September. Labour Day.
A day of transition (understatement).
If you are a parent to school-aged children, September can be a bit much (I’m polite here).
If you are separated and divorced and share parenting with a co-parent, September can be too much.
It can be too many decisions, and it can be too many decision implementations, especially when you have to navigate those decisions with a co-parent.
It really can be too much but does it have to be?
It depends on how you approach it.
Let me tell you a story. A story of two parents with a 5-year-old and eight-year-old child who were both heading back to school.
Both parents have recently signed their separation agreement. Both parents had believed that the separation agreement was the clear document they needed to help them made decisions. The parents had spent a lot of money and done a lot of work to get this agreement finalized. The parents were pinning their hopes on this agreement.
I’m sorry to say; both parents were a bit deluded.
These parents had a separation agreement, but that is about all they had.
They didn’t have a shared understanding of how to interpret that agreement, and they didn’t have a process to get to a shared understanding.
What did they have?
They had a lot of anger, grief, and blame directed at the other parent.
And they also had to make a joint decision.
What was the decision?
Which parent was going to buy the back-to-school shoes? Seriously? Was buying shoes the big decision?
Parent A (ahem, type A so you can remember) had always done the back to school shopping.
Parent B (yes, that would make this parent type B) had worked outside the home and in the past had provided the money for the shopping.
Under the agreement, Parent A and Parent B were now to share parenting and share the costs associated with the parenting, but they both had different ideas of how this looked.
Had I mentioned Parent A was feeling devastated and depressed? Parent A had gone from being a full-time parent to being a part-time parent who was trying to find work and was trying to cover all the bills associated with running a part-time single parent household. Parent A was managing to cover the bills, but there was nothing for extras.
Parent B was also feeling devastated and depressed. Parent B had gone from being a full-time employee to being a full-time employee with a new part-time parenting job (which seemed like full time!). Parent B also felt financially strapped. How was it possible to run two households on one income (which is what was happening as Parent A still had not managed to find work!)?
Parent B was also providing child support to Parent A.
Queue the back-to-school shopping.
Parent A had bought the summer pair of shoes for the kids and decided it was Parent B’s turn. Parent A was tired of being taken for granted. All anyone cared about was money, and Parent A hadn’t been given any credit for the years of work done as a stay-at-home parent. Well, no longer, that was going to change. Parent B could buy the shoes.
Parent B had just transferred money to Parent A for child support. Child support is supposed to cover the basics. Back-to-school shoes are basics. Parent A didn’t seem to understand how hard it was to cover off the funding for two households. Parent A could buy the shoes.
The first day of school approached, and Parent A noticed that the kids were still running around in their Crocs. “Has Parent B taken you shopping for new shoes?” asked Parent A. “Nope.” said the kids.
To keep the kids out of the middle (though, it is reasonably sure that the kids noticed Parent A’s eye-rolling when they answered “nope.”), Parent A contacted Parent B to talk about back-to-school shopping. “It’s your turn to buy the shoes,” said Parent A to Parent B, “but I know you’re busy, so I can buy them if you agree to pay for them.”
Parent B disagreed.
“Well,” thought Parent A, “the kids can go to school without new shoes. Then maybe Parent B will finally start to understand the work I did all those years and will stop taking me for granted.”
So the kids didn’t get new shoes.
The teachers sent notes home that the kids needed running shoes. The kids said they needed running shoes. Parent A and Parent B dug in their heels.
Parent B to Parent A: “I just gave you child support, you can buy the shoes.”
Parent A to Parent B: “I’ll buy them if you pay me to go out and do that. I charge $50 per hour for parenting services. I bought the shoes last time; it is your turn based on our 50-50 sharing of parenting. I will kindly do this on your behalf if you pay me to do it.”
Did I mention that this argument took place at the five-year old’s first soccer game and in front of both kids?
What was the outcome of all of this? I will say that Parent A and Parent B eventually reached a resolution on this decision and the kids got new shoes.
The kids also got put in the middle and witnessed their parents having a knockdown, drag em out fight at a soccer game for five-year-olds.
Parent A and Parent B had not figured out how to address these decisions either; they were still using old methods of communication where there was a winner and a loser and the next time they had to make a joint resolution, the same thing happened again.
And it continued.
Every simple decision took days, weeks and months to resolve, not to mention the damage to the kids.
Sometimes Parent A felt like the winner, and sometimes Parent B did, but I can tell you everyone was losing in this situation.
“This is exhausting,” thought Parent A and B “life is hard enough – running a single parent household, without having to try to work with my difficult co-parent. Do simple decisions seriously have to take this long?”
Both Parent A’s and Parent B’s depression deepened.
Back-to-school, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Birthdays, Spring Break, Summer. Already stressful enough without the added stress of the battles associated with decision making.
Both Parent A and Parent B knew it couldn’t continue the way it was. They tried various methods to make things easier.
Parent A and Parent B sought help. They both went for counseling and coaching, separately at first and then together after they learned ways to be around each other.
Parent A and Parent B have been separated for 5 and half years and divorced for four. Their kids are 12 and 9. They are not the parents they used to be, and it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment when Parent A and Parent B became true co-parents, but I do know it wasn’t when they signed their separation agreement.
A day of gratitude for Co-Parents A and B.
A day to remind them how much easier it is to make decisions now, which is a massive relief as the decisions never stop and only seem to increase with each passing September.
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