By Deesha Philyaw, co-founder, CoParenting101.org
In the spring of 2005, we delivered some news to our then-six-year-old daughter Taylor that broke her heart. We told her that we were divorcing because we had grown-up problems we could not
fix, even though we’d tried very, very hard. We explained what divorce meant: the two of us would live in separate houses, and that she and her 18-month-old sister, Peyton, would stay with each of us on different days. We told her all of the ways our lives would change because of the divorce, and we told her all of the things that would remain the same—especially our love for and commitment to her and Peyton. She still had a family, we reassured her.
Taylor’s reaction was one that is common of many children whose parents divorce. “I made up a word for what I feel”, she told us a few days after our initial conversation. “I’m smad. Sad and mad at the same time.” We knew that we couldn’t take away her hurt entirely, but we made a pact to avoid compounding the pain and upheaval in our children’s lives. Through the at-times tense legal process and the awkward early days of negotiating the day-to-day details of parenting across two households, we put aside our own wounds and concentrated on the most important task at hand: Making sure we acted in our children’s best interests, emotionally and practically.
After our marriage ended, we became the poster-children for divorce amongst our circle of friends and colleagues. We wish we could have been the poster children for successful marriage, but it didn’t work out that way.
Instead, we have managed to establish a congenial co-parenting relationship that allows our children to thrive and that causes those who know us to ask, “How in the world do you do it?” There are simple and not-so-simple answers to that question, answers we have shared with other divorced couples, those contemplating divorce, and adult children of divorce through our website, CoParenting101.org, and on “Co-ParentingMatters”, the live, weekly, online radio show, we co-host with Talibah Mbonisi, founder of WeParent.com.
As divorced co-parents, the question we get most often after “How do you do it?” is, “If you can get along this well–well enough to found a website, co-host a radio show, and write abook together–why couldn’t you make your marriage work?” Our answer: the platonic relationship we’ve cultivated since the divorce is possible only because we’ve removed ourselves from the parasitic resentments that ate away at our marriage, from the daily misery and conflict. In other words, we are able to get along now because we are free to have a relationship that is limited to what we are good at together: parenting. While co-parenting forces us to still bump up against those raw areas that contributed to the demise of our marriage, we deal with them in a different context now: It’s not about us anymore. Our obligations are to our children, and our love for them motivates us to proceed with caution through the rough spots.
We’re not alone in pursuing this particular post-divorce path. Through our website, we’ve connected with other co-parents–divorced and never married–who tell us that, despite a rocky start, they are doing what at first seemed impossible: striving for civility, compromise, and cooperation. And their children are better for it.
With straight talk, practical advice, and a dose of humor thrown in for good measure, we offer CoParenting101.org as a resource to help exes become successful co-parents…truly for the sake of the kids. We welcome you questions, comments, war stories, and small victories!
Deesha Philyaw and Michael Thomas, co-founders of CoParenting101.org
“Co-Parenting Matters Show” |The Faster Times