It Can Take Years to Co-Parent Successfully

Cheney Meaghan Giordano

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Last week my daughter’s dad and I took our kid school shopping for clothes.

Together.

It’s actually one of many things we do together as a weird little family unit when we are out and about, because he and I were never even really together, we just had a child together.

The first years were rough.

He’s conservative, I’m liberal, his family is religious, I’m agnostic, he likes death metal, I like indie rock… we didn’t jive.

I didn’t like who he was as a person, probably because I had never tried very hard to get to know him well, and I felt a lot of animosity toward him seemingly just for existing.

Looking back, I don’t know why I made it so hard on him for the first few years.

I realize now that it was never him who was making things hard, it was my bad attitude towards him.

Now, fifteen years in, we get along great. I wouldn’t call us “friends” because we don’t spend time or do things together without our daughter, but the fact is, we DO do things together, successfully.

We have mastered the art of co-parenting.

It didn’t come easy, or fast.

I had to let go of a lot of resentment toward him for feeling pressured into parenthood, and an extra bit of resentment because he refused to go to court over custody, claiming we could work it out ourselves, and I was too proud and stupid to ask for child support.

Then, there were huge fights in our daughter’s first few years over medical decisions because she was born with hip dysplasia that required surgery, casts, braces, and therapies, and he isn’t much into believing in science and doctors.

But we got past it, we grew up as our child grew up, and I think that there came a point where something hit me:

It’s not worth it to fight with this man over the little things.

Yes, he dresses our daughter like a mismatching hobo.

No, he doesn’t think she should date until she’s 25.

But he’s on time every week to pick her up for his days, the child support now rolls in like clockwork, and when we see each other, we actually can smile.

Start by accepting each other.

What I’ve learned in these thirteen years of co-parenting, and in life, is that there is nothing you can do to change a person, no matter how much you want to try.

All the things I never liked about my daughter’s father I still hate today, but I’ve accepted that he will wear his Ronald Reagan shirt out in public and I no longer believe it’s just to embarrass me.

Likewise, he accepted my “liberal hippie homeschooling” when I couldn’t face putting our daughter into a bad middle school.

With acceptance can come peace, and with peace can come compromise.

Wisdom from Yoda may or may not help, also.

Never fight in front of the kids.

When we did have disagreements, and there were many, we kept them out of earshot of our daughter and never let her knew we were fighting.

As far as she is concerned, her dad and I should get married right now.

I see so many people trying to co-parent that get into screaming matches right in front of their children, and not only is it obviously bad for the kids to witness, it’s bad for you, too.

Screaming shouldn’t be happening at all, but instead, two adults should come together to chat, sometimes with a mediator.

There was a time right in the beginning when I refused to even speak with him if my mom or his wasn’t present because I knew he wouldn’t treat me badly in front of them, and that’s fine, that’s what had to happen then.

Do what you have to do to communicate, but screaming isn’t communicating no matter how you want to try to explain it away.

Now, because we spent so many years working on communication, we even talk when we don’t have to, sharing inside jokes and news about our kid and making sure each other always knows what is going on.

Celebrate the small wins.

If you’re screamers, give yourself a pat on the back when you finally stop that.

If you can’t bear to speak or look at each other at child exchange time, be thankful and grateful to yourself the first time you can look him in the eye and smile and say hello.

If everything he does drives you insane and you want to kill him sometimes, throw yourself a freaking party on the day you can let it all go and accept the fact that this person will be in your life forever.

Co-parenting successfully doesn’t come easy or fast, so it’s important to appreciate the steps you take to get better at it and the progress you’ve made along the way.

When in doubt, go to counseling.

Yes, we’ve been there, too.

When my daughter was in grade school and seeing a counselor she noticed at a few of our joint sessions that he and I weren’t communicating well, and at the time, we weren’t.

So, I convinced him to go to counseling together on our own and after just three sessions we were both able to air our grievances toward each other and start finding a way to move on.

Since then, since the truths we feel about each other came out, I’ve felt free to be myself around him in a way I never did before, when I always guarded myself thinking a part of him hated me like a little part of me still always hates him.

But he’s the father of my child, and in the end, it doesn’t matter what I feel toward him, it matters how we work together toward making a better life for our daughter.

Co-parenting is the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in life outside of actual parenting.

It’s tested my patience, annoyed the hell out of me, and once nearly drove me mad…

But it also strengthened my resolve and made me grow as a person.

I am not the same person I was when my daughter was born nearly fourteen years ago, and I can’t ignore that dealing with my daughter’s dad has changed me for the better.

It’s made me more patient, more open to understanding people who are different from me, and made me stronger, because it taught me how to advocate for myself and child.

You can have all this too, maybe, eventually.

I hope you can.

It’s so, so worth the effort it takes to get to a place like this.

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I write about parenting, family, relationships, education, disability, mental health, food, beer, and a whole lot about writing.

Salem, CT
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