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We Got Played: Why Co-Parenting Sucks

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It's only hair. That's what I told myself when I saw the picture of my 12 year old with dyed red hair. Not highlights or strips, but an all over wash. My ex let her dye her hair. A week before my remarriage.

It's not the hair that bothers me. She is a beautiful girl, fashionable, and will go through many, many styles before finding the one that is uniquely hers. And as a good friend reminded me, I had my own brush with pink hair coloring in high school (pun intended).

And I repeat, it's not the hair; it's the bigger picture, the stereotype of it. If mom doesn't give you want you want, it is okay to go behind her back and get dad to do it -- if it's just hair color at 12, what's it going to be at 16?

At first, I thought too that my ex knew my wishes about this issue; he himself is staunchly against the cosmetics industry, constantly warning about parabens and cancer and the chemicals in nail polish. I never thought that he would let her color her hair on these principles alone, but I guess her powers of persuasion won out.

Divorce means you aren't married any more. But it doesn't mean you aren't parents anymore. You both still carry the charge to protect and raise up this life you created to the best of your ability. How do you negotiate this role while struggling to control the impulses of a teenager, whose very existence hinges on immediate gratification? In a recent article, Rachel Sussman offers this: "Focus on being an excellent parent and co-parent. Children do best in environments where there is stability. Accept your fate, make peace with your ex, and learn how to co-parent effectively together." This isn't helpful when you feel like Melani Robinson did. What does co-parent really mean? How can that really be done when the parents can barely speak to each other?

A search on the term "co-parent," yields "3 Tips for Being a Better Co-parent in 2012" by Tara Fass. I decided to apply these tips and see how they could help me be better prepared for this challenge and those that lay ahead.

Step one admonishes lightening up on our judgment of our ex-spouses. In this regard, I can see her point. When I first saw the picture, I seethed, thinking he did this on purpose. After reading this step, I decided not to assume anything and sent an email to my ex asking if he knew I had expressly forbidden hair coloring until she was 16. He quickly replied that he didn't know that, and she didn't mention it. This opened the door for us to have a dialog with our daughter together -- a rare co-parenting moment.

Step two was a little tougher for me in this case: "Lower and then manage your expectations." Prior to the incident, I never expected that my ex would so wantonly go behind my back and neglect his own strong feelings about the cosmetic industry to give into our child. I would have put up hard earned cash that he wouldn't do that. So maybe Fass has a point; maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe the stereotype of divorced parents being played against each other is rooted in some fact. I should be better prepared for these moments, embrace co-parenting, and speak to my ex in advance when I sense some brooding issue with our child.

The third step sounds like great advice going forward, reminding us to: "Do the right thing as if no one was looking." This is overall great advice for living, and I hope I can continue to try this approach, even when retaliation seems like a better idea.

So, I am trying to soak in these three steps, but sometimes I am left feeling like blogger Miriam Novogrodsky, who got it right when she asked: "Why would a couple who divorced due to irreconcilable differences be able to co-parent well?" While you can apply the three steps Fass offered, there is no guarantee your ex is on the same page. You can think highly of them, lower your expectations, and do the right thing, but it doesn't mean for a red hot second that your ex will do the same.

I wanted the advice Fass offered to really hold out for me until my daughter came home from her next visit with her dad. I asked her how her night went. "Well," she said, "Dad says he likes my hair, but he guesses it was bad timing." Bad timing? Really?

In this way, I have only one option despite all the well-meaning advice -- hope karma works.