4/5/13

Don't Tell Me How To Parent: Co-Parenting is NOT One Size Fits All



Eek! My first official rebuttal. If that's the right term...

If you are part of my facebook world (you should be, you know..go here and like it) you know that I have big feelings about things I read regarding divorce and ex-husbands and all that fun stuff. Two things, in particular, tend to get stuck in my craw and get me frothing: People who live in la-la land and think the rest of us do too, and people who tell others that there is one certain way to do things, and if you don't do it that way, you are either crazy or bitter or uncompromising. Also, your kids are going to end up as serial killers.

I've posted links to many of these articles, and said my piece about them. I post them on my facebook page for a couple of reasons: number one is usually because I can't believe what I've just read, and need to hear from "my people" that I'm somewhat justified in my indignation. Number two is I want to hear what YOU think about it. Doesn't matter if you agree with me or not, it's like bringing a friend along with you when you pick out curtains or a new haircut..sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to offer up a new perspective.  And even if we end up disagreeing? I don't judge. Potaytoes, potahtoes.

The article that finally pushed me over the edge and drove me to write was published on Huffington Post Divorce earlier this week. You need to read it, if you haven't already, before I can go on.  Link HERE.

Now, I'm not going to bash the author, Judith Rabinor. I understand where she's coming from..really! I get it. Who wouldn't want the best for their kids? I know I do. And you, my awesome readers/friends, want the same thing. We all do.

But why is the onus on us, the other spouse, the one who does the majority of the parenting, to "help your ex be the best parent he or she can"?  When did that become OUR responsibility?  My ex is 45 years old. He wipes his own butt and can drive a car and I assume can tie his own shoes. And for sweet baby Jesus' sake, I'd like to think that by this time he should also know how to parent.

If he doesn't? Why is it up to me to help him?

Here is where some of you will say, "Because, Jenny, helping him be a better parent will benefit your kids. And aren't you the one who is always blathering on about how much you love your kids? Duh."

This is where Judith and I part ways. I'm skipping next to her, holding hands and whistling Dixie out of my nethers right up until she presented her bullet-pointed list of how to "Go To Bat" for my ex:

Helping my ex be the best parent he could be? Let me tell you exactly what that meant.
  • It meant prioritizing my children's well being. I didn't have to love or like their father, but I had to respect the significance he had and should have in the rest of their lives.
  • It meant moving over, making room for his way of being.
  • It meant being gentle.
  • It meant letting go of all that happened in our marriage.
  • It meant creating a new relationship centered solely on co-parenting.
First point? I have to respect the significance he had, and should have, in the rest of the children's lives. Got it. Nary a day goes by when I don't tell the kids, "You only get one Dad..." and "You really need to spend time with him". I know all too well the pain that comes with having an estranged father. It hurts, it hurts bad. I would never wish that upon my own children.

Second point? Moving over? Making room for his way of being? Sorry, but to me that sounds an awful lot like bending over, grabbing your ankles and hearing "Oops we're fresh out of lube. Sorry!". This is where I leave you, Judith.

I've done a lot of "moving over" for him. I've made plenty of room for "his way of being". Quite frankly, I think it's time for him to move over and make room for my way of being, which for the past several years has been solo parenting on a threadbare shoestring budget.

His "way of being", in my opinion, is being a non-involved parent. And not a very good one, at that. Am I supposed to go to bat for him every day he doesn't take full advantage of his parenting time? Should I have gone to bat for him this past Sunday, which was Easter and according to our divorce decree "his" holiday...and he didn't take the kids? No communication, no texts, no emails, no phone calls. Nothing. Judith, what should I have done?

Is it my responsibility to remind him that the next holiday is his? I don't think it is. I have four kids, and it's hard enough to keep THEIR obligations organized, thank you very much. Surely there's an app for this that he can put on his phone..an alarm of some sort that will nudge him out of whatever oblivion he lives in and tell him "GO PICK UP YOUR KIDS". (and if there's not an app for that, I demand royalties from whomever takes this idea and runs...)

And then I read this one: "It meant being gentle."

I have tried. And yes, I've failed some of the time. But since that ugly morning when he walked out the front door before the kids woke up, I have tried  to take the high road. I've tried being the better person and God knows I've turned the other cheek so many times I have plumb run out of cheeks.

There comes a time when "being gentle" becomes "being a doormat". And I won't do that anymore. I'm wiping off the big "WELCOME!" that's been printed on my forehead for so long, and replacing it with a shiny new "NO TRESPASSING" sign. Because I'm done being gentle.

Again, this is where I have to wonder, how did Judith determine it's up to me to be gentle? Why isn't she preaching this tactic to the other parent, the one who doesn't have the kids the majority of the time?  It didn't feel so gentle to me when my ex-husband once again decided to pay an attorney rather than start paying child support.  It doesn't feel gentle when not one, not two, but three of my kids tell me that they feel unwanted when they spend time at Dad's house.  And it sure wasn't gentle I felt when one of my kids said this: "When I told Dad that I needed to get a project done and couldn't go over to his house tonight, he sounded relieved." 

I want my kids to have two loving parents. And once upon a time, they did. But then things changed and I was thrust into the world of co-parenting. For a while, I did have a co-parent. He picked up the kids for his weekends and his school nights and his holidays. Once, he even took them for one of the two whole weeks per year that we are each allotted for vacation time. He played catch with them, talked to them, and showed up at concerts and games.  Slowly, but surely, most of this stopped.

I was no longer co-parenting. Simply put, I was parenting. And doing the best that I could (and can).  Judith, and many other co-parenting "experts" out there, espouse the benefits of exes working together, telling us how amazing it is for children to have two loving, involved parents.

Unfortunately, for a lot of kids...there's only one involved parent. And we're getting really tired of hearing how it's our job to light a fire under the one who isn't there. 

32 comments:

  1. I agree 110% percent!! Not our responsibility to teach them how to parent or fix their mistakes. Was my EX gentle when he abandoned his children? Did my EX "move over making way for the being of his family" and thinking of his kids well being when he cheated, left, and stopped all contact with them? NO,NO,and NO!! My job is to parent the best I can for myself so my kids can heal, move on, and be happy. Yes they only have one father but there's a big difference between a father and a dad!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. It's like my favorite quote from the awesome movie Parenthood: Keanu Reeves is describing what it's like to be the child of an absent/a-hole dad...

      "You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car - hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father."

      Thank you for chiming in.

      Jenny

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    2. To be honest, in my experience, people who have gotten special permission from the government to be parents tend to be worse at it than the ones who become parents naturally. Because they think that piece of paper absolves them of all other sins.

      There are times and places to license people. This is not one of them.

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    3. YES!! This resonates? probably not a strong enough word. I get that co-parenting crap word from the not soon enough ex. Yeah, where the f were you when you were supposed to be 'co-parenting' the kids for the past 20 years? Now he just wants to look good-ha up to his sh*t! It nerves me to no end! I could go on, but 'these so called experts' don't know what it's like to be divorced, abandoned etc. Meanwhile we are all supposed to put on a pretty smiling face-why? I want to know where has the other parent been while you have been raising the kids?

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  2. Aughhhh once again I have accidentally deleted a long comment! That's what I get for trying to use the interwebs on my phone while I'm on break at work. To the woman who wrote that very impassioned comment about how you tried to light the fire under your spouse for so many years...I'm sorry. Please comment again if you can. promise i won't touch it until I'm home on the laptop.

    Jenny

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  3. I am the opposite of most mothers. I was the one who had to leave the ugly marriage and my teens would not come with me. Believe me, co-parenting is a joke when the other parent chooses not to cooperate. My kids's father would rather choose to never have my children in my life as a punishment for leaving him. Should the child support payments be a day late - he is livid and blackmails me with telling the kids I don't care about them. It is all in how each adult chooses to interact with the other parent and the kids. If adults can choose to put their issues aside and be focused on the kids - Amen! Many times no matter how hard one parent tries - you cannot will the other to do the right thing as a parent. Jenny keep writing, you make me laugh! You remind me that life is comical. :)

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    1. I really, really appreciate hearing from someone who is seeing this stuff from "the other side". I'm sorry he's been a tool to you, and especially sorry your kids are the innocent victims here.

      Thank you very much for reading, and chiming in. I hope you are doing well..

      P.S. Are you able to have a good relationship with your babies, despite the ex? I'm curious.

      Jenny

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  4. Right. It seems to me that, by doing all that, you would still be acting like his wife. And also enabling his lack of responsibility. You're no longer his wife, so there is no reason for him to expect that you pick up his slack any longer.

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    1. Hey Suburban! Yep. I agree 100%. Not my job anymore!

      Thanks so much for reading!

      Jenny

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  5. I'm an avid listener of Dr. Laura(I know I know, but when she's not bashing our president she actually makes some good points.) Anyways... she would tell you that since your ex chose to cheat on you and leave the marriage it's not your responsibility to try to get him to be a good father. He stopped being one when he started banging the secretary. She also regularly tells moms that call in to ask if their kids have to visit their dad if they don't want to, that they don't have to at all. But she says to makes sure they tell him themselves, and don't make you do it. I can't wait until the new spawn grows up and starts asking questions...."Umm dad, why do I barely ever see my FOUR other siblings?" "And exactly how did you and mom meet?"

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    1. Oh Gigi, I have a little soft spot in my heart for Dr. Laura. I read one of her books when I was trying to save my marriage...she reminds me a little of Judge Judy. Who is also a no-nonsense, if somewhat grating, woman.

      Thanks for stating it so well: It's not the ex-wife's responsibility to keep Daddy on task.

      Molly was talking about her dad's house the other day (she hasn't seen her dad since Christmas). She said, "There used to be some pictures of us around the house. Last time I was there, they were all gone, except for a little picture of Dad and the boys in the kitchen. There are no pictures of me anymore."

      Let's discuss gentle, shall we? There is nothing gentle about that. Nothing at all.

      Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment!

      Jenny

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  6. Dear Jenny, why are you reading things like this stupid article? Obviously what works for some does not work for all and to waste your time and emotions on this person and her article is just that - a waste.

    Be proud of yourself for what you have done, how far you have come, and where you are headed in your future. Don't waste any more time being bitter about your (former) marriage and the resulting parenting disconnect that he forced upon you. What's done is done. Time to make some lemonade and drink that shit in the sunshine!

    Take care, and best wishes from a fellow divorcee.

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    1. Do I know you? Because suddenly I have an overwhelming urge to invite you over for some lemonade.

      These articles SUCK me in. And even as I'm reading them, feeling that anger needle quivering into the danger zone, I know it's wrong.

      Just when I think I've overcome all of the mental stuff, something happens (like one of the kids will ask why Dad doesn't like them) and it all bubbles up. I was still pissed about Easter when this article came out..should have passed it by.

      Thanks, friend ♥

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  7. Helping a man to be "the best parent he could be" is the most vomitatious statement I've seen in years, unless it's the equally nauseating "making room for his way of being."

    He's not going to man up, the poor incompetent dear, so the wife's got to help him out? That's a big cause of our problems today: Strong women facilitating weak men, and making excuses for them.

    You just judged a writer's completely stupid position as ... stupid. If we all called out crap like that more often, our culture would change. And more kids would grow up in stable homes with both a mom and a dad on scene and involved, "co-parenting" as it was originally designed.

    I resolve, like you, to speak up and call crap, crap. Keep it up. You have a voice, and it is angry, for good reason.

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    1. Ahh..here's my beloved Becky.

      Thank you, my friend, for getting where I was coming from with this post. It's just another case of "let's make excuses for someone who isn't pulling their weight". Why should it be anybody's job to make parenting easier and more gentle for someone who so obviously doesn't give two shits about it in the first place? That's on him. 100% on him.

      Thanks so much for chiming in.

      Jenny

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  8. I understand where you are coming from, And I read that post Judith made. You did NOT bash her, LOL. I agree.;). I have 4 children as well, pregnant with my 5th. My Divorce? Yikes, I ended being homeless, that's how bad it ended for me. I very much hate my ex, believe me. But, I think Judith is coming from a place where she has LET GO, of her anger already. That is the point, of her entire Blog. She is not telling me, you have to be gentle with him, even when he's an "Maricon". When he is irresponsible, when he treats the kids bad, or doesn't call. You have to be gentle, mainly for yourself, for your peace of mind, and your children's. Anger towards your ex is what keeps you stuck, it keeps you frustrated, depressed, mad, so, you can never fully move on, completely, and your children not only feel that from the ex, but from you as well. Think of The Law of Attraction, how does it work? Whatever you think..happens. You create your circumstances, weather you think you do or not. So if you are constantly thinking that, he will never call, or, "He'll probably forget again I bet"...then he will. You'll create that, again and again. Why? You lost faith, in him. I get it, believe me, I do. But, he was once there you said, he was once involved, you wrote, so that means what?

    That it is never possible for him to be that way again? Why not? My father was an alcoholic for 30 years, and one day, he changed, he completely turned his life around. I trust him now more than I ever did. So, change is possible. Your ex, CAN be that way, the way you described he was once. But, you have believe that he can, and he will get that energy from you...believe me. If your ex was a good father to your children once, he can be that, Again. Judith is basically saying. You have to forgive, move on, be gentle, For yourself, for your mind, and your well being. Because that is the only way...to remove the past, and start a new chapter, free from it.

    I know this because I hang on to the anger, and when I read what Judith wrote...."be gentle", my first instinct was..."Yeah, I don't think so, F$#%, gentle". But I know, that, that is my angry side speaking, and holding on to it...doesn't help me. I have to learn to let go, or I'll remain, angry, and stuck, and in a world of, Toxic behavior...and that creates the same effect. That's why when you fight, with a fight, nothing effective happens. I know it's hard to understand, but it's possible to do.



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    1. Endofmyrescue- how eloquently stated! I have been divorced 10 years now and it wasn't until I let go of my anger FOR MYSELF that I was able to "be gentle". I still get angry when he isn't being a good father by being an asshole to me. It has taken me 10 years to figure this out but one I did I was free! Life became beautiful again no matter what he said or did to try and hurt me. I refuse to argue with him. I'm above it.

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    2. Hey ladies.

      Actually, it's not hard to understand..it's a very easy concept to grasp. And I'm truly very happy for you both that you've been able to do this easy/difficult task.

      I don't think I'm stuck. I think I've done a pretty good job of moving up and onwards. In fact, I'd say that the anger within me has pretty much disappeared.

      When my ex doesn't call, or fails to pick up the kids, or doesn't express even the tiniest bit of interest in his children, it's not anger I feel. It's pity..for him. It's sadness..for my kids. What I don't feel, at all, is any responsibility for him or his actions.

      I'm as gentle as a freaking tamed circus bear when it comes to how I handle all of the feelings and reactions that happen when the ex does or doesn't do something that's "parenty". I don't trash him in front of the kids. Now that they are older, I'm actually able to talk to them about how important it is to have a father, and how lucky they are that their dad is ALIVE and nearby and how there are kids who would give a lung just for the chance to know their father.

      I'm gentle with myself. I'm gentle with my kids. But with my ex? I'm nothing. He doesn't need, nor does he deserve, my gentleness.

      Endofmyrescue, I love what you wrote, and I am eager to hear more of your story (and also crazy envious that you have a bun in the oven..oh how I loved being pregnant!). And what you wrote about your own dad brought tears to my eyes. I haven't given up on my ex, as a father. I know personally that time heals all sorts of wounds, and I really, really hope that someday my kids will get the dad they deserve. But I refuse to take on the responsibility of being his "coach". That's on him.

      Thank you both so much for commenting, and Lynn, I expect to see your fine tushie on the Golden Girls Porch SOON.

      Jenny

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  9. Ummm...what planet is this Judith living on, anyway? The most charitable interpretation I can make of her point is that OK, she's forgiven her ex, now for the sake of her kids she isn't going to act angry in any way to him because that won't help him be a great co-parent to their kids. Yay for her, that's great. But not every divorced mother is in the same place she is, emotionally...and that is fine too. She comes across as lecturing her readers that they should do the same thing she did, as if it is the only correct and ethical way of being a divorced parent...NO IT ISN'T. You don't owe BD jack, Jenny. Rock on!

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    1. Thank you Jenzi! I'm in agreement here. Seriously, good for her. I think it's wonderful. What I didn't appreciate was the underlying message that women like me, who have gone to bat for our exes and are just plain tired of it, are doing a great disservice to our kids. When will it be okay to say, out loud, that the parent who walks away is the one who has done the greatest disservice of all??

      Thanks for commenting!

      Jenny

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  10. Girl..I'm with you on this one (where are some clappy hands when I need them). I JUST wrote a post about something along these lines a couple of days ago but never posted it. I did all of those things she wrote about for the first five years of my son's life then I had a lightbulb moment.

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    1. Thank you my friend. You should post it! I love when you dig deep :)

      Here's to women like us, and those amazing lightbulb moments.

      Jenny

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  11. Good post Jenny, and I particularily love the comments. Keep up the good work.

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    1. Aren't these amazing comments? I have the COOLEST readers. Love them (and you!!).

      Jenny

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  12. The thing that struck me most with this article was that I wondered how bitter her divorce could have possibly been if she's able to still be a wife to her ex-husband. Because that is what I was reading: how to continue to be a wife to your ex-husband.

    I'm not divorced, and I have read those "how to get your husband involved in raising your children" articles, and I swear to the Internet Gods, somewhere an article has been plagiarized. Her advice makes ABSOLUTE sense when you're talking about a wife helping her husband in an area that he's weak, just as he might help her in another area that she struggles with. You're a team, and it's all about supporting the other.

    But, in the case of a divorce, while you may never be able to shake off the link of children, you DO agree that you are NO LONGER MARRIED. You've broken up the team. That means, sorry boys, NO MORE woman looking after you. That means you're on your own with whoever you decided was better than the mother of your children. He still needed help figuring out holidays? Well, then, maybe he should have thought about that before divorcing the person willing to help him out. I don't think you owe your ex a damn thing when it comes to helping him parent.

    The only thing I think you should try to do is keep your negative comments about him to a minimum, and honestly, I feel that this is a personal choice you need to make for yourself. Sometimes refraining from saying anything negative means that the kids don't really know who their father really is, or why the marriage fell apart, and they start to do the bad thing of assuming it was something they did.

    So, honestly, rock on. Don't be a doormat, and don't you worry for a second about supporting him as a parent. He has his new wife to do that, now, and if anyone is going to "be gentle" and tell him how to parent, it DOESN'T need to be YOU. Fuck 'em and let him drown.

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    1. Okay..THANK YOU. This is what I was thinking too, only you were much more concise and to the point.

      He's called an EX for a reason..he's not your spouse anymore. He's not your kid, either. If he is not able to be a good parent, no matter what his "way of being" may be, that's on him.

      I absolutely LOVE this comment. Thank you so much.

      Jenny

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  13. Almost always, covering up IN ANY WAY for an adult, or "saving" them from the consequences of their actions, is DYSFUNCTIONAL and will usually result in that adult continuing on the path you are paving for them. The only thing we can control is our actions. 1) Get off his roller coaster; 2) stop doing dysfunctional things. It's the best example to set for kids, anyway.

    I generally hold to the belief that honesty with kids is the best policy. You can be honest without being mean. Kids have super-sensitive bull**** detectors. You might as well be level with them.

    I couldn't even THINK about prevaricating with my stepkids ... their very intensity and innocence and desire to truly understand and cope with things precluded it.

    A difficult truth can be easier to accept than a comfortable lie.

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  14. I completely agree with you Jenny. I will not defend my husband's choices or cover for him any longer. I've done that for most of the past few years. He is the person he is and he can be the parent that he wants to be. I will never speak badly of him to my children, I love them too much for that. But I will never defend him putting his own desires about his children. I want my kids to know that they should consider themselves a priority and not something to be written off when it's a convenient time to be bothered with them. If you defend someone's bad choices, you are condoning those choices in my mind and my children deserve better.

    http://dowehavetotellthekids.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-catalog-to-remind-myself.html

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  15. I have to agree, once divorced, I am not your wife to advise you on how to stop drinking you wine and gin tonics and be a parent. Grow up, you f'ed your secretary, got divorced, remarried, and you suck as a parent. Not my problem, that is your problem, sucks to be you. Bye-bye suckie ex

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