Co-Parenting: It works. Until it doesn’t.


I’ve got a confession to make – after eight years, I thought I had divorced parenting down.

The basic rules were:

  • Regular, agreed contact for Flea with her Dad. One night a week, every other weekend, three weeks over summer, long weekends at half-term.
  • Christmas shared. Usually my ex stayed over Christmas Eve into Christmas morning. Because it’s Christmas. And that seems like the right thing to do.
  • No trash talk. Sure, the odd grumble about leaving the milk out is par for the course, but Flea has a right to think her Dad is amazing. No matter what I might think, sometimes.

A few niggles here and there, it’s a system that’s served us well.

Until it didn’t.

Because the smashing thing about parenting is that as soon as you’ve got something down, children grow up some more, need a bit more, or maybe they need a bit less, or just need something a bit different.

In our case, there was an incident at the start of last year. Nothing huge, but enough to shake some of Flea’s confidence in her Dad.

And for reasons that aren’t really mine to share, it all spiralled from there.

First it was the odd missed visit. Then a flat-out refusal to stay overnight. Any attempt to resolve things led to illness – Flea started being sick at school on days before she was due to see her Dad.

At first, I counselled patience. Let’s just be supportive, give her time, it’ll work itself out, I said. It’ll get better.

Until it didn’t.

It got worse. There were signs the issue was spiralling into a serious cause of stress and anxiety for Flea, and I was completely at a loss.

It was hard. For me, certainly. But more so for Flea, in many respects.

And through it all, has been my ex. Frustrated, disappointed – and angry.

At me, mostly. Which has been … unfortunate.

The thing about co-parenting is it works brilliantly – until it doesn’t. It’s easy to be civil and friends and all Gwyneth-Paltrow about it all when parenting is uncomplicated, and relatively undemanding. But it’s not always going to be like that.

You hit a bump in the road and the legacy of divorce means that all the hurt and resentment you thought you’d both got past years ago is really still there, just under the surface.

Maybe one of you has moved on, but there’s no law that says you both have to be on the same page.

The other thing about co-parenting, of course, is that kids grow up.

They get older and smarter, and sooner or later, that relationship you’ve tried to build for them with their absent parent is going to stand or fall on its own terms. Your child is going to start to see their parents for who they are. The good, and the not-so-good.

At this stage, I think, that approach of plastering over past hurts and slapping on a happy face while you play at being a family doesn’t work the way it did when your child was three, or four, or five.

And amongst the arguments, you start to wonder whether it might just be better to take a giant leap back because all this living in close quarters just gives your child a hundred opportunities to see people being unkind to one another.

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to give the absent parent relationship some space. After all, Flea’s of an age now when she makes her own social arrangements over Skype with friends – so why not with her Dad? She doesn’t need me to dial phone numbers for her any more. She’s got her own phone, for starters.

So that’s sort of where we’re at.

I’m not going to lie. It feels like a failure. It really does. But I also wonder if it’s just about growing up. For both of us.


37 thoughts on “Co-Parenting: It works. Until it doesn’t.”

  1. That’s probably the most open and achingly honest post I’ve read about parenting after divorce. Seriously, you’re doing a bang up job and I’m going to guess the only one who doesn’t see that properly is you.
    You’ve a very lucky daughter.

    1. OH, that’s a nice thing to read, I think it’s a bit ‘raw’ for me, but it feels like I need some outside perspective on the situation now. Thanks x

      1. We had a headteacher at our primary school who used to say to us parents that all children have a road to travel. Some sail down the road, miss any bumps, take the corners with ease and get to adulthood without a hitch. Others fall off the road sometimes and it is our job (home and school) to dust them off and put them back on the right track.
        I firmly believe parents have a similar road in many ways but that we’ll all get there in the end.

        *Said headteacher retired last year, she’s very much missed.

  2. It’s so tough isn’t it! I remember going though something similar with my eldest two and if I’m honest my daughter has a rubbish relationship with her dad because he never made the effort. She even decided to move out to be with him when she got to 16 in the hope it might help their relationship but it only made things worse.
    I hope you find a happy medium and soon but sounds like you’re doing the right thing and letting Flea work it out for herself

    1. Yes Kara, what’s ace about blogging is some of the comments and emails I’ve had are helping me put this into a bit of perspective. I think it’s about Flea growing up and asserting herself a bit, and working out her own relationship – and perhaps I didn’t expect how that would impact on our parenting relationship. I hope Flea finds a place where she’s able to happily spend time with both her parents, and that we’re both supportive of her in that. Thanks for commenting, I really appreciate it 🙂

  3. This is my post. I’m writing this right now, almost word for word. The problem is that my son is 4 years old. It is the hardest situation I have been in, so far, in our 3.5 year co – parenting journey. I’m sorry that you are also here. You have not failed. I have not failed. No matter what I tell myself.

    1. It is hard. We co-parented very badly until Flea was about five, then it got better. It was all very raw in the early days, I was broke, we were stressed. Things get easier, I promise. I didn’t quite expect the getting harder again, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. At this stage they are building another, more mature relationship and that’s difficult for any parent – and I think in a divorced parenting situation, the temptation to direct that anger and frustration at your ex is v high. It’ll pass, I hope. Eventually. And things will be different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But as much as I’ve failed in co-parenting, I tell myself I am not and will not fail my daughter. And I’m sure you’re the same!

  4. This must have been a really hard post for you to write, and as I have never been in this situation have no idea really what’s it like. I am sure you will always do what’s best for Flea, and that’s all that matters. Good luck!

    1. Thanks Vic, I know you’ve been a fab sounding board over the past year, and you’ve been through a lot of the same things yourself. I guess all we can do is support our girls come what may.

  5. Co parenting is tricky because it involves you to work as a pair when you are no longer a unit.

    As all the comments above say, you haven’t failed – you are doing a splendid job – one conversation with flea confirms that.

    You can’t parent as two – give yourself a break x

      1. I can resonate with this so much. I tried to force my ex husband to have a relationship with the girls for years. The original agreement was that he would have them every other weekend. He did for 3 months. Then he stood them up and made no contact for 2 months. Contact was sporadic from then. I found myself messaging him regularly for 2 years asking when he would have the girls, suggesting he have them in holidays etc. Not because i wanted to, I wanted nothing to do with him. He and I have not had a face to face conversation in over 5 years. But I wanted them to have a relationship with him and I didn’t want anyone blaming me for him not seeing them. Every time he saw them, I had to drive 2 hours to take them there, drive home again and do the same journey again one or two days later to pick them up (he wouldn’t have them any longer than that). It was costing me a lot in diesel and he wasn’t paying any maintenance. Eventually I decided to stop trying to make him see them. He’s an adult. He can text me when he wants to see them and he can come and get them himself. I have never ever said no to him seeing them. He now sees them twice a year, phones them 4 times a year and hasn’t had them at his house for 18 months. That’s his choice. My twins don’t even mention him anymore. My oldest wants nothing to do with him. But you know what… They’re happy. Fathers are overrated in my opinion xx

  6. It sounds like you have done so much over the last 8 years. In some ways I was fortunate that my parents didn’t split up until I was 16 – there was none of the weekend visits etc as I moved out of home a couple of months later. It sounds like your system has worked so well until now and all you can do is support Flea, give her the love you always have and let me find her own way. Get her to see her Dad when she wants to, for as long as she wants to and if she doesn’t? Well so be it x

    1. I’m no perfect ex, I’m sure, but I’ve done my best. I’m a big believer that Dads are important and that relationship needs to come before your own personal feelings – it’s just harder as kids get older and parenting a bit more complex. Maybe at this stage the best thing I can do is step away and let them find their own relationship, and be here to support her when she’s home x

  7. You are the most blooming grown up person I know. You have always handled your ex with dignity and class, especially when it came to Flea. I know you always put her needs first in pretty much everything you do. The fact that this is concerning you shows that you are a great mum. I have no experience of this, so no words of advice.

    1. Oh thanks Jen, I’ll take a compliment when offered! I really do try and think about what’s best for Flea, and I think it’s hard when someone is angry and I think that makes it harder for them to see your motives and easy for them to see malice where there is none. We just struggle on and do the best we can, and that’s surely true of all parents not just single ones!

  8. Oh Sally I’m sorry to read this. I’ve always been a bit envious of you (and anyone else) seemingly having the co-parenting thing down when it’s always been a real struggle at this end. My experience leads me to believe that if someone is unreasonable and selfish when you’re married to them (insert whatever words work for you) then they sure don’t change once you’re not and I was counselled to always be honest. My mum never said a bad word about my Dad when they were divorced and I suffered let down after let down for many years without her saying he was out of order. I regret that because it means I settled for a lot less than I should for much of my adult life, out of habit. Yes, we can protect our kids when they’re young, but when they can see things for themselves, honesty is always the best policy, followed by ‘But he’s your dad and he loves you and he’s doing his best. It might be crap and you deserve better, but it’s his best,’ or words to that effect. And you’re right, Flea is at the age when her arrangements are more independent anyhow and it’s come as quite a reliegf at this end, tbh, that my eldest (same age) and his dad now talk by text directly, which I hope it can also be for you. Good luck.a

    1. Anya – actually I think you are very much right – there comes a point where you can be honest with kids and point out that, yes, this person is unreliable, or unkind, and another person might be short-tempered, and Mum’s forgetful, and everyone has flaws and it’s okay to mind when it affects you, but you still love people because we’re all flawed, at the end of the day. Or something like that.

  9. What a honest post Sally. I often wonder how single parents manage to be so civil to the ex partner (or indeed those that can’t be and plaster it all over Faceache). As someone who doesn’t see their biological father at all I can’t imagine how difficult it can be pushing for that strong relationship. You’ve done your good bit and that puts Flea in a great position to make good responsible decisions. You’re an awesome mum and you’ve given her that start.

    1. I can say 100 percent hand on heart that Flea has had regular, consistent contact with her Dad throughout her childhood, and she’s never heard anything from me other than positive sentiment about that. I’ve driven her to her Dad’s, I’ve picked her up, I’ve taken them places together (my ex doesn’t drive), I’ve helped him move house, built furniture for him, invited him to dinner, let him sleep in our spare room – I’ve gone as far as I could possibly do to support and nurture their relationship.

      But you’re right – that’s my bit done. At this age, and stage, Flea and her Dad need to work out what their relationship looks like without me sticking my oar in, basically!

  10. I think you are doing a great job. Flea has to see things for herself and you are always there to give her the support and love she needs. I hope things get a bit easier. But remember you rock x

  11. Tough one!
    It sounds like your daughter knows her own mind now. You’ve worked together to enable her to see both parents which is fantastic but as you said shes capable of deciding who she wants to see and when and how to arrange it.

    It is a shame for her dad it must be hard knowing your child doesnt want to spend time with him. She may decide to see him but on her terms.

    1. Thanks.

      The silly thing is my daughter DOES want to see her Dad and she does – as much as ever. She just wants to come home to sleep, which is proving a source of great upset for everyone.

  12. I have always respected the way you co-parent an mainly because it’s how I do it. My kids with my ex are now all over 16 and have a great relationship with both of us, which has needed me to bite my tongue many times, but it was worth it. My partners children have spent long periods of time living solely with us, and as younger children we did try and encourage them to not do that because we were the ones getting the hassle. I can’t regret that because it was the right thing to do and i wouldn’t have done it differently the second time. Once children are a bit older they really know their minds, they don’t tell us everything and have a right to make decisions about where they are sleeping without giving a big explanation really x

    1. Thanks Jenny, i think that I’m inclined to agree with you – the challenge is that you might think you’re respecting your child’s wishes, someone else might think you’re indulging them – or worse, using them to score points against a former partner. It’s tricky. If only co-parenting didn’t involve two people with different feelings and opinions… 😉

  13. That sounds tough but take a step back, you’ve managed to navigate through many years admirably, with dignity and with things being fairly civilised which is WAY better than most parents can

    Doesn’t stop it sucking massively that it isn’t working now though

  14. Sally, what a moving, honest post, you are a flipping awesome Mum, you know that, everyone knows that. You just need to hang out with Flea, my third favourite person (!) after my kids, to see that. Be kind to yourself, please. Keep supporting and being open, and you’ll all find a way that feels right. There is no right or wrong, just what makes Flea feel safe and comfortable. You are meeting her needs, as always and that’s all that matters. Trust your gut, always.

  15. Co-parenting is so difficult for everyone concerned isn’t it Sally? I think that all you can ever do is give a child the opportunity to maintain their relationship with an absent-parent.

    You stated that “Any attempt to resolve things led to illness” The good thing is, that you tried to resolve things regardless of any feelings you may have had. When you both reflect back in years to come, Flea will acknowledge and appreciate this.

    You also stated “I’m not going to lie. It feels like a failure. It really does. ” maybe that stems from your earlier mention of – “that relationship you’ve tried to build for them with their absent parent is going to stand or fall on its own terms.” – Surely it’s Flea and her father who have been trying to build their relationship with each other. Your role has been to try and support that which you appear to have done successfully.

    1. Thanks – it’s a failure in the sense that I grew up not having a great relationship with my Dad and I really wanted something different for Flea, and I hoped perhaps my decision to be a single parent wouldn’t mean she couldn’t have a close relationship with her Dad.

    2. Hit submit before I’d finished my comment

      You have absolutely NOT failed. You’ve done everything right and far more maturely than most parents would. Flea is perhaps just seeing his true colours for herself. As long as you are there to catch her when she falls, she will be fine x

  16. I very rarely comment on blogs unless I know people, I like reading them and sharing other people’s experiences good and bad but don’t often feel inclined to share back. But I read your post about Flea’s relationship with her dad and felt the need to offload a little, I hope you don’t mind and that it helps, or at the very least gives another viewpoint.

    Divorce is just so hard, even when it’s the best decision for everyone involved, isn’t it?

    My folks divorced rather messily following my dad’s affair, which was played out in front of my younger brother and I, not intentionally I’m sure, but at the tender age of 11 it’s fair to say it did me no favours whatsoever. When my dad left he fell off the face of the earth for six months until my mum forced him to make contact with us. Here’s the thing, all I remember is my mum’s words ‘forced him to see his children’. I just couldn’t get past it.

    I could go on, but this is not therapy and it’s way too early for wine. I guess the point I am rather clumsily trying to make is that the title of your post implies that you are still in it together as parents (even if it takes a few deep breaths every now and then) despite the fact that you are no longer a couple, which is truly awesome and shows such strength.

    You are obviously so aware of Flea’s feelings and insecurities and how your’s and her dad’s actions/reactions/views/comments might impact on her, which is just so amazing. It will make a difference to her to know that you are there and both want her to be happy and I hope that gets her over her wobble.

    I hated that I saw my dad as a flawed human being rather than the super hero dad I had always thought him to be, our relationship was broken and we never fixed it, which is really sad. If I’m honest, my mum didn’t really help and although I love her to bits, the 11 year old in me wishes things had been handled differently.

    Ultimately I guess you have a daughter who knows her own mind and it’s her decision how she takes her relationships forward but the fact that she has a mum and dad who both want to a part of her life, even if they are not together, will give her security.

    Sorry for the life story.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Kate, I truly appreciate it. IT sounds as though you had a really acrimonious divorce in your family, that must have been so hard. I suppose in our situation, we’ve both tried hard to be civil and co-operative and I think until quite recently that’s worked well, but the situation continues to change and I don’t think that’s as easy to do as children get older and situations more complicated. It’s not easy but I hope that Flea knows she has two parents that love her and have made an effort to make it easy for her to be close with both her parents.

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