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What If Co-Parenting Is Just You Parenting?

It is such a comforting word Co-parenting. It is the word used when a couple who has had a child or children are no longer together and yet they magically cooperate in all the care and decisions of those children.
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It is such a comforting word Co-parenting. It is the word used when a couple who has had a child or children are no longer together and yet they magically cooperate in all the care and decisions of those children. And even though those children are not raised in a nuclear family (whoever thought up that term?) they can still grow to be well adjusted adults without any scars from growing up in a broken home (Again! Who thinks up these terms?).

Let's get real, shall we? In an ideal world we all want the adults in our children's lives to be, well, adults. We hope and pray that they have as much care and commitment to the well being of the child you created or adopted, that you do. Sometimes they do. Other times...not so much. They may blow minor instances into world shattering, biblical disasters. They may not be there for your child when they said they promised. They may have personality disorders which truly prevent them from seeing beyond their own nose to make reasonable decisions. They may threaten you with court action because you did not report the fact that your child sneezed at breakfast. They may fumble often enough that you as the parent on consistent duty know this person is not a reliable partner in the co-parenting of your post-divorce family.

What's a single parent to do? We can want the other parent to be someone they are not. It is why we might be divorced to begin with. We can twist ourselves into pretzels to accommodate the other person's erratic behavior. This can just lead to frustration. We can employ all the devices of someone who wants to control: threats, wheedling, manipulation. This might reap short term results but only furthers the divide. Then there is the ineffective use of the children to guilt the other parent. Is this what your children really need? Is that the right thing for them?

Not only have I been a single parent twice now but I was also raised by a single parent. My father was absent. Even when he was around, he had become so irrelevant to our lives, that when he left again, as he inevitably did, it never felt like we had lost anything of value. My mother was angry and bitter. There would be messages she wanted us to convey to him about child support, birthday presents, his new wife. If he wasn't around this was a chore we did not have to take on. Granted, I know this is an extreme example. Believe me, I've had enough therapy to know I do not want to be like either of my parents.

But I have fretted many a late night because I worried over the hurt my sons might experience when the other parent said something unfortunate. I worried over the lesson taught when the other parent lavished expensive gifts or trips to compensate for an absence. I felt overwhelmed when the other parent wasn't there to support their son during difficult transitions. When something happens at school and I realize I am the parent that school decides work with. I am on my own.

What is a single parent to do? Well, the answer is simple, nothing. When it comes to the other parent you do nothing. You should have a parental rights agreement. You should abide by this agreement. You do protect them if there is abuse. But you are not responsible for what the other parent does. You can not make them be available to your children if they choose not to be. You can not make them behave in a way that will be constructive, caring, and loving in a healthy way. You do not engage with the other parent on crap, for lack of a better term.

However, when it comes to your children, you show up. You listen. You don't pass judgement on the other parent (at least in front of your children), nor do you excuse their behavior. You validate your children's feelings. You provide healthy consequences for lessons your children need to learn. You wish them a good time when they go to the other parent's house. Why? Because you are the adult in your children's life. Kids are smart. They know this.