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Divorced Co-Parenting: An Oxymoron

You are never divorced if children are involved. You are perpetually divorcing.
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You are never divorced if children are involved. You are perpetually divorcing. If the spoils amount to a cat and a Kitchen Aid bought with hoarded 20 percent discount cards from Macy's by your former mother-in-law, being fully divorced is possible.

This past weekend, negotiating the ends and outs of parenting teenagers, I had to admit, I'm not divorced. It won't be a done deal until I'm pronounced dead. Time of death, 3:10 a.m. Time of divorcED, 3:11 a.m.

I'm just as married as any other aging former Girl Scout leader littering the hair salons of my small town. We are all covering our gray hair now. We are all stepping through the parenting minefields that are the teenage years. The difference between me and the ladies wearing out-of-style 1990s yellow gold wedding band sets? They may still have health insurance through their spouse, and possibly through the years their spouse has morphed into a good friend. Or, they might live inside stony silence and tolerate their spouse.

It is difficult enough with two parents living under the same roof to parent peacefully. It may be impossible when living under two different roofs. Different roofs, with a backdrop of unfinished business, anger, dislike for the other person and a sense of failure -- failure for not having been able to paint the back drop a vibrant orange, for not having been able to find a way to get along, for failing to stay under the same roof.

An enlightened few have figured out how to be peaceful living beneath different roofs. Maybe they had good manners to begin with. Maybe they had a preternatural clarity of mind and an ability to transcend the pain accompanying divorce. I am not one of the shiny few.

I was not able to seamlessly move forward. Along with my less than graceful transformation from married to divorcing, I took a "divorce parenting" class required by the state of Massachusetts.

In the mandated class I learned obvious things: Don't badmouth your former spouse to your children. Don't ask your children about your former spouse's private life. Don't make your children chose who they like to be with more, you or your former spouse. Be kind to your children. Your children will forever be in shock from the selfish and disruptive decision to divorce made by you and your former spouse (that part I added. But something like that was inferred).

The class had the least amount of sexual energy I had ever felt in a room of mixed genders. Our wicks had been snuffed. We were zombie-like. The teacher was hopeful for us all. He assured us that we would go forth and still have healthy children. That we would indeed recover.

That was (hard to believe) six years ago. It was the spring. My mini van in the parking lot after class was the only thing I recognized inside my new life. The class met for four weeks on consecutive Wednesday evenings. After class, we the wickless wonders would file past lilacs heavy and fat, hanging from well-groomed trees. Each of us had failed at something we had cared enough about to make legal. The lilacs in bloom seemed insulting.

I knitted the second scarf I'd ever knitted in my life during that class. The first I made when my parents divorced. I know, ridiculous symbolism. Even more ridiculous? I didn't recognize the parallel at the time. I just thought I'd been moved to knit pearl, knit pearl my way to sanity. Inside my purse I carried self-help books. My favorite, Necessary Losses, by Judith Voirst, was tattered. My grandmother gave it to me years earlier when my parents divorced, and I knitted that first scarf.

I spent the first years of divorce dreaming that I was going through a divorce. And when I woke up, I realized it wasn't a bad dream, it was real. Divorce was a bad dream I couldn't wake up from. Finally I began to dream about daily stressors. When I'd wake up more often than not, the dream had been worse than reality. I felt human again. I often dreamed about losing control of my car. Or, of being lost in a maze. Those dreams were metaphorically blunt. They were easy to shake off.

This past weekend I tried to remain calm while negotiating co-parenting. I tasted rage. Rage tastes a lot like bile. I had accepted that I am not divorced. I had yet to accept that I'm not a co-parent. I got there, this past weekend, Saturday afternoon. I accepted fully that I am not divorced and I don't co-parent. I just say I am and I do.

Divorce is shrouded in terminology that doesn't begin to describe the intricacies of the relationships affected. It comes down to this: co-parenting or shared-custody is a full-time commitment. It requires just as much negotiating as a married couple engage in. Why would a couple who divorced due to irreconcilable differences be able to co-parent well?

It's no wonder that often co-parenting is just a clever joining of words without substance. It comes down to who is caring for children the majority of the time -- whomever the equation is weighted toward, is in charge. And within that paradigm there is little room for co-anything. And divorced? Forget about it. You are married without the health insurance.

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