By Nicole Dalcourt
I’m sitting in the passenger seat on my way to Florida to try and escape my seasonal depression. My amazing husband is behind the wheel. The Tragically Hip is cranked and we are giddy to escape the long Canadian winter for the next two weeks. It’s important to note here, that this trip would not have been possible without the help of my ex-husband.
My ex-husband and I share custody of our children. Equally. We always have, and hopefully always will. We both grew up in broken families, with absentee (biological) fathers and the impact of that loss left us both wounded. Despite how we felt about each other, we wanted to leave our kids with a different legacy – so we set out to love our kids more than we hated each other.
But, It wasn’t always easy. Not by a long shot. As early as four years ago we were in court fighting over passports and the Christmas schedule – and it wasn’t even the first time we ended up there. I felt ashamed every time we stood in the family courts, arguing over things that wouldn’t matter six months later. Neither one of us ever willing to relent, even the tiniest bit, each of us so desperate to win.
There are plenty of opportunities for arguments with this type of co-parenting schedule. This arrangement requires almost constant communication; texting, phone calls and face-to-face meetings, shared parent-teacher interviews and doctor appointments. Neither one of us wanted to miss out on our kids lives and because of this, they flourished.
Behind the scenes though, it was a very different story. There was a lot of hate, grief and tears. So many tears. We insulted and fought and pushed and pulled, neither one willing to let go of the reigns. I can’t speak for him, but for me, it was just too hard to admit that he was doing a good job. A huge part of me wanted him to fail, so I could have the kids to myself. I didn’t want to share, not only because I missed them incredibly when they were with him, but also because it made me feel ‘less than’.
Every mother I knew had custody of her children, and I could feel a mixture of jealousy and judgment every time I told another divorced woman we shared the kids equally. I always felt a need to explain why I didn’t fight for full custody and had a host of canned responses I recycled through. The bottom line, and reason I never pursued it, was that the only ones who would feel the loss of their father would be the kids. It just wasn’t a burden I was willing to give them.
That realization had a profound effect on me. The current state of our co-parenting relationship was tumultuous at best, and the stress of it was starting to bleed into all other areas of my life. I had to put down my sword, even if he didn’t. Especially if he didn’t. I’d have to control my emotions, my anger and my fear, in all interactions I had with him. I knew it was going to be hard but with help from a therapist I committed to changing our relationship, or at least my contribution to it.
The first argument we had after I’d made that decision didn’t go very well. I was overwhelmed with my need to be right, too proud to let him believe he was ‘winning’. I was sucked back into the familiar rhythm that had wreaked havoc on my life for the previous six years. I had to learn to listen, even when I felt unheard and I had to be kind even when I wanted to rage. The next time we argued, I let him have the last word. It ate away at me for days. But, the more I practiced, the easier it got. Soon, I was barely reacting at all.
Then, something amazing began to happen. The more I softened, the more he did as well. Our communication became more thoughtful, which led to more understanding and compassion. Slowly, and with some backward steps too, our relationship changed. It grew to be a respectful exchange of ideas in regards to the two things we value most in our lives. Our children.