allow myself to fall into a toxic state of depression?
Sure, it may be how people would expect me to react, but how would that benefit Caleb in any way? It would just make people feel sorry for me. Self-pity is an enormous waste of time and energy. The outcomes are never good. It’s when you find strength in yourself in bad situations that help you come out on top…and actually GAIN something out of it.
So that’s what I did. That’s what I continue to do. I have goals that keep me pushing forward, not backwards.
It would be easy if being away from him were the only struggle with co-parenting, but it’s not.
Handing him off to his dad is heartbreaking. Not because I don’t want him to be with his dad, but because of Caleb’s reaction to it. He sees him pull onto the driveway and gets filled with excitement. He runs up to him and hugs him and starts walking toward the car. Then he realizes he’s about to leave me and runs into my arms, squeezes me tight and kisses me over and over. He tells me he loves me and walks toward the car again. He looks back, and realizes once again that he’s leaving me…and runs back over to hug me.
The same thing happens when his dad drops him off. He is happy to see me, but immediately feels guilty for it. Because seeing me means that he won’t see him for a few days. He basically is having to choose between one parent and the other. He feels so torn and it’s very evident.
It breaks my heart to see him struggle with those emotions. Especially when he sees his dad drive away and he cries out “I don’t want my Daddy to leave!” It’s unbearable.
What do I even say in that situation? How to I explain to him what’s going on? He’s 3. The good thing about 3 year olds, is they have a very short attention span. Caleb will get very sad when his dad drives away and I have to console him. When he tells me he doesn’t want him to leave, I say, “He’s not leaving you, he’s just going to his house for a couple days.”
Yes, it means the same thing…but Caleb defines leaving as something very negative. His dad and I were gone on deployment for 8 months when he was 2. He associates that word with all of those confused and horrible emotions. I refuse to let him use it and think of it the same way. After I explain that he’s only going to be gone for a little bit, I quickly try to change the subject to something fun. It usually does the trick.
- Prep the night before. Get all the clothes/toys you’re going to drop off ready the night before the exchange. Have your kids do this with you. Make it something exciting like, “GUESS WHAT?! You get to see Daddy/Mommy tomorrow!!!! What do you want to take to his/her house??”
- Talk about the other parent the day of the exchange in the most positive way possible. Ask your child what their favorite things to do at their house is. Make them excited to go there, and reassure them that you are not upset that they are going to leave. Now, it’s totally okay to tell them that you will miss them, but you will do it in a constructive way.
- During the exchange, be as nice as possible to your ex. If you cannot be cordial, then it’s best not to say anything to them. Just focus on your kids and be on your way.
So there you have it. 3 rules to guide you through an easy transition for the co-parenting exchange. Remember to smile, and don’t act sad. Your kids will mimic your emotions, especially if they are too young to come up with their own conclusion of what’s going on and how to react to it.
Better yourself while they are away. Consume yourself in something productive. It will help the time pass and show your kids a healthy way to react to adverse situations.
You can do this!!!!
You are so much stronger than you think and you have things to offer yourself, your kids and the world that you haven’t even tapped into yet. Take the time without your kids to find it.