“A house divided cannot stand” – this popular bible verse has been used time and again to explain what seems obvious: opposition reaps disaster, usually in the form of war, or in some cases – divorce. What tends to begin with grand parties and celebrations (usually exceeding amounts of $30K), end far too often in broken hearts, angry families, and sadly – hurt children. While the American divorce statistics stay around 50% – the rate at which people are divorcing has dropped. In other words, couples are staying married longer than in recent years. Psychologists have suggested a myriad of reasons for this turn, among them being the availability and public perception of therapy improving, tax cuts for married couples, and socio-economic benefits. However, the effect that marriage then divorce has on children has always been the biggest contender.

While many of us are aware of the adverse effects divorce can have on the child, we’ve also seen it, up close and personal. In our friends (“low self-esteem: absent father”) in our bosses (“overreacting at every meeting: abandonment issues”). Pop culture has made us painfully aware of the havoc the adults in our lives can distribute without ever meaning to. Perhaps the divorce rate reaching a low it hasn’t seen in 40 years is possibly due to…more adults taking notice: a healthy household breeds healthy, well adjusted, emotionally stable children.

I respect the adults who can overcome, and stick it out for their children. They are the best of us in many ways- showing perseverance in the middle of a waged war and digging their heels in – fighting the “good fight”. But what happens when the house is divided? When two people are out of options, tired and exhausted? Staying together for the kids is not always the healthiest (wisest) option – because the truth is, those little buggers, they know us inside out. They know when Mommy is sad, when Daddy is angry. They feel the tension. And that can breed anxious, attention-seeking- peace-making adults. Sometimes, it appears to be a “lose-lose”.

For some of us unlucky (or lucky) ones, divorce is the only option – or the best option of the few we may have. Sometimes, there is some reward due to not sticking it out as well. Not putting our children through the tight lipped aggression, the resentment. Sometimes divorce can be a freedom. For me, it felt like a weight lifted. Not at first – but eventually. And I had to figure out how to parent my child, who had gone from “Mommy and Daddy and me” to “Mommy or Daddy and me”.

We both wanted to “co-parent” but it sounded elusive. Emotionally we were in bad shape and one of us was still very angry. So angry that co-parenting was the last thing on my mind. I knew better than to talk bad about my child’s father in front of her – even when she asked where her daddy was and only explicative words came to mind – I surprised myself with my own maturity. First visits and outings were awkward. Initially I would have no plans to be involved. “This is their time together,” I would tell myself and make my presence scarce. However my daughter soon took notice.

She would ask me to hang out with them more often. It was difficult because there were a lot words hanging in the air, and we had to clear the air so that we could co-exist with our child. We had built walls between us with the things that we couldn’t say, or ask…for fear of the land mines they would set off. Over time, it became easier. And the three of us relied on each other to be held accountable. It became some sort of weird new codependency. But it worked. We each have time with our daughter, but we also spend quality time together as a family.

We go to the movies, take day trips, we even took daddy to see The Lion King for his birthday. After a lot of work, and a lot of tears, and a lot of breaking down walls, and building new bridges since the old ones had long since burned down, we are able to co-exist. More and more I am finding my male and female friends asking about the relationship I have with my daughter’s father. I am the first to admit it’s an odd relationship, and my friends aren’t shy to inform me of that fact. But still, they say it’s admirable. And some of them who do not have the desire to hit their ex over the head with a shovel even seek to replicate it. There is no formula, but there are a few things to practice:

Trust: Once this has broken, it is almost impossible to rebuild. However, this is where compartmentalization is optimal. I may not be able to trust you in areas of love, but I need to be able to trust you to be reliable with our child. If you say you’ll pick up our daughter at a certain time, and you do that every time, or better yet, communicate within a reasonable time if you’ve run in a snafu {Communication is key – more on that later} that builds trust. Start by taking small steps. Keep important dates on your calendar so no one has to remind anyone else of the dance recital coming up next Tuesday. Be available on the dates and times you agreed to. Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s level of comfort – it’s easy to feel you know someone if you’ve co-habitated with them. But in truth you only knew who they were – past tense.

Separation changes people. Becoming a single parent changes people. Certain friends (especially if someone feels like they had a hand in the separation or took sides), places and events become off limits. For the person who lacks trust, it is not an issue of being difficult – it’s more an issue of doubt that they ever knew you or your intentions. So, they no longer trust you at your word. Be patient with each other while you rebuild.

Communication: I’ll be the first to admit, although I talk a lot – my communication skills needed work. I hated asking for help, and by the time I did – I’d be annoyed that I had to ask at all! Why couldn’t they figure out what I was thinking?! Irrational I know. And a recipe for disaster. By not informing her father straight up, I was basically begging to have an argument. On top of everything else, simple things like pick up and drop off should not be a headache. So we started small. He took the first step, exasperated with my stubbornness, he started asking me in advance of the week if there was anything he could do. He would also inform me when he was not available. I followed suit by sending him calendar invites to school events and asking for help instead of overreacting.

Share: This is an easy one. Don’t be selfish. SHARE! Share good reports, good grades, bad grades, pictures, drawings, etc. When you snap a pic of the kids at the park or helping mix pancake batter, send it to the other parent. When you get disappointing grades, share those too. You do not have to be the only one celebrating, and you do not have to be the only one disciplining. No one parent should have to shoulder all the responsibility. Talk to each other.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, in fact as I was writing this my ex and I are a few days into an intense discussion. It’s not easy, and more often than not it seems easier to dismantle the progress we’ve made than to push forward. But our daughter benefits from having both of us, and I believe she’s the reason why although at times it feels impossible, it is necessary. For me, it’s a small win in a situation surrounded by losses. My hope is that more of us estranged parents are able to start and/or maintain a co-parenting relationship. Try to keep it clean, try hard because it’s not easy.

I think most of us are just trying not to screw our children up. We want them to be better than us – smarter, faster, stronger, and especially happy. I hope that our daughter gets the most from us, the good stuff, the stuff she needs. Like many parents, married and unmarried alike, the focus on our child and her future, has kept us in cooperation with each other, standing together for our daughter to have the best life possible – those are the goals we all focus on. And it can unite us if we allow.

Shaneeka Wilson
Author: Shaneeka Wilson

Mom to an adult trapped in a tween's body (HELP!). Passionate about Education, Community Involvement, and Good Coffee. Co-creator of Uptown Birdies.