Co Parenting: The role I never thought I'd play
In all of my years on this planet my personality and my soul have been shaped by a million things. Some have seemed like some what minor decisions, only to wind up being life changing, and others started as life changing decisions that I sometimes felt I was blindly following with no real idea of the outcome. Yes, in some ways, my life has seemed like a series of unfortunate events; but that’s just the story I tell myself right? Instead I choose to see my life more like a beautiful mess!
What I have found during this amazing journey, is that the events and choices that have shaped me the most, have been the relationships that I have had and the roles that I play in my life. Experiences have shaped me, but experiences and circumstances can always change. Being able to quickly adapt will be helpful, but experiences and circumstances, to me, are just perimeters in which we play the game of life. Relationships, and the roles that we take on within those relationships, have the ability to truly change you. The role of a daughter and a sister are roles I was born into. As my personality developed, I branched out into the world and forged other bonds and relationships which resulted in other roles. Some of these roles are by choice, and some come seemingly out of nowhere, but each role we play becomes part of us, and becomes part of our story.
The role of a mother is one that came much earlier in my life than most. I became a mom at 17, not by choice, but from lack of making choices! I could go on and on about how this shaped me as a person. From being a young mom, to just being a mom in general, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about a role that came much later, and just as unexpectedly, my role as a co-parent. Like becoming pregnant at 17, the role of a co-parent wasn’t a role in my cast of characters that I ever thought I’d be. It came out of no where, and came not from a conscious choice, but as the result of a series of other choices! BUT, my role as a co-parent has shaped me in profound ways and the relationships that have sprouted from it have become some of the most rewarding and giving relationships in my life. Like anything worth value, the journey to a wonderful co-parenting relationship did not come from happiness and joy, but actually from some of my own very darkest moments….
This one is a long one…grab a cup of coffee!
In 2014, I found myself sitting across the table from a man I had always believed I would spend the rest of my life with, navigating the terms of a divorce that I never dreamed I'd be a part of. I'll spare you the details of it all, but to digest the information in this post you only need to know that in our 12 years together we had co parented my first son from a previous marriage, built a house, started a successful photography business, brought 2 more children into the world, and became one of those couples everyone envied and thought had it all together! We laughed, we loved, and we cried a million times in those 12 years. At some point, the bottom dropped out and eventually we found ourselves where many Americans do; sitting across from a mediation table, listening to lawyers tell us what would "be best for the children" as they guided us both on how best to unravel the life we had built. After grueling hours of back and forth negotiations we had finally created a plan and a schedule we both felt was best for the kids considering all involved.
About 4 months later we had completed the lengthy process of mediating our divorce. While standing before the judge, we both signed the final paperwork through tears, agreeing that our marriage was, in fact, unfixable. The judge actually hesitated in agreeing to finalize everything do to the tears streaming down both of our faces. I nodded my head vigorously in agreement, unable to choke words out through all the sadness I was feeling. I sat in my car outside the court for quite a while still slightly in shock of it all. Relieved that the process was finished, but still unable to believe it at the same time. We had become a statistic. I found solace in feeling that the hardest part was over. We had negotiated where the boys would go to school, who would have them what days, and how we would both financially support them for the years to come. That was the hard part right? WRONG! I had no idea that attending marriage counseling, navigating a 3-year separation, crushing my husband by asking him for a divorce, and mediating that divorce through lawyers, and even standing in the courtroom that day standing in all that sadness would not be the hardest part of the process of unraveling our entangled lives.
The hardest part would be sharing my children with another woman.
My now ex husband had started seeing a woman about 4 months before we started the divorce process. Looking back I can imagine for her 4 months seemed plenty of time for them to decide as a couple that they wanted to take their relationship further and his being married to me was going to get in the way, but in that moment all I could think about was the 12 years he and I had shared. Yes we had been separated for 3 years, and thinking back I'm sure we each wanted the other to rip off the band aide first, but did 4 months with this woman constitute us beginning the divorce process?
I was furious for a million different reasons. How dare her come into my family and ruin a good thing. Though we were separated, my ex and I had made a promise to keep our family unit intact. No matter how hard it would be, we would continue making decisions for the boys as if we were all still a family unit. After all, the only thing that had really changed was we were no longer a couple. We were still parents of the same two kids, and we would be for the rest of our lives. We somehow managed to keep a close friendship. During part of that 3 year separation we shared a home, attended our sons' football practices together, and talked on the phone at least 3 times a day. Though I began dating someone about 6 months into our separation, my ex was still my best friend. When I lost a job, he was the first person I called. When a friend upset me, he was the first person I went to for comfort. In fact, when he started dating this woman, it was me he called as he was losing his nerve and wanted to cancel that first date, it was me who helped pick out what he would wear on that first date, and it was me who gave him advice on how to navigate the texting world and keep her attention.
As we were going through all of this, separating, negotiating, finalizing….I could only see things from my perspective. How dare she come in and break up a good thing. After all, my ex and I had not only figured out how to be civil to one another, we had managed to be friends. And that is good for the kids right? Well yes. That's right, BUT there's so much more that goes into keeping the kids "alright". I was so wrapped up in my own perspective I was unable to see that maybe the boys seeing their dad happy and thriving in a loving relationship, was also a good thing. Soon after they started dating I began to detest this woman. Everything she did felt like a direct violation of some code of conduct. I saw the dream of maintaining that family unit quickly diminishing. The kids loved her, yes, but she was new and shiny and I knew eventually that would all fade away. My ex loved her, of course, but he was blinded by lust and a new relationship and making irrational decisions based on emotion not facts. This is the story I told myself. How would I put all of us back together once this fell apart, and she was long gone? I resented that I was no longer on his speed dial for advice, support, or just to grab lunch. Honestly, some things she did in the beginning made it easy to dislike her. Like insisting that she meet the boys only 2 months after they started dating; when I had waited an entire year for the boys to meet my partner, because that's what my ex and I had decided was best for the boys. Or when she began picking out the colors and painting the interior of our house, even though half of it still belonged to me! Or when she tried to attend parent teacher conferences for the boys 4 months into their relationship.
Looking back she definitely gave me lots of reasons to be bitter and protective of my "family". And up until the point our divorce was final, I truly thought we had navigated the hardest parts. I figured soon after the divorce was final something would happen and my ex would realize she wasn't worthy of his love, our kids love, or the respect he was demanding that I give her as his partner. She would be gone, he would ask for my forgiveness in making so many bad decisions while they were together, and we would carry on with our "family unit" mentality.
Then; just like that, everything changed. About 3 months after our divorce was final, they got engaged. I was secretly heart broken, but I didn't know why. I felt the pain, but had no logical justification to feel it, no one to turn to and acknowledge it, and no outlet to release it. After all I had asked for the separation. I had stopped the marriage counseling, and I had ultimately asked for the divorce. And it wasn't just THAT he wanted to get married. It was him telling me in a text as opposed to telling me face to face. It was the thought of him being able to move forward, when deep inside I felt stuck in some kind of emotional soup that kept me wading waist deep unable to see the shore. From my perspective, him becoming engaged meant he was emotionally ready to trust his heart to the care of someone else and risk it all falling apart again. He was willing to risk our boys falling in love with this woman, only to have her leave some day with their tattered little hearts left in her wake. All of this was mind boggling at the time. How could he possibly know someone enough after 10 months to commit the rest of his life to her? And to make this scenario even more bizarre to me, their wedding date was 2 months away, the day after Christmas.
During those 2 months it seemed everything was a struggle. My ex had a tendency to be passive aggressive, and his fiancé, in my opinion, was aggressive. He was constantly late in returning the boys to me for scheduled exchanges, and would halfheartedly apologize knowing I would not make a scene in front of the boys. We suddenly disagreed on every aspect of parenting; though we had seen eye to eye for years. He would communicate schedule changes through the kids instead of me directly, and would not acknowledge my presence during kid exchanges or at extracurricular events like the boys' football games. It was a very dark time for our family. As their wedding date approached the tension became almost palpable to those around us, but most especially to our children. As we worked through the scheduling of our first Christmas as a divorced family things really began to unravel. No matter how much I felt I was being considerate that this would be their first Christmas together as a family, I felt no one cared that this would be the first Christmas that I would wake up without my family.
Again, silently, my heart broke, and I couldn't talk to anyone about it. I began to feel extremely disrespected as a parent, and also as a human. On the outside I felt it was clear how much I was trying to be cooperative and accommodating, while trying to maintain some level of respect as a parent, but I wasn't being given the same amount of consideration.
Unfortunately all of this came to a head on the day of their wedding. They had planned their wedding for the day after Christmas, a day that was technically my day in regard to our rotating custody schedule. He never bothered to ask me if I'd be willing to give up my time with the boys so they could attend his wedding. He picked the date expecting that I would just go along with it, because after all, that's what I had been doing all along, doing my best to be considerate and keep the peace.
Though he had planned this date out for 3 months, it was me finally asking him 2 weeks before if he was ever going to ask for permission to have the boys on my day. He brushed it off as an oversight and asked if I wouldn't mind adjusting our scheduled exchange so that the boys could attend their ceremony and half of their reception. I agreed, and began to feel as though maybe he was seeing how hard I was trying to compromise.
Christmas day came and per our adjusted schedule I woke without the boys in the house. He would have them to me promptly to me at 10Am. I put the turkey in, made some coffee, turned on Christmas music, and forced myself to ignore the absence on my children on Christmas morning. I busied myself in the kitchen with meal preparations and refused to give in to my sadness.
Before I knew it, 10Am had come and gone. Then it was 10:10, 10:15, 10:20. Finally, I called him. He answered the phone mid sentence with one of the boys, laughing about a gift he had given (clearly not in the car and not on his way to drop the boys off to me). I tried my best not to allow my anger to come through, though I was seething on the inside. I asked if he was on his way, and he confirmed he was not. He gave a lame excuse that present opening had gotten away from them, and he would have the boys to me within a half hour. I reminded him that I had always been considerate of his time with the boys and punctual during exchanges and I expected him to do the same. He half laughed and said "OK". I thanked him and we hung up the phone. I decided in that moment that I would regain the missed hour with the boys by keeping them the extra hour the next morning, and that I would not give the negative start to the holiday another thought.
The boys arrived around 11am, and we continued on with our Christmas morning without a hitch! The next morning I took my time getting the day started. I enjoyed my coffee, took a shower, and took my time cleaning the house from the previous days festivities! My phone rang at 10:32. It was my ex, seeing that I was clearly running late for our 10:00 Am exchange and wondering if I knew when he could expect me. After all, it was his wedding day, and he had lots of errands to run. I told him that he could expect me in our normal exchange location at 11:00 AM, as I was just recuperating the hour of my time that he had inconsiderately used the day before. I also took the opportunity to remind him that I had always been considerate of his time with the boys, and that; in the future, if he was not as considerate things could get messy. It wasn't my intention to threaten him. It was my intention to stand up for myself. I felt my willingness to compromise and cooperate had somehow been mistaken for weakness.
He definitely took this as a threat and immediately got an attitude. I believe his words were "whatever Danielle!", and I just lost it. I no longer felt like playing nice in the sandbox. Per our custody agreement the boys were supposed to be returned to me that evening at 5PM, though we had reached an agreement that he could have them until 8:PM. Through clinched teeth I told him I was done being kind and being taken advantage of. I would meet him at 11Am with the boys, and he needed to return them to me, per our original agreement, promptly at 5pm. I truly did not want to impede on their day, however, I saw no other way to stand up for myself. I told him I would come get the boys if that was easier for him, but I was no longer willing to accommodate him and give up any more of my time with the boys. He said "fine!" through his teeth and the next hours of interaction were set into motion.
I continued with my day as if my heart wasn't breaking, as if my world wasn't changing, and as if the only family I'd ever known didn't feel like it was being ripped from my grasp. I went for a run, and later met my boyfriend at a restaurant for lunch. My phone didn't buzz or ring for hours! It was great. I realized my boyfriend and I had successfully filled, this otherwise terrible day, with lots of laughter, fun, and plenty of PDA! It was quickly approaching 4:30 and I had yet to hear from my ex on how we would navigate the exchange for the day. As my boyfriend and I headed for the car, my phone began to buzz out of control. This is when I realized the reason I had had a peaceful afternoon was because I was in a cell phone dead zone and had missed a ton of texts and phone calls from my ex. At this point I had screaming voicemails and numerous texts from him accusing me of trying to intentionally sabotage his wedding day by ignoring his attempts to plan out an exchange. I called him and was immediately met with screaming. He said he refused to allow me to ruin this day for them. He would not have me come to her parents house, where they were having a small reception, and he would not meet me anywhere. Instead he would bring the boys to my house.
I have to admit at this point I was astonished by his rage, but I did feel like I had finally stood up for myself. I felt bad that the boys would miss out on the reception, but it was the only way I saw to make a point to my ex. Moments later my ex drove into the driveway at my house. Immediately I realized he was not alone. He had brought his wife, and both of them were still in their wedding attire.
The boys quickly got out of the car. My oldest son, who was 18 at the time, ushered the other 2 boys into the house while one was so angry his face was beating red, and the other was hysterically crying. My ex and his wife both got out of the car and asked them to please go into the house and take off their suits (they were rented and needed to be returned the next day).
Before I knew it I was standing on my front steps with my ex husband and his new wife IN HER WEDDING DRESS. This is a moment I will never forget. One of those rare moments in your life that seem to shape you though you seldom see it at the time. Time seemed to slow to an excruciatingly slow pace. I remember briefly closing my eyes, taking in a deep breath, and having a literal gut check moment with myself. See, no matter what ever happens, this man IS my family. Nothing will ever erase that. Not time, not new relationships, not marriages, nor divorces, nothing. Yes, we had both long forgotten our wedding vows, and our life circumstances had drastically changed from that beautiful day on the beach when we promised to honor and love each other until we died, but we were tied by something far stronger and bigger than either of us. We had created these two perfect little humans, and the day they each came into the world we both unconsciously made a promise to be their parents until we died.
On this day, in that moment, standing on my front steps, I was feeling a million different emotions. I was angry that I had been forced to use our schedule as a tactic to gain respect, I was angry that my children were hurting, and I was angry that this very raw moment was playing out on my front lawn. All at the same time I LITERALLY felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. How could he be married to someone else? How could he love someone else? The 12 years we spent together seemed to somehow flash through my memory all in one moment. I wanted to scream at him; "Look at what you are doing to our kids.", "How can you possibly marry someone you've known for less than a year?", "Why are we no longer even friends?", but I didn't.
In that moment, everything I was feeling inside suddenly came to a stop. All of those emotions balled up and gently rested in my belly. The only thing that remained was 12 years. 12 years I would not give back for anything. 12 years I loved this man and created a life I was proud of. 12 years that I decided in that moment, that I would honor, even if no one else did. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and looked up at my ex’s new wife and said "Congratulations, you look beautiful.". She looked at me, smirked, tilted her head to the side, and said "I know I do.".
I was floored. Speechless. In my head I had so many things to say, but it had taken all of my strength to say what I already had. I didn't have anything left. I sidestepped her reply, and asked them if they'd like to come in to wait for the boys to change. They both said "no, we're fine waiting here.". I threw my hands up in defeat and did what any mom would do, I went inside to make sure my kids were OK. I mean, I knew they weren't, but I wanted to help if I could. They were angry about missing out on the remainder of the wedding day, and confused as to why this had all played out like this. They were ugly crying and ripping suits off. We managed to get the suits off and returned to my ex.
My ex and his wife left and I immediately sat the boys down and gave them a condensed version of the events that had led up to my choice to not have them attend the remaining part of the reception. They were angry and sad, but they understood. We finished the evening by ordering pizza and renting a movie.
I know how ugly this story may seem. Long…and ugly..and right about now you’re like: “Danielle what is the point of all of this?”
I told you all of that, so I could tell you this:
It gets better. It really does. I'm sure when you read the headline of this article you thought, "Sure tell me how to co-parent, but you have no idea what I'm dealing with.". The truth is, I do. The story I just told you isn't even the worst one, it's just the one that stands out to me when things began to change for me. Up to that point I made decisions trying to base them on what was best for the boys, and I truly thought I was, but I was missing a huge part. What is best for all kids going through a divorce is that they know their parents are happy. BOTH of them. Period. It doesn't matter if I like her. The only thing that matters is that she loves my kids. What matters is that our kids get to see BOTH of their parents be in loving, nurturing relationships.
To date my ex and his wife have been married for almost 4 years. We have had ups and downs along the way, but after the dust settled we have all managed to figure out a way to co-parent as a team. I have been in the same relationship with the same man I referenced in the beginning of this post for 6 years. Together, the 4 of us have navigated; crazy holiday schedules, a couple of broken bones, family illnesses, high school, first girlfriends, drivers training, tricky mutual friendships, and a ton of other typical parenting scenarios, all while they are watching. Because, that's really what you have to remember through all of this, they are learning from us how to be good partners, loving parents, and all around kind humans.
We can only control what we do and how we react in any given situation. I'm not expecting you to take on the responsibility of your co-parent's actions and choices. I'm simply reminding you that you can control your actions, your perspective, and your choices.
I’m certainly no expert. Navigating a co-parenting relationship is very personal, and very tricky. There’s no one size fits all, and there’s no freaking manual, but I’ve learned some things along the way and I thought I’d offer them here:
ALWAYS Put the kids first:
I know it's hard, especially at first. In a traditional family with 1 mom and 1 dad, I think putting the kids first comes naturally. There's no ego questioning your spouses' motives. You don't feel like you're competing with someone else or you have to justify your own actions. Once that family dynamic changes, it's easy to constantly question your ex's reasoning and choices. I implore you instead to just think of what is best for the kids. Even sometimes when you think you're considering what is best for your kids, your judgment can easily be clouded by hurt feelings, past resentments, and keeping score. Change the tone; change the pace and I promise the other adults in the situation will follow. Before you know it, you'll never question your ex's motives because you both will have fallen into a pattern of always doing what's best for your children. This gives way to building the foundation of trusting your ex and trusting your own co-parenting skills!
DO NOT TRASH TALK YOUR EX IN FRONT OF YOUR KIDS:
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and think that they can't possibly understand how harmful this is to kids, but even the most aware parent can slip sometimes. Hearing a person they love and respect most in this world say something negative about the other person they equally love and respect most in this world is so damaging to children. It hurts them on levels that they sometimes don't even realize at the time and will create wounds within them that they will struggle to heal for years after. I know this firsthand from my own parents' divorce. Don't do this to your kids. Write out your feelings, talk to friends when your kids aren't around, find a good therapist to help channel the negativity, talk to your self for hours on long car rides, scream into a pillow. Do whatever you have to do, just don't talk bad about your ex in front of your kids. Not only is this just a good judgment call, it will serve you ten fold as things settle down and you ease into your new co-parenting role and I'll tell you how.
When you talk trash about your ex in front of or to your children, it could hurt them, but depending on their personality they could manipulate it and use it to their advantage. Any kid is going to quickly adapt to this changing situation, see the crack in the structure, and quickly use it to their advantage to pit one parent against the other to get what they want. Yes, this is a method used in traditional family scenarios as well, but the divorced family is a little more susceptible to this tactic. Don't allow it. Even if what you think of your ex is absolutely true, the minute a kid can manipulate a situation they will and if your ex and you don't have each others' backs on this one, you're going to wind up with an unruly teenager that easily pits you both against each other to get what they want. I'd be lying if I said this hasn't happened in my own situation, but I quickly put it to a stop. If one of my kids makes a smart comment about their stepmother, I am quick to remind them of her strengths. "Oh you had a disagreement today with her, but she was at every one of your football games last week when I had to work." Whatever the case may be, just don't take it to that level!
Find your tribe:
You're going to need to surround your self with a tribe of people that will help, not hinder your co-parenting relationship. Instead of people that will constantly nod their head yes and agree with how ridiculous your ex is being in a situation, seek people who play devil's advocate and challenge you to consider others' feelings through a scenario. I can't tell you how many times in that first year and a half, I found my self arguing with my own friends about how situations were unfolding. They would tell me why I was wrong, and how they expected more of me. I remember many times feeling alienated and misunderstood. Like no one had my back. But after a few heated discussions, I quickly realized my friends were doing the right thing. I had always been picky about my friendships; quality over quantity, and I can't express to you how much that has made all the difference in my life!
Change your perspective:
Instead of only viewing situations through your personal perspective, challenge your self to not only do what is best for the children, but also consider the perspective of the adults involved too. It's all to easy to have tunnel vision and see things from one perspective, but as you challenge yourself to see other perspectives you'll open your eyes to new solutions, and ultimately you'll teach your kids to approach their own problems in the same way. Standing on my front lawn on their wedding day, all I could focus on was how I was feeling. I didn't give much thought that this was their wedding day, and I'm sure that's not how they wanted to spend part of it; standing in their wedding attire on the ex's front lawn! When I got the snarky comment after trying to be kind it was because this was a shitty situation for her too! Who wants to even see the ex wife on their wedding day especially the scenario that had played out for her. Of course she was snarky and angry!
Relax and let go:
As situations arise it's easy to resort to the familiar; "we've always done things this way, and I don't see a reason to change", but letting go of the familiar allows for change. Regardless of whether you agree or not, your situation has changed, and fighting it is only going to make the transition harder for everyone. You may learn something new, or a more effective way of doing something. What I'm saying is, you have to embrace change. I have come to appreciate a ton of qualities about my ex's wife that I never thought I would. She was raised in a house with a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, so her family has elaborate celebrations around the holidays, therefore, my kids get to learn about other cultures and traditions that they never would have been exposed to. She is also really good at scheduling and keeping things organized. Be it an appointment, a hospital bill, or if a football jersey got washed; she's on it! I swear parenting with a mom partner has completely changed my life! She literally makes me a better mom to my kids because she is really good at so many things that I suck at. Not having to worry about those things slows me to focus on the parts of being a mom that I’m really good at, like giving my 21 year old advise on how to navigate a friendship that’s very close to ending, and he’s not sure he wants it to. Or helping my 16 year old figure out a creative way to ask his girlfriend to prom!
Embrace the changes, embrace your children, embrace your ex, and yes; embrace his/her new partner. When you dig deeper and reach for love your kids see that. When you welcome someone into your home and into your family, your kids see that. Not only does it make them better humans, because you are teaching them a new way to love, but you are also showing them that you are secure in your relationship with them. Can you imagine what it must be like for your kids to see one of their parents building a relationship with someone they don't feel free to love and accept? When you accept your ex's partner into your home, and into your life, fully, you have given your kids an advantage. They don't have to feel stress about if they like this person, or that the other parent may be hurt by their willingness to accept a new person, or judgment from a parent about how much time is spent with the new partner.
Let's face it, you don't get to pick your ex's new partner. And you shouldn't! Your opinion doesn't matter, and it shouldn't! All you need to do is show your children that you are secure in your relationship with them, and you are capable of love even when it could be a challenge.
Don't get me wrong; there are times when structure is king, especially when transitioning into new situations, but as scenarios become more familiar, be flexible. Sometimes people run late, sometimes plans change, and sometimes people make mistakes. When you are flexible with your schedule and your time, your ex will be more likely to work with you when a scheduling issue arises; and believe me, they will! If you are constantly nitpicking your ex's time management skills, he or she is going to be a lot less understanding when the shoe is on the other foot.
Don't get me wrong, I realize the lengthy story I told you about not being considerate during exchange times is what brought our situation to the dark side, but ultimately everything worked its self out. Now my ex and I try to have a flexible schedule and work things out according to our kids' ever-changing schedules instead of the hard lines given to us by the court system.
Keep "Negative Nellies" where they need to be; Out of your space:
After your separation and divorce you're going to go through a period of time where your mutual friends will feel a need to choose sides. I'm not sure why this happens, but in my own divorce and every other divorce I've witnessed, it happens. I think people subconsciously feel a need to pick a side. They don't feel that they can maintain both friendships so; using whatever criteria they decide, they choose a side. Don't take this too personally if you're not the one chosen, and don't get to cocky if you feel like everyone is on your side. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of your new co-parenting role, this doesn't matter. Some people will be so blindly supportive of you that they will question why you want to have a positive relationship with your ex. I think on some level people really do have a hard time understanding why on earth you could get along with an ex; especially if there was clear wrong doing on one side. They really feel they are being a good friend, but this is a set back in building your co-parenting relationship. Don't fall for it. Just as your opinion of your ex's new partner is none of your business, your relationship with your ex is no one else's business! This was a huge hurtle in the first couple years of my separation from friendships my ex continued to have. Oddly; some of those same people who couldn't understand why we were trying so hard to have a good relationship, have now found themselves smack dab in the middle of their own divorces and newly found co-parenting roles. And guess what; now they know, the struggle is real!
Lastly, I just want to leave you with this. Typically, people don't choose to go through a divorce. Having to figure out how to co-parent was something I never imaged I'd have to navigate, until I found myself in the middle of it; struggling. As the time has passed, and I've evolved as a person, I've come to realize, I'm a better person because of my ability to co-parent. There are few roles in your life that will test your love, your strength, and require you to dig deeper, then that of a co-parent. I hope marriages stay happy and happy people stay together, but if you find yourself in this place that you never thought you'd be; I challenge you to lean into it and dig deeper!