african american parents arguing

Working it out can be hard, but necessary

We sat together laughing on the day the judge was to finalize our divorce. Her Honor commented on our laughter and how lucky our daughter was to have parents that could do so while facing one of the most onerous days of their lives. Regardless of how relationships end, and even if both parties believe the end is necessary, there is pain and selfishness and cruelty that ensnares us when we part ways. The judge had seen a great deal of that ugliness on her bench, and my ex and I were definitely one of those couples a short time before we appeared in her courtroom.

A few months earlier, we were incapable of sitting in the same room, let alone sharing laughter and love as we did that day. Back then, I couldn’t stand the sight of him, the sound of his voice, or the mention of his name. I despised him.

I saw so much of myself in Mimi Faust as she spoke, with quivers, about her tumultuous relationship with her daughter’s father, Stevie J, on this week’s Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta. Those who watch the show frequently see that J torments her repeatedly, but Faust can’t simply shut him out of her life because of their daughter, Eva. So little by little, we see glimpses of Mimi falling apart and witness the continuous emotional deathblows she’s dealt.  

Those who’ve never been in the kind of situation we see Mimi struggling through believe that surely she should be over Stevie by now, that she should be past the anger she feels toward him due to how he’s treated (and continues to treat) her. Others who share an experience similar to Mimi’s are reminded of how difficult it is to move forward when the person who has hurt you like no one else shows up at your doorstep to pick up the kids for the weekend, or for the holiday you’d rather they spend with your family.

It can feel like a fresh hell.

Our children deserve our best efforts at creating positive spaces where it’s clear that, although their parents are no longer romantic partners, they’re still partners in raising happy, healthy children. They also deserve to be treated like children—not pawns or confidantes. How can this be accomplished? How can we view our exes not as the partners who failed us, but as parents (because those roles are separate and have to be observed as such)?

Our children deserve our best efforts at creating positive spaces where it’s clear that, although their parents are no longer romantic partners, they’re still partners in raising happy, healthy children.

First, remember that it’s a new day. Leave your exes’ bad behavior in the past, and if that behavior continues to create boundaries, limit how much of it you have to absorb.  Whether through mediation or lengthy emails, communication about issues concerning support, visitation and boundaries regarding both need to be established right away.  Work to focus on communication about the children, whether your ex brings up the past relationship or whether you want to. Your relationship has shifted to co-parenting, so do whatever’s necessary to accept that—therapy, meditation, dating again. Even if your ex committed deep betrayals like infidelity, focus on him/her as a parent.

Always set realistic expectations for your ex. Prepare yourself for disappointment, because even the most “together” co-parent will fail to meet your expectations at some point. You can expect more and make yourself crazy because those expectations aren’t met, or you can relax and allow your children and ex to create their own relationship—understanding that it will more than likely be very different than what you might want.  Clinical psychologist Dr. Andra Brosh offers the following advice to the newly, non-amicably divorced:

While some exes flourish as parents after divorce, others become ornery and annoying. The rule of thumb is to expect no more than the ex was doing in the marriage, and brace for less now that he or she has other priorities. Even if you think he or she should be doing a better job, remember that it’s not up to you to police your ex’s parenting.

Stop making up stories. There are always three versions of the truth that rise from the ashes of an ended relationship. If we’re honest, often we embellish the breakup story so that we can be seen as sympathetic victims. And at some point, we begin to believe our own exaggerations.

Often our exes aren’t the monsters we’ve made them out to be. They most likely didn’t develop a plot to ruin our lives. Many times, they made bad choices that they can’t (or have no desire to) correct. They were selfish, careless or worse. Being honest about the relationship in full (including how you contributed to the breakup, because you did) will help rid you of some of the anger you feel towards your ex, which is the only way you’ll be able to peaceably parent with him/her.

There’s so much more to say. Chime in! What advice can you give for co-parenting with a loathed ex?

Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and solider of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.