I was sitting with a plastic cup of Cabernet and flipping through a magazine, waiting for my oldest son's soccer game to start (cocktails are served on the second floor of the facility with a great view overlooking the field. Score.) Within a few minutes, my ex--and father of my eldest--arrived with his wife, who he's been married to for six years. Soon after, we spotted my ex's mom and step-dad on the lower level and waved them up. Somewhere during the first half of the game, my husband showed up with our 3-year-old son. And we were all together again.
My ex and I have been divorced for 10 years. While we were going through the divorce, and in the days and months following, I never could have imagined that getting together with him and our families would be something I would look forward to. That early time was awkward, stumbling through co-parenting from different houses. Somehow we managed to craft the blueprint we still use for raising our kid together: unwritten but mutually agreed-upon guidelines for everything from communicating with each other to divvying responsibilities for our son, most of it being fashioned as the situation occurred.
I remember not doing well with making eye contact those first few weeks we saw each other. And feeling ill at ease while talking to him on the phone, like a self-conscious teenager. I wasn't upset with him. I had chosen to leave the marriage. However, the guilt of hurting a really nice person, who I had known since ninth grade--not to mention breaking up my son's family--left me with a constant pit in my stomach. I had made a difficult decision. And we all had to live with the aftereffects.
We were kind to each other. That was key. No game playing. No name-calling. If we could help each other out by making a change to the schedule, we did it.
Slowly, over the years, we became more comfortable with each other. Our son started playing sports, and we attended the games together, making the decision to cheer for our kid while standing beside each other. Each of us eventually remarried. And we integrated our spouses into the "relationship" we established. Along the way, our extended families joined us at the soccer games and at band concerts, which became our norm. We're all very warm with each other. I think I can say we all genuinely like each other. But are we friends? To be honest, I'm really not sure.
Would I call my ex to recommend an exceptional movie I recently saw? No. I also wouldn't forward him the latest YouTube sensation that landed in my inbox. And we certainly wouldn't plan to get together for lunch. When we come together at a game or other event for our son, we do chitchat easily, but it's primarily small talk, unless we're talking specifically about our kid. I don't know how to categorize what we are, but I know how thankful I am for what we've become.
I decided to write I Do, Part 2 after witnessing my current father-in-law's reaction to my ex and I interacting with each other. He repeatedly told me, "You're so lucky." But I knew what my ex and I had created had nothing to do with luck. We worked for it. I thought we might have figured out some things that others could learn from. So I started writing.
I reached out to divorced couples while gathering information for the book, and was surprised by the number of stories I heard of exes co-parenting well together. I think because we generally only hear divorce stories when they're bad, dramatic, even scandalous, the idea of forging a polite--perhaps even pleasant--relationship with an ex and parenting a child together sounds inconceivable. And while there are ex-couples out there co-parenting nicely every day, I believe there are many more who are just steps away from having that same type of situation.
This, of course, does not apply to those trying to get over very hurtful circumstances. If your ex is struggling with a drug addition or is abusive, you're certainly not going to be clinking glasses at a soccer game. Same goes for an ex who flat-out refuses to get past anger and resentment.
But for those who have had some time to heal from the pains of divorce, and are committed to making the best life possible for their kid, considerate co-parenting can be achieved--even if one ex is more willing than the other. While you may not get to a point where you look forward to seeing each other, your kid can look forward to a future that doesn't include negative actions or emotions from his parents. And that's something all kids deserve.