This post was inspired by my friend Deesha Philyaw of Co-parenting101.org and her new book Co-parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce.
When my seven year old daughter comes home from visiting her Father’s house she’s either overjoyed to see me, and ready to cuddle and share with me all the fun she had that day. Or, she walks by me without saying a word, throws herself on her bed and tells me how much she wants to live with her Dad. My daughter, the drama queen, usually reacts the negative way.
The thing that gets me is that I never thought she’d react like this. Why would she when she’s got me? I give her everything she could ever ask for. I sacrificed my anxiety (and some of our savings) to take her to Disney dammit! I’m the incognito tooth fairy who gently places a dollar underneath her pillow as she sleeps. I’m the one taking her to see the movies she wants, visit the parks she wants, making smores with her. I’m front row in school performances. I’m the one breaking my damn back to provide a roof over her head, good food in her stomach, and an abundance of toys and books. And SHE wants to live with HIM?
See what I just did there? Me, me, me. Though only seven, I find myself at times dumbfounded that she doesn’t see how dysfunctional and unsupportive her Father is and how much pain he causes her. The uncontained rage I feel when she tells me she wants to live with her Father frightens me. My body tenses. When her big brown eyes full of sorrow and despair look up to me, and her toothless mouth tells me she wants him not me, I crumble. Wait, you don’t want me? After all I’ve done for you? I feel defeated, as if all I’ve done to build a life for her has just blown away with the wind.
Co-parenting over the past six years has been the most horrifying and enlightening experience I’ve ever had. It’s no secret that my daughter’s Father and I are not co-parenting seamlessly. I’ve felt hurt, pain, disappointment, loneliness, and anger. I feel ever so protective of my child, even trying to shield her from her own Father.
But, it’s not about me.
Encouraging my daughter to talk about and engage with her co-parent was at one time impossible for me to do. Over my dead body would I let him infect her with his lies and instability. He was going to mess everything up, I was sure of it. It has been a rocky journey to stop feeling like the victim, to stop thinking it’s all about me. Because it’s all about her. My daughter. Our daughter. I needed to give her wings and allow her to love her co-parent and his family. She needed me to support those relationships, and I’m trying. I’m learning. Children are incredibly resilient creatures, and as most parents know, pick up on so much, even when words are not spoken.
The bottom line is: she loves her Dad. I want her to love her Dad. Her Dad loves her. And I love my daughter, so I will continue doing my best to support their relationship and provide a judgment free zone where she is able to talk freely and openly about how she is feeling in regards to him, because I love my daughter.
And because it’s not about me and my feelings.