Parenting

No. 9 - Create a Joyful Co-Parenting Relationship

Yes, I said it.  Not civil, not acceptable, joyful. 

One point of qualification: not all adults have the maturity level or have committed sufficiently to their healing and emotional wellness to be of the mind to create such a situation.  I know some mature adults who have tried diligently and are dealing with an ex-partner who is unwilling to meet them in a loving place, which is a source of incredible frustration.  I believe it is possible for the willing co-parent to live in relative peace with such a partner, but that is a subject for another blog. 

This article is for those who are deeply committed to their personal development and are willing to take the risk to forgive themselves and their partner, commit to and honor a ceaseless trek of compassion, even if not especially, in the face of some rejection and undesirable responses, and, eventually create a loving and peaceful relationship for your children and family.  I give credit to two of my dear friends, Jared and Denver, for sharing how they created a healthy, loving relationship with their ex-partners.  I have expounded on that wisdom to create a method that has served my own family.  I will forever be grateful to both of these powerful men for their support during the challenging transition into what is now a wonderful, nurturing partnership with the mother of my sweet twins. 

Step 1:  Understand your part in the relationship and healing yourself

-    How did you create hurt in the partnership?

-    What fears or past patterns from your childhood and prior relationships did you project?

-    Did you arouse jealousy, bitterness, or suspicion? 

-    How did your ego show up in the relationship?

-    What are you not considering or willing to admit about your part in the relationship? 

-    Where are you at fault?

If you are struggling to sort out and understand the answers to these questions, I suggest seeking out a counselor.  If you think you had no fault or are still in the state of blame, consider that you might be the adult who is unwilling to see their part.  Blaming/shaming others and negative gossiping are the most clear signals of an unhealthy or unhealed relationship (often with self). 

There is no blame from me.  If you can spot it, you got it.  I have done it all with past partners and have learned everything I have through experience followed by honest, inward reflection (with support from brutally honest friends and teachers).  I have shut down emotionally with past partners and the twins' mom, stonewalled, criticized, showed up with mommy issues, been ambivalent, and projected various forms of past fear and stories.  The good news is, these actions are all forgivable, the moment we become serious about changing our behavior.

Step 2:  Forgive yourself and your partner

We are all human.  Get over it.  If we want peace, we must first become peaceful in our own hearts.  I used to hold onto resentment for long periods, weeks, years.  Over time I have closed that gap as I have consistently experienced a deep sense of relief, gratitude, and joy when I let someone off the hook for being human.  It is much easier once I have identified with my part in a relationship or any situation.  Empathy flows when we get to the truth. 

Step 3:  Repair Trust

When you end a sexual relationship, trust is broken. With kids, you are forever “married” to your partner; rebuilding trust is the hardest thing to do.  I chose to write a letter to my ex, that articulated my commitment to the co-parenting relationship and included a list of duties I was creating for myself to assure the health of my children and our family.  By stating these to my ex, I created the possibility of having a loving, compassionate, and supportive family dynamic, regardless of our living situation.  My words and behavior were initially received with reservation, but after some time honoring these commitments, the trust began to rebuild, and our relationship slowly started to flourish. 

Some things I committed to the twins' mother in that letter:

-    I will do everything I can to support the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of our children

-    I will be loving and compassionate in my communication with you

-    I will support the health and happiness of you and the twins 

-    I will uphold a lifestyle to maintain my own personal, emotional, physical and spiritual needs

-    I will only say loving things about you and your family in the presence of the kids and my own family

-    I will never seek more than 50% custody unless I sincerely fear the safety of the children

-    I will help with finances related to the children in any way to assure security and education

-    I am excited about and fully committed to be the best father and co-parent

-    I will quickly take responsibility when I am at fault, and immediately make amends

Step 4:  Make a phone call or set up a meeting

This is a sensitive and critical turning point in any relationship.  I do not have a playbook but, humility, sensitivity, empathetic listening and restraint are critical.  Be mindful that both parties will feel vulnerable, therefore, it is essential not to be defensive, hurtful, or rejecting.  Bring the change you want to create into this conversation.  Here are some guidelines: 

-    Humbly admit your fault

-    Do not blame and focus on what the other person did.  You can say “when this happened, it hurt me” but avoid “you did this…” at all costs 

-    Forgive your ex-partner in the most sincere way possible

-    Ask for forgiveness for your part and do not depend on acceptance of your proposal (this may hurt, but it might take some time for your co-parent to arrive at a place of forgiveness)

-    Listen empathetically and acknowledge any concerns and feelings expressed by your partner

Step 5:  Only sweat the big stuff

This does not require much explanation.  I do not care for the cliché, “pick your battles” because battles are the farthest thing from creating a nurturing relationship.  I once heard a gentlemen referring to the mother of his child as “the enemy”.  What possibilities does that create?  What does that instill in the child?     

Step 6:  Do whatever it takes

This is where the rubber meets the road.  There is no separation between momma bear and the cubs.  If you say ugly, derogatory things about your ex in general and especially in front of your kids, you are hurting and arguably abusing your children.  If you have truly forgiven your ex, outside of situations of abuse, you should be able to accept mistakes and character flaws of your partner as part of being human. 

-    If your ex-partner asks if you can change the schedule and it is possible, do it

-    If there is an emotional need expressed and you can offer support, make time for it

-    If you see something positive happening in their life, compliment them for it.  Celebrate them

-    Say loving things about your partner, especially in front of your children

-    Create regular, set times to discuss finances and schedules 3-4 months out.  This allows the focus of your conversations to be about the fun, joyful experiences you are sharing with your kids, not the stress of logistics and planning. 

-    Be gentle, respectful and listen when you bring up a concern or frustration.  This is bound to happen; handling these sensitive conversations with kid gloves and restraint is critical to building a relationship with a healthy culture. 

Healthy, loving co-parenting relationships are no different from a marriage.  We must take care of our own physical, emotional and spiritual needs to assure we are healthy.  After that, our primary focus should be to assure that our co-parent is appreciated, emotionally supported and loved.  Of course, you are not responsible for someone else’s emotions but, at times, your support will define the success of the relationship when your partner needs a boost or is not receiving it fully from other relationships.  You get out what you put in and your service to your co-parent will radiate to your children. 

I am so grateful that the twins' mom has been willing to meet me in this space and co-create a beautiful relationship.  I am told this is rare; I will tell you, it is not by accident.  It is by design.  I set an intention, enrolled my partner, and we both diligently invest in the success of our family. 

This is a touchy subject and every relationship is different.  I welcome your feedback and would be honored to support you if you are serious about creating this in your life. 

No 7. A Perfect Reflection

I have always wanted to be a father.  I am fortunate; my dad is a genuine, loving man, my mentor, my soccer coach, and biggest fan.  He has always been supportive and passed on many essential values:  honesty, integrity, charity, service to community, commitment to family, respect for others, humor; the list goes on.

Amidst all the excitement and joy of being a new father, I was shocked to realize the depth of self-awareness and the crystal clear reflection, mirrored by my twins.  Wow!  After fifteen years of deep, inward work, the dense mass and burning in my solo plexus was often charged as if I saw an ex-lover with a new beau.  Ouch! 

The first and most salient emotional response I experienced was when either (or both) of the twins would cry for longer than a couple of minutes.  After extensive writing and conversations with several conscious fathers, I realized that this anger was common.  In truth, I was experiencing fear that my own needs would go unmet.  My mind wanted to blame them when the projection of my own emotion was the cause, preventing an empathetic response. 

Additionally and contrary to the suggestions of some “professionals” (with which I vehemently disagree), I lay down with the twins every night until they fall asleep.  I found myself getting very upset during the squirmy, frustrating twenty minutes it took them to finally fall asleep.  I wanted so bad for them to instantly be quiet, close their eyes, and turn off their engines.  After dinner, bathing, drying, brushing teeth, several bouts of intense negotiation, and dressing two babies, I was exhausted.  I wanted to clean up the house and kitchen so I could relax or tackle a couple of critical work tasks, i.e., my selfish agenda. 

One of the most powerful practices I developed was meditating during this time, focusing on the feeling that was rising in my stomach, allowing and acknowledging the emotion, not the bullshit meaning my mind created to distract me from the discomfort.  After eight months of practice, the upsetting response dissipated.

We now enjoy some of the most intimate and sweet moments together during this time.  Fear has transcended into love and connection.   

Situations that incite the most poignant emotional responses:

-    Incessant crying and/or whining

-    When I have an agenda, need to get something done, and the twins demand my attention

-    The twenty minutes of squirming and delay tactics before bedtime

-    When I am agitated or experiencing F.E.A.R. (false events appearing real)

-    At night or in AM when I am tired (and fussy!)

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) I have come to realize I often act in similar ways.  After all, our kids are simply an expression of our own nervous systems and the physiological and emotional lineage of our ancestry.  It is humbling to imagine what they carry into the world and what a beautiful gift it is for them to teach us. 

To develop empathy and compassion during these frustrating situations, and to better understand myself, I have found the following questions to be helpful. 

 -   What situations incite the most frustration or irritation in me?

-    In what ways does this situation remind me of my behavior?

-    How would I want to be treated in this situation?

-    How can I guide and share my experience while allowing them the freedom to be themselves?

I still find myself fussy when I am tired and occasionally when the kids cry for long periods.  Writing and talking about my emotions has transformed my experience as a father.  Through consistent, personal reflection, I have been able to name my part, take responsibility for my reactions and develop a deep sense of empathy and compassion in situations that used to frustrate and overwhelm me.  I anticipate so much growth ahead, so many more layers to peel away as we pass through stages of maturity in ourselves. 

Before the twins were born, a spiritual teacher told me that they would be the perfect medicine.  I had no idea, the extent to which her prophecy would become true.  As is always the case in my limited experience, the best opportunities for personal and spiritual growth arrive when our emotions are aroused fully.  It is in this place that we are undoubtedly human, can witness our imperfect nature and grow toward God if we choose. 

My children are the most important reason for living today. They teach me how to love, unconditionally. They offer a perfect reflection to round off the edges of my character, like stones in a raging river. Being a father is not always pretty, but it is always love, and always about about self-acceptance. My children are my best teachers.