Co-Parenting Challenges And Promises

Parenting choices at the gumball machine tell a story.

The creation of our post-divorce family paradigm steered us through many unexpected paths of both challenge and promise. As a couple, we struggled with differing modalities towards the same desired goals for our kids. After we ended our marital relationship, these struggles didn’t magically ease in their intensity; at first, they became more difficult. We made mistakes that hurt our kids because we fell head-first into fruitless power struggles.

The challenge.

During one of our first post-divorce experiences, we attended a school performance and chose not to sit together. Earlier that morning, we engaged in an angry, grievous conversation with one another. When channeling your inner fire-breathing-dragon, spitting distance of the other isn’t safe for anyone. So, when we arrived at the school, we ignored each other and settled in to watch the performance.

As the play unfolded, I saw the result of our actions reflected in our daughter’s eyes. With an anguished heart, I watched our daughter look back and forth between her father and myself during her performance. Her discomfort in finding a balance between us became more awkward during the cast photographs after the show-her uneasiness growing as she posed back and forth between our cameras.

Instead of enjoying her performance, she struggled to manage her emotions while feeling torn between her parents. Her father and I, caught up in our disagreements, had thoughtlessly created an embarrassing family moment that overshadowed our kid’s school event.

“What the hell have we done?” I asked myself as I drove away in a hot mess of tears and nausea. In my mind, our divorce was not her issue to contend with, especially not at her school, surrounded by her peers and her community.

This experience revealed one of many specific areas where her father and I needed to improve how we co-parented our kids. It reminded us to follow through on all we promised the day we told them our marriage would no longer be the core of our family life. On that day, we assured them that we would always remain connected as a family, and as parents, we would be there for them in every way possible.

Could we sit together at a school play? Yes, we could do this for our kids.

The promise.

Moving forward, we decided to give our kids as many cohesive family meals and social events together as possible. After all, we were and always will be family. Today, we continue our efforts to show up as co-parents and support them with the continuity of family time. We share birthdays, a few holiday meals, and all school events with our kids. They need us both to love them without conditions and deserve our collective focus.

During one of our first post-divorce family meals together, our independent life approaches and parenting styles were exhibited at a gumball machine. As we left the restaurant, we stopped at the gumball machine.

As Evelyn twisted the coin wheel, I cupped my hand below the chute door to capture the gumball before it hit the floor. As Vivian turned the coin wheel, her father held the chute door closed with his finger to prevent the gumball from rolling out onto the floor. There it was, two different strategies towards the same goal.

At the moment, I was both amused and appreciative of the overall differences in our parenting choices. Even a trip to a gumball machine revealed our inherent differences.

We’ve always shared a common desire for our kids to be happy and healthy. We apply two different sets of parenting tools to that end. In this instance, we both tried to control the outcome of the gumball’s destination; one of us casting a net while the other used the brakes.

I thought about our longstanding tug-of-war for control in our marital paradigm. And though I was nostalgic for all the ways we worked as a couple, the gumball machine reminded me of how persistently we differ in our fundamental approaches to life.

These differences had been there all along. As a married couple with our individuality muted, we weren’t fully present for our kids.

I gained more clarity and energy to parent our kids after releasing the weight of constant communication woes and spousal dysfunction. As the primary focus of our communications shifted to co-parenting, we eventually became kinder to one another.

We began to function better as a parenting team-our relationship load lightened, we focused on the future. It wasn’t always smooth or graceful, but we kept at the work of keeping our focus upon our kids. The process became a bit easier with each step. Over time, our marital hurts are faded into the rearview mirror and steadily dipped below the horizon.

As we’ve gained independence both as parents and as individuals, the need for control in parental roles has lessened. There are still disagreements and disappointments; however, now, we aren’t managing decisions from our previous foundation as a bickering couple or the need to out-maneuver one another.

Our shared goals for the wellbeing of our kids; how they value themselves as individuals, their confidence in our ongoing parental devotion to them is now at the forefront of our co-parenting relationship.

We no longer shared in the daily minutiae of meals, bedtimes, entertainment, free play, chores, or entertainment. With separate residences, we’ve inherently given up full control of those details. Each must trust that the other is capable of figuring out strategies to manage the daily lives of our kids. As our kids grow, we continuously design the delicate and worthy framework of compassionate, co-parenting communication. In this, we are teaching our kids that there are many ways to meet challenges and honor promises. And, that compromise is attainable, no matter how the gumballs roll out.

Originally published at on January 16, 2020.



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Laura Phoenix Power

Laura Phoenix Power

Writer, Poet, Creative Collaborator, Intuitive Coach