A friend on the verge of divorce recently asked me, what will be the worst part? Hmmm, where could I begin? How could I pick just one? The emotional roller-coaster, worry about the children, financial woes, lawyer bills, visitation schedule, hard holidays, redefining "family?" I decided to skip over all those and focus on what would really remain once the dust cleared and she started to move along the co-parenting path of forever.
So, here's what I said: It's the little things. I realized this over the past several years, but it became crystal clear when I delved into a great new book last week that truly says it like it is: Raising The Kid You Love With The Ex You Hate, by Dr. Edward Farber. (To clarify, I don't hate my ex, that's just the book title -- which I think is awfully catchy and probably applies to most ex-couples.)
Of all Farber's expert advice, here is the most knowing nugget: "Probably never before in your life have you been in a place where every decision you make, large or small, is so likely to be challenged by someone else, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes just because this person hates you and doesn't trust a word you say or a thing you do." I could have cried if I wasn't laughing so hard, because it is so true.
As the primary parent who has always managed and known the nitty-gritty of her kids' day-to-day lives, my friend is going to be in for a shock. There are certainly stay at home dads as well, but often it's the moms who are in this most-of-the-day caregiver role. So many moms may be in for a real shock when co-parenting starts to sneak up on them. Before the divorce, did dad really know about -- or care about -- the condition or size of the kids' shoes? What the kids did after school on Tuesdays? How much time they spends on their iTouch? Why they still need a night light? The brand of pizza they like for their after-school snack? How far the karate school pick-up is from home?
The reality, as Dr. Farber so perfectly puts it, is that now my friend may find herself parenting with her ex more than she ever did when they were married.
Oddly, trying to explain to my friend what is to come -- and what co-parenting will require for it to work well most of the time -- I am reminded of how hard it was to tell my pregnant friends how a child would change their lives. You can't explain it; you have to live it.
Co-parenting is becoming part of the lifecycle for more and more families. And like when my friends and I were new moms choosing a strategy and book for getting our babies to sleep through the night (Harvey Karp! William Sears! Jodi Mindell!), I recommend divorcing and divorced parents find some comfort and expertise to count on, like Farber's book. This will get them through the rest of the years.
In the co-parenting world, there will be countless crazed moments for my friend and big decisions to make with her ex. But it's the little things that will be the most exasperating, most exhausting, and, maybe, even the most entertaining if she can approach it right -- with professional help and a little sense of humor.