I’ve shared a great deal about my life since divorce. I do so in the hope that the lessons I’ve learned and the difficulties I’ve overcome can help others in a similar situation to do the same.
I’ve reflected publicly on the lessons from over 10 of years of co-parenting my kids following the breakdown of my first marriage. I’ve described the merits and challenges of bird-nest parenting where the kids stay put and the parents move in and out of the kids’ home, sharing the custody, responsibility and joy of raising them as live-in parent-du-jour.
Neither arrangement is typical or common in separated families. The concepts of equal co-parenting from separate homes, and bird-nesting usually prompt reactions of puzzlement and cynicism from the onlooker, particularly those who are divorced parents themselves.
Isn’t it difficult having so much to do with your ex?
It’s a nice idea but can it work when you don’t get on?
Is it essential to be amicable with your ex?
Is it really in the best interests of your kids?
I have a number of well-rehearsed and heartfelt responses to these and many other questions which I share with passion and conviction. I firmly believe that both models of parenting after divorce offer great benefit for parents and kids alike. With that said, I’m not here to relay those answers today.
The questions arise from the conventional perception that a divorced or separated relationship must be a place of inherent discord, anger, upset and dissatisfaction. Against such a backdrop, the unfortunate ‘norm’, I do understand why many struggle to see how co-parenting or nesting could possibly work.
Instead of addressing whether any such means of co-operative parenting or living can work within the constraints of a traditional divorced relationship, I believe that it’s time for a different conversation. It’s a conversation centred on changing the way that many view life after divorce, especially when it comes to raising their kids.
Why should a divorce demand that there has to be a winner and a loser, an aggressor and a victim? What benefit is served for the kids (and for the adults) in clinging to anger, resentment and ceasing to put the kids’ best interests to the fore?
Why should long-term adversity and discord be a given after a split?
Relationships fail, almost 50% of them it would seem. Should that automatically mean that divorcees proceed down the route of least co-operation, prepared for war with each other? Undoubtedly many relationships feature heinous and unpleasant acts from one or both parties towards each other, but many others don’t. Yet almost universally, resentments are clung-onto and bitterness becomes baked-in. Many divorcees fall into the trap of feeling it is their scripted duty to hate each-another. This then impacts upon theirs and their kids’ lives.
Parting may be painful but it will gift each of you your lives back with an almost clean slate to start over. You have the choice to embrace this with dignity, respect for yourself and your ex, without having to lose face or carry a burden of bitterness, resentment or the label ‘divorcee’ for life.
Even if you ‘hate’ your ex, who wins if your mind is constantly filled with anger towards them and regret for your past? Who benefits if you’re preoccupied with concocting ways to punish them for past-wrongs either directly or indirectly, especially when this impacts upon your kids?
Are you freeing yourself to move forwards in life if your every moment is anchored in the past and you’re fearful of the future or view it as a source of challenge?
When it comes to your kids, why would you want to design the model for their parenting as a patched-up, make-do version of the conventional model that broke along with your marriage? Wouldn’t it be better to consider a design that’s proven in practice and fit for purpose within the life that you’re now leading?
Whether your parting was amicable or not, there is still great scope for using divorce as a starting point, a launching pad for a new, better, ideal life for each of you. It requires creativity, optimism and a sense of excitement over the possibility rather than a begrudging resolve to make-do or get-by. All of this starts with the acceptance that your marriage failed and your family has separated.
Change is constant in life but as with all change, you have the choice to go with it and grasp the opportunity presented by it, or to resist and cling onto what is familiar, hoping for the best as you’re swept along by it.
“Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past” - Lily Tomlin
There is great power in forgiveness. It’s empowering to let go, even if you’re only doing it for your own benefit. Forgiveness is the releasing of things that serve no purpose but to keep you anchored in past-pain and choosing instead to look optimistically to the future.
I accept that in some cases there will be catastrophic reasons such as abuse which prohibit forgiveness and make any level of amicability almost impossible. But in many divorces, even those that ended due to infidelity, the root cause was basic incompatibility or dissatisfaction with life for one or both of you. In such instances, surely to have moved forwards and to have escaped the confines of an unhappy situation is a positive thing, even if the parting caused pain and hurt?
Divorce doesn’t have to define you. It doesn’t have to set you on a path of getting-by, making-do, or accepting second-best in any aspect of life. It doesn’t mean your kids have to receive an upbringing that is second-best or limited in opportunity, love or support.
So, as I consider the original question over whether an amicable relationship with your ex an essential pre-requisite for harmonious co-parenting or even bird-nesting? My honest answer is that it isn’t.
What I believe is essential is to view life after divorce from an unconventional standpoint. Divorce is the end of your relationship with each other, but your relationship as parents will last for all time. You each have the choice to fulfil that role individually and mutually as effectively, innovatively and rigorously as you can, aspiring to give your kids a childhood that is happy, fulfilling and loved. The same philosophy also applies to how you choose to live your own life and whether you decide to start afresh, designing and building a life that inspires and enriches.
The alternative in both instances is to set out merely to survive, recover and get-by, salvaging the best of yours and your kids past lives and weathering constant discord, dissatisfaction and challenge.
It’s a shift in focus away from the traditional reaction to divorce, but a necessary one if we are to adopt things such as co-parenting and bird-nesting. These are designed to recognise that life goes on for separated families, and it can do so in a way that is positive, innovative and rewarding for those who are willing to accept and let go of the past and move positively toward the future.