I’m a Co-Parenting Failure

Photo by Dingzeyu Li, Unsplash

When you “divorce with kids” you instantly become co-parents. As though the adulterer you now discover you were married to is someone you actually want to parent with and see for the rest of your children’s lives. Yes I loved him and married him and planned on being with him forever, but when we had kids I didn’t think I had to stop and wonder, hmmm if he cheats on me and divorces me some day and we have kids, will I actually want to co-parent with him forever?

Read that again. If you’re thinking about marriage, there’s your tip for the day free of charge. You’re welcome.

In the divorced world you get to share the kids…like toys…back and forth every other weekend, every 3rd full moon, every other sunny Tuesday, birthdays only if it’s a leap year, and the rest of the stupid schedule assigned by the higher courts of the land. Can I just say it’s a ridiculous way to live?

There’s nothing normal about living like that.

There’s nothing normal about not having your kids every single day.

And just like that you’re supposed to move forward.

Go on. Go figure how to be co-parents.

There are general principles we know you should follow. Don’t talk mean about one another in front of the kids, and other basics you learned in kindergarten.

So just do that. Forget that he left you for another woman. That’s beside the point.

Play nice. Rise above the hot mess that is now your life, and be an adult.

Go ahead and grieve for the loss of your life as you knew it, and the forever you thought you had. Your marriage is dead, but you’ll get over it.

Remember to wake up cheery and share the kids as you’ve been instructed.

Stuff your feelings of resentment deep down into that dark abyss, making sure you raise the kids on a common, agreeable ground, even when you don’t agree.

Easy, right?

Put on your happy face.

I will hand it to him. He tried. He really did. From the get-go he showed up with his happy, dad face as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

But let’s put it in perspective. He wasn’t the one who got left. He had moved on to the mistress who would eventually be his wife. Before that fateful evening when he told me he was leaving me, he had carefully planned and created what would be a newly chosen life to live, leaving that which he no longer wanted behind. Me.

His new life would have his kids, every other weekend being just convenient enough of a dad-life for him, and he would have a new wife. He was allowed to visit them midweek and have them for weeks out of the summer, but he didn’t feel the need to try quite that hard.

So maybe putting on the happy, dad face wasn’t so difficult for him.

But I couldn’t act.

The happy, mom face for me just didn’t exist. I couldn’t make myself pretend everything was hunky-dory in front of him, and even more importantly, in front of the rest of the world. To smile and pretend would’ve been to condone divorce, condone doing this to your children. And I didn’t.

I couldn’t get past the pain of the situation, nor the arrogance that he didn’t understand how not normal it all was…the arrogance that somehow I should just be fine that he cheated and made this mess, and here we were, made to co-parent our way through what was muck to me. To him it seemed like a minor, inconvenient puddle that would evaporate soon enough.

But there was nothing normal at all about any of it, and I deeply resented the position he put me in with his infidelity and ending of our marriage.

I’m a co-parenting failure.

My kids aren’t kids anymore, but I still analyze the stuff of my divorce. Internalized therapy. Not sure that’s a thing. Probably more like didn’t make it to counseling, like ever, because of time, money, kids, the usual.

A few months back I’m driving down the road and hear a co-parenting discussion on the radio. All this talk about amicable co-parenting of divorced spouses who have both managed to put their ill feelings aside, and put their kids first in everything.

Put their ill feelings aside. Wow. How does that work? Sincerely put them aside?!

In that moment it gave me a personal revelation: I’m a co-parenting failure.

I couldn’t make it amicable. I couldn’t make it anything beyond civil. I dug deep. I really did. But I guess I fell short.

And you know what? I realize now that I’m okay with that. It took me 20 years, but I’m there.

Oddly there’s a certain kind of relief in being able to label my behavior.

I’ve reached the point where I’m able to accept the fact that there are all these other divorced people in the world who are able to co-parent amicably, sometimes even well, overcoming their personal hot messes, producing well-adjusted kids, and I’m not one of them.

I think my kids did their part. They became the well-adjusted kids. It’s just me. I didn’t or couldn’t figure out how to be a well-adjusted co-parent.

Believe me I tried. I really tried. I think I’m a pretty damn good mother, and wanted to do things right, but I just couldn’t make it amicable. I couldn’t get there.

If I’m grading myself I can say that when our kids were little our co-parenting was probably average. It’s just that over time the divorce continues to affect my adult daughters in different ways, quiet conflict bubbbling just underneath the surface. The younger one has difficulty relating to her father, and the older one doesn’t understand why.

They are almost 4 years apart in age. They were on different playing fields from early on, the oldest having bonded with her father before he left, and the younger one not even remembering having lived with him. Of course feelings will be different, as neither one lived in the other’s shoes.

While the years have separated us all from the initial pain, they have also grown new ones, seedlings that were planted long ago, slowly growing in fields we tentatively harvest.

Where we are now allows me to better see our failures as co-parents then. The old if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now philosophy. Ultimately as a parent (I can’t speak for him) it’s hard to know that we’re responsible for their divisiveness and struggles. No parent wants to create problems for their children.

I don’t regret marrying him. I have 2 wonderful children from him.

I regret not being able to emotionally get to a place where I was able to function and thrive as a co-parent who could’ve maybe made it emotionally healthier for my children in the long run.

It’s not me, it’s you.

What I realized just recently and now accept is perhaps my lack of ability to be a better co-parenter is because of what I had to work with.

Him. His narcissitic personality gave me little chance to successfully co-parent with him.

I’m not using him as an excuse for my failure. But it’s a valid point.

We were doomed from the start. I didn’t understand that he was a narcissist until we were divorced. I had been dumb and blind all those years.

He likes to think he’s reasonable and normal, but decades of history has shown me and taught me that he really has limitations. He lacks some basic interpersonal skills that allow for true understanding. But you could never tell him that. He would never think that kind of crazy talk could be said about himself. His narcissism won’t allow him to think he could possibly be wrong. About anything.

And while it’s taken me a couple decades of personal evolution and emotional distance to SEE this, I finally have.

It takes two to co-parent. And the co-parenter I had to work with made it extremely mentally and emotionally challenging. I have limitations too.

Nobody’s perfect.

It is this revelation that gives me personal peace.




On a writing journey to somewhere. I like talking about life lessons and self-awareness. Proud mom, happy wife, just trying to leave something behind.

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Della Jennsen

Della Jennsen

On a writing journey to somewhere. I like talking about life lessons and self-awareness. Proud mom, happy wife, just trying to leave something behind.

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