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.