When oh when does co-parenting end?

by Carolyn on September 12, 2009

Meeting in the Middle III, by Ruth Palmer

Meeting in the Middle III, by Ruth Palmer

I think many co-parents have a bright shiny date in their future that they are waiting for like children on Christmas Eve.  Oh yes, I’m talking about that magical birthday that will signal the removal of so many thorns in their sides.  Although it’s not their own, it’s a birthday that they salivate at the mere thought of.  You must know what I’m referring to by now: their child’s eighteenth birthday.

I remember one day during an argument, my mother said in a rush, “You know, I really thought that one day I would be free.  That you would grow up and I would never have to deal with him again.  That one day I wouldn’t have to hear about his life or pretend that I care anymore.”

I was a little speechless.  As a 29 year old woman I had never really considered that all the rules carefully constructed in the name of co-parenting were to have magically disappeared when I became ‘of age’.  That I was now supposed to truly keep these two parts of me separate.  I’m not sure why, but I had actually thought that as an adult I had even more freedom to intertwine my dad and my mom in my life.  I thought we were all really over it by now and that as adults we could happily intermingle.   I just never thought that maybe they felt differently.

And that’s why living this life through divorce can be so difficult.  Things change.  Roles shift.  And suddenly you lose your footing.  Not knowing how to act or what’s expected.  With children, co-parents who are diligent know what is expected of them.  Don’t disparage the other parent.  Work together as best you can.  Let your kid be a kid.  With teenagers, things can become a bit murky.  Can you talk about the divorce and the real reasons behind it now?  Are they old enough to know the facts?  With adult children, the rules become like a fading mist.  Who knows what’s allowed?

The thought I believe, is that co-parenting an adult will be easier; and maybe not even feel like co-parenting at all.  And to a certain extent, I’m sure this is true.  There’s no more need for discussions of visitation, phone calls or your differing views on parenting.  No need to converse regularly or deal with the dreaded ‘child support’.  But is the co-parenting relationship ever really over?

Not unless your kid drops off the face of the planet at the tender age of eighteen.  And sitting across from my mother, that’s exactly what came to mind.  I thought, “did you expect that I would grow up and stop living? That I wouldn’t get married, have children or have celebrations that I would want you both to be a part of?  Do you really not see that the two of you are woven right through the fabric of who I am?  Does this mean that somehow, now that I’m all grown up it is finally acceptable to ask me to construct the firewall you’ve been craving?”

At the time she was angry and not thinking about what she was said.  But that moment of raw honesty gave voice to a real hope and a real disappointment just the same.  She’ll probably be mortified that I’ve written about it, but it’s important for others to read.  Because I think lots of co-parents are holding onto the same hope she was and will find themselves disappointed in much the same way too.  I had never thought about how she felt when I talked about him.  I knew that all the years of listening without interrupting were done purely for me.  What I didn’t realize, was that it was also done with the promise of an end.

We have found a happy medium now, my mom and I.  At first it was a bit awkward.  I’d be talking and suddenly realize that my very next sentence was about to make mention of my dad.  I would freeze, lending an awkward pause to the conversation, my face surely looking like a deer stuck in headlights.  I’d be thinking “do I just stop the story right here?  Feign that I’ve forgotten what I was just about to say or twist the storyline to something else completely?”

Now if I’m talking about something and my dad comes up, I simply continue.  But I don’t bring him up intentionally.  And she never cringes or shies away from the topic of him.  I think we both try  to respect each other’s feelings.  She knows that I’m not going to ‘double’ things.  I’m not going to have separate parties for my kids and both of my parents are always welcome to attend any gathering.  But I don’t call and invite my mom to dinner when my dad is visiting or ambush her with his presence either.

Through honesty and time, we have found our footing again.  I’m just left to wonder…until when?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 La Bell Mere September 12, 2009 at 4:22 pm

This is an interesting point and one I’ve thought about often. I frequently find myself thinking that one day it will be easier and I won’t have to put up with the bio-hazard being in our lives all the time but the reality is that she will still always be there. When they get married, when they have kids of their own, birthdays, engagements and all sorts of other stuff. And its useful to hear how this affects things from a child’s perspective. Thanks!

LBM x
.-= La Bell Mere´s last blog ..The Great American Apparel Diet =-.

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2 Carolyn September 13, 2009 at 11:05 pm

It’s kind of daunting isn’t it? There really is no end in sight. So everyone might as well put their seat belts on and settle in for one long ride! ;)

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3 Amanda September 12, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Because I don’t have a great relationship with my dad I never considered him a ‘co-parent’ stopped talking about him (complaining) to my mum a long time ago. I didn’t want her to agree with me. To their credit they never trash talked each other to me and only when things have come up have mum told me the truth about certain situations. My parents have always had a very civil relationship but then we live thousands of miles apart which can help. I don’t have much to do with my husbands ex but again we live thousands of miles apart, however it is always present in my life that one day she will be more involved especially if my step-kids do move to Australia (which is in both of their futures they tell us). Hmm you have give me lots to think about!

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4 Carolyn September 13, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Thanks Amanda! I’m glad I got you thinking. That’s always my ultimate goal! ;)

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5 Mary-Jane September 12, 2009 at 10:53 pm

I can honestly say that the only reason I have a close relationship with my husbands ex wife is due to one of the kids being diagnosed with cancer. At that moment when we all came face to face in the hospital ward everything changed. It changed the whole dynamic. We had to use our family unit to get through, and get through we did!
.-= Mary-Jane´s last blog ..Green Beans and Ruined Childhoods. =-.

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6 Carolyn September 13, 2009 at 11:07 pm

I read that post of yours Mary-Jane and it made me go through a few tissues. That would certainly change things for any family. I’m so glad she’s okay.

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7 Peggy September 13, 2009 at 7:45 am

Hi Carolyn,

Co-parenting doesn’t end. On one side of my life, it’s perfectly ok – reasonable adult parents with reasonable adult children. My husband’s ex-wife and I get along quite well. We were both in the delivery room 30 minutes after our first grand daughter was born and when my youngest step daughter got married, my husband responded to the question “who gives this woman to be married” he said “her motherS and I do.”

On the other side of my life – hmmm – my exhusband has desperately tried to erase me out of his life. We were married for 19 years. With our oldest daughter getting married October 17, he has chosen to not participate. My daughter is in Portugal so I am planning her wedding. I have sent him the details and I have tried to include him and his wife. Instead, he’s dragged me through the mud with my youngest daughter claiming “she just wants my money.” His money is the last thing I want. The wedding is literally on a shoe string budget (having just paid more than what we agreed to for YSD’s wedding) and my daughter’s wedding is based solely on what I can afford.

Oh well…
At least one side of my life operates well!
.-= Peggy´s last blog ..Stepmom News =-.

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8 Carolyn September 13, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Hi Peggy, thanks for stopping by. It’s amazing how you can have two completely different outcomes with your two sides. I think that tells you that it’s really not you. So sad about your ex. Your daughters must not enjoy the climate either. So hard for everyone!

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9 Christie-The ChatterBox September 13, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Found you on SITS and when I saw what your blog was about, tears came to my eyes. It is so great when you find someone out there like you! This blog is fabulous! My parents divorced while I was planning my wedding…nine years ago. Doesn’t matter how old you are, you are a child of divorce. Definitely going to keep stopping by! Thanks for giving us a place to rant!
.-= Christie-The ChatterBox´s last blog ..Sunday Confessionals: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Blogalicious? =-.

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10 Carolyn September 13, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Thanks Christie! I’m glad this site resonates with you. It’s always nice to know we’re not alone, isn’t it? Thanks for stopping in and I look forward to hearing from you again! I’ll be stopping by your blog now…

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11 Yaya September 13, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Hmmm…I never thought of that.
.-= Yaya´s last blog ..Reminded =-.

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12 Carolyn September 13, 2009 at 11:11 pm

It’s one of those weird topics that unless you are a child of divorce or divorced parent, you wouldn’t. Just a strange and unique dynamic.

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13 hayley September 13, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Wow, this hits home. Co-parenting never stops. Because as the child in the relationship (even the adult child) your parents are always your parents.

I wonder if you can gently ask her not to talk about your dad to you? It doesn’t mean you can’t handle adult conversations, but maybe just not about him.

My father, who now after years of fighting, gets along well with my mother… but every once and a while, he makes a dig about her. I think our natural instinct is to want to defend your parent — even if you know they’re not in the right.

I know when Jake gets older, I hope I’ll deflect any real feelings out of respect that his dad is his dad. Still, I agree with your mom, it will be nice when I don’t have to discuss all the details of raising a child with my ex.

Oh the joys of co-parenting!

Complicated topic … another good one.
.-= hayley´s last blog ..My So-Called Memories =-.

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14 Carolyn September 13, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Oh yes, the joys indeed! She actually has never really brought him up to me. And when I thought about it, that’s what really struck me. I had always felt like we had this two way thing going on with regards to talking about my dad, but when I looked a little closer I realized it was really one sided. She was always willing to be a sounding board, but it’s not like she was asking to know about his life. I was the one misinterpreting.

I just wanted to broach the subject because I think lots of co-parents think there will be an end to it all without really considering the reality that there won’t be.

Thanks Hayley, I always love your comments.

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15 Theta Mom September 13, 2009 at 9:37 pm

After reading your post, I don’t think co-parenting ends. These two people brought you into this world, regardless of their current realtionship and that is something, no matter what the future holds, will never change.

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16 Carolyn September 13, 2009 at 11:16 pm

You got it, Heather!

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17 Petula September 14, 2009 at 12:41 pm

This is very important and very well stated. I said/thought the same thing regarding my oldest daughter and it’s somewhat of a dream come true due to the nature of their relationship. With my three youngest children, I am going through a divorce and I often say I will be glad when I don’t have to talk to him. I realize it’ll be not as often, but there won’t be an event in the kids’ lives or something important to them that both of us won’t be at. I know that just like you have your stories, they’ll have theirs. Right now it takes all of my energy to keep my face straight and not roll my eyes.

Maybe at one point I’ll be less stressed, less worried, less everything and it’ll make the stories much easier to hear.

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18 Carolyn September 15, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Thanks for the comment Petula. And thanks for admitting and being honest about your feelings and difficulties. I think in sharing that and knowing we aren’t alone we can find the strength we need. And it sure takes some strength, doesn’t it?

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19 WhiteSockGirl September 14, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Interesting article. Not something that has ever been issue in my life, but quite interesting to read.
.-= WhiteSockGirl´s last blog ..A Story For Every Picture: Searching For You =-.

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20 Carolyn September 15, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Thanks for stopping by! It’s funny, isn’t it? Something that’s such a big part of who I am and something that’s never far from my mind and also something you’ve never had to even consider. Life is interesting that way.

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21 Holly Ann September 22, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Your blog brings up emotions that i thought i had dealt with long ago… guess i hadn’t… and even though i don’t want to feel these things again maybe i need to…

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22 Carolyn September 22, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Only if you’re ready and willing. Glad to have you along, Holly.

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23 Robyn September 29, 2009 at 10:44 pm

No, I don’t think co-parenting stops. Once you decide to have a child, you and your partner are forever linked to that child until the last day of both of your lives.

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24 Susan October 4, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Great article and viewpoint. Co-parenting doesn’t seem to end but yes, all parents look to the day where their child is 18 and they “THINK” it ends. It continues, just a little different.

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25 Carolyn October 5, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Exactly, Susan! Welcome and thanks for stopping by! Your input is more than welcome.

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26 Sonia December 11, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Co-parenting doesn’t end at eighteen? Oh god I don’t want to hear that! I was so looking forward to a point when there was no longer any requirement to communicate with that person. I dream of a time there is no need to look at that lying face and relive the cheating, the betrayals, the utter disrespect of our marriage’s end. I’m supposed to be “over it” and “happily intermingle?” HOW? For now, it’s taking all my strength to contain the revulsion I feel for the soon-to-be-ex and not betray it to my children when we talk logistics. I coordinate coparenting logistics by text and email, but I will never willingly speak to that person. If my children want to speak to him or see him now or as adults, fine. He’s their father. For now, I avoid him. But if somehow the two of us are forced to stand in the same room through some unfortunate turn of events, I hope my adult children will understand that I prefer not to speak or interact in any way.

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