Co-parenting after divorce can be challenging under the very best of circumstances; throw a worldwide pandemic, a crumbling economy and a nation riddled with fear and anxiety into an already strained co-parenting relationship with your ex and it can quickly become a recipe for disaster if you let it.
To qualify myself: I am 43 and a divorced mom to two sons. They are 14 and 12 now, and I’ve been officially divorced since 2012 – separated since 2010. After a two-year battle in court, my ex-husband and I ended up with joint custody and little else. It was brutal, and it didn’t end when the final divorce decree was stamped and signed. We spent several years past 2012 hauling each other back into court repeatedly over issues that seemed very important at the time – the details of those issues completely escape my memory today.
For me, there finally came a point where we were all beaten up enough and I knew something had to change. After exhausting all of my options for what felt like the millionth time, I came to the realization that I had two choices: to either radically accept my ex-husband and our situation exactly as it is, or to remain part of the problem by continuing to beat my head against the wall in the desperate hope that I could somehow control him or change the situation.
Why I’m Not Going to War With my Ex During this Pandemic
I never thought it possible for us to move past the hell of family court; if you’ve endured a brutal divorce with kids too, you know exactly what I mean. But it is possible, and all it takes is for one parent to become willing to change. A simple shift in the perspective of just one parent holds all the tools needed to finally free the entire family from that God-forsaken divorce docket, once and for all.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no saint, and I didn’t come by this wisdom easily. There were a lot of very grueling years, and if you were to ask either one of us about the other, we would each have a laundry list a mile long of what the other parent has done wrong.
And the truth is, we’d both be right, as much as we’d both be wrong. We have both done things we are not proud of, we have both made things worse at different times throughout the years. We have both, in the name of our beloved sons, stood on our righteous thrones and believed wholeheartedly, that this time, “This battle is surely worth fighting!”
I have what I believe to be a very challenging ex-husband and co-parenting life. I have watched in envy beyond envy so many of my divorced friends co-parent with such a seemingly effortless ease that I want to just fall into a ball on the ground, wrap myself in a blanket of self-pity, shake my fist to the heavens and scream, “why God, why does he (my ex) have to be so crazy?!!”
Sometimes I wonder if my ex-husband’s sole purpose in life is to torture me and at any expense, for the mistakes I made in the past, for divorcing him many years ago. At other times he is kind to me and respectful, but more often than not, he is cruel and angry, rigid and unwilling to let the past be the past. And I have zero control over his thoughts or actions.
Attempting to tell my ex about himself, and trying to make him see the error of his ways is not helpful and it just keeps the ball rolling. It fuels a fire that I have zero interest in continuing to burn anymore. My sons are too close to the flames and I need to keep my eyes on the prize-my son’s happiness and wellbeing above all else and no matter what.
Don’t get me wrong, I still wish for nothing more than to have the co-parenting relationship with their dad that would allow our children what I perceive to be a “healthier” co-parenting environment. I wish their dad and I could work together better than we do.
I wish, for example, that I was welcome in my ex’s home – that would help our sons right now during this stay at home order and pandemic – but I am not welcomed there. My ex remains welcome in my home – for dinners, holidays, or otherwise – whenever there is a reason for it or whenever he desires. He, in turn, chooses not to reciprocate the gesture and I have no control over his decisions.
Where am I going with all of this?
COVID-19 and Co-Parenting
Well, now it’s April 2020 and the world is in an unprecedented global crisis. My ex-husband has the bigger home and the cooler stuff and my sons are both quarantined there with him. My ex-husband won’t have me over to visit. He refuses. And he won’t allow the boys to travel between our homes because we are in an area where COVID-19 has hit very hard and there is a lot about this disease that we know very little about. This is a novel virus and everyone in the world is learning live and in real-time together. So as I write this, I have not held my sons in nearly 3 weeks. And that is torture.
My ex-husband feels it is best, for now, to have our sons there with him and for no one to leave the house for any reason whatsoever. And I have come to realize my own limitations – to begin with, I DO NOT KNOW what the right answer is. I do not know the trajectory for, nor do I have the road map of, COVID-19. No one does!
I don’t know why some get sick, why some die while others recover, and I absolutely am not willing to drag my ex-husband back into court to order him to adhere to our parent-child contact order at a time when the very last thing our kids need, on top of everything else, is Round 2,897 of Mom and Dad’s Bullshit version 20.20. I believe that would only make a bad situation worse for all of us, but especially for our sons.
I’m Right, He’s Wrong – but is this a Fight Worth Having?
The governor has stated that under our state’s stay at home order, the transfer of minor children involving custody agreements, is to be considered essential travel and that our schedule should still continue to be honored by both parties. So, yes, I’m in the right and he is wrong to make this decision, technically. But is this a fight worth having? After consideration, my personal answer to that question is simply, NO even when my ex-husband’s actions may be wrong or contemptuous. The fight is just not worth fighting. Do I want to be right or do I want my sons to be happy and safe? My answer is the latter and I think most all of us would answer the same.
For years I tried to control their dad’s behavior. I’d file motions – I’d furiously stew and ruminate in the absolute audacity! And the truth is, when you are dealing with two parents who are generally good people in the eyes of the court and who both love their kids, family courts just don’t have very much to offer in the way of help or relief from a difficult ex-spouse.
Motions get continued, judges attempt to enforce, but in the end, after every motion, after every subsequently ordered mediation, you’re still just left with the other parent and the children who you love more than life itself. I found that choosing the fight, choosing the courts, is always the way to even greater and more prolonged pain. It’s simply another futile attempt to control a spouse you can’t control, and another failed rallying cry to arrange a story that you’re not even the writer of. Life is a living and breathing thing and it writes itself, despite our best efforts to master it.
So – what do I have control over?
That’s what I ask myself today. My sons are on my Verizon family plan, they have iPhones and they both have FaceTime. I call them twice per day, sometimes they answer and we talk for an hour or two each over video chat and sometimes they don’t answer for 3 or 4 days. I have no control over that either. My phone is always on, and I always pick up, and I always call. I text them each day too. I send them funny videos and memes about our present situation. I have found that humor is always the best medicine.
And remembering to not take ourselves too seriously is REALLY the most serious business of all. I send them inspirational articles and online links to their favorite hobbies and points of interest. I ask them each day how they are doing. I do a mental wellness check-in.
Do my kids have any fear, anxiety, or questions? I reassure them that we are all going to be OK.
I remind them to shower and draw and read and to go out on the porch and let the sunlight hit their faces. I remind them to get enough rest, to eat well. To do some jumping jacks and keep their bodies moving. I tell them to be kind to themselves and each other.
I remind them that they are amazing-they are my perfect miracles-I tell them that the privilege of being their mom, is the greatest thing I will ever do- and I mean it. I listen to them, I allow them their ups and downs, and I hold space for whatever the day brings, and I remain flexible and I radically accept every little thing. What choice do I really have?
I stay in contact with my ex-husband too and support his parenting decisions, even when he doesn’t support mine. I listen to his concerns and struggles; listen to his challenges. I ask him what I can do to help. And then I listen to the answers again. I keep myself healthy and I stay home. I stand ready to jump in and do anything I can to help boost morale and to keep our perfectly dysfunctional and broken home moving and happy and sane.
Our sons – and their dad – are my family.
I chose them, and even though I am no longer married to their father, the decision I made to make him the father of my children, is not a decision I can take back nor would I ever want to. My sons adore their father. The sun rises and sets with him in their eyes.
Without a doubt, COVID-19 is putting our ability to effectively co-parent to the test once more. And I am meeting this challenge with the same shift in perspective that has saved my ass and my sons’ countless times already. And it saves my ex-husband’s too, in spite of himself. I do want him to be calm and level headed and happy. He’s their dad and when he’s happy, he can parent them best-and that in turn becomes when my sons are happiest too.
My sons love their dad, as they should, and I LOVE my sons; they do not see their father’s shortcomings as I do, and it’s not my job to show them. And even the shortcomings that I do see clearly, through the practice of radical acceptance for my ex and of who he is, those shortcomings have somehow softened and transformed into an earnest love and compassion. I see their dad today as a good man-a difficult and oftentimes challenging man-and sometimes he makes me so incredibly angry, but he’s a good and decent man nonetheless.
Divorce sucks and co-parenting is hard. Coparenting after a brutal divorce is even harder. And co-parenting after a brutal divorce and through the middle of a worldwide pandemic is enough to make even the best parents go insane. I want to keep laughing, keep loving, keep learning and keep growing – and above all else, I just want to keep going. Life’s different right now: it’s stressful and scary and overwhelming, and the winds are shifting – so instead of fighting, I am choosing to adjust the sails.
Jenny Amanna is a divorced mother of two boys. After a decade since her divorce, with countless co-parenting victories and defeats logged, one of Ms. Amanna’s greatest joys is sharing her experiences with other parents so they may remain hopeful. She currently lives with her sons in Ann Arbor, MI.