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I stared long and hard. The image seemingly becoming larger the longer I looked at it. I could feel my mood crumble as a grumble moved up to my mouth. “Are you kidding me?” I wanted to shout into the screen. hashtagcoparenting?? How about hashtaghard; hashtagcomplicated; hashtagtheoppositeofholdinghands.
It was like staring at a picture of a perfectly airbrushed 6’5” 100 pound supermodel with a title that reads “How to Look Great No Matter What Your Size.” With just a few simple sit-ups every day in between sipping kale cauliflower shakes – you too (yes you – the slightly overweight and exhausted single mom to pre-teen daughters) can feel great. Yup. Okay.
The story that followed this photo was one of a married couple who divorced when their daughter was two months old and now live in different states, opting to occasionally vacation together with their new spouses to make all of their daughters wildest dreams come true. The key, they explained, was “patience and understanding.” *Cue adding “patience and understanding” to my list of sit-ups and shakes.
Listen. I applaud parents who make co-parenting work for the benefit of their children. If you are familiar with this blog and my work as a divorce attorney, I have written on literally hundreds of occasions about the benefits of choosing to focus on your best co-parenting relationship possible. And therein lies the reason that this photo makes me want to scream, roll my eyes to the skies above, and balk. The family in this photo represents a tiny, miniscule minority of divorced parents.
Most divorced couples are not lucky enough to identify the need for divorce when their first baby is 2 months old and will never have a memory, let alone any understanding of what it meant for her parents to live with and love each other. Most divorced parents have tried to stay together for the sake of their children and by the time the divorce is inevitable – there are several school age children who are being impacted by their parents’ separation in a very real, memorable manner. This requires children to grieve the divorce along with their parents.
Most divorced parents marry another divorced person creating a blended family of complications with stepsiblings, hard-to-define, newly formed family boundaries, and whole host of physical time and space issues. Most divorce parents do not have the luxury of living states away from their ex-spouse. Rather they continue to interact with their ex-spouse weekly from the beginning stages of the breakup to far away days when the sadness finally subsides.
For most divorced parents – yes – it does take patience and understanding. But it also takes lots of tears when you miss your children, turning a blind eye to your children expressing angst about going to their other parent’s house, and holding your tongue when your co-parent bends a rule that they know you find to be unbreakable.
It takes a lot of letting go, it takes swallowing your pride (over and over), it takes grinning and bearing it when your child shows affection to a stepparent. Co-parenting is hard. It is one of the single-most challenging relationships you may experience. Do not let the one or two photos floating around the internet of families in matching co-parenting jerseys be your model and guide. Know that your uniform, much like your parenting, is going to be dirty. Really dirty with things you cannot even identify. So much like flipping the page after staring at a supermodel and eating a Twizzler, move past these images of parenting perfection and get on to the real work of raising your kids – grit, grim, giggles, and all.