There is no secret to co parenting. Some people may have a great relationship with their ex, and make it look easy. Others may never get along and the kid’s suffer. I am somewhere in between. I’ve been separated from my ex since April 2010. The catalyst may have been his 8 month affair with a coworker, but the separation triggered a year and a half of hospitalizations for mental illnesses that remain untreated to this day.
A disease like bipolar makes a person, and their life extremely inconsistent. Day-to-day, month-to-month, I never know what he’s going to do. After our separation, he was a danger to himself and the children, so he missed nearly 2 years of their life. After medication, time and a steady relationship with the women he’s now married to, he began to become their father again.
Now, he claims to be in a good place. He’s married to a women with 3 kids. When his kids come to visit they sleep on a pull out sofa in a living room they converted into a media/guest room. They fall asleep to pictures of their dad’s memorabilia, mainly special edition horror DVD’s, and sit on their electronics all weekend until their dad takes them to the mall and buys them something.
It could be worse that’s for sure, but for 24 days a year, that’s their life. They sit far away from friends and social life. Far away from their bedrooms decorated by and for them. Far away from their home with 2 loving parents who help with homework, volunteer at their school, pack nutritious lunches, make them go to bed at a reasonable hour and tuck them in every night with cuddles and love, and maybe even a booty shake out the door.
I can’t protect them when they aren’t with me. That is the hardest part about co parenting. Especially when you are co parenting with someone with mental illness.
Give them confidence when they question his love
The only thing I can do is to try to make them strong and happy the 340 days a year they are with me. When they are exposed to one of his episodes, I do damage control. I say things like,
Your dad loves you, he just shows you love in a different way that we do.
Your dad doesn’t always make the best choices, but he always loves you.
Your dad doesn’t get to see you a lot so he probably doesn’t know ______.
Encourage them to share their feelings
My girls aren’t actually themselves when they talk to their dad. With me, they have no problem expressing themselves, but with him, they act the way they think he wants them to act. I encourage them to share their feelings because I can’t always fight their battles. Depending on his mood, I’m either a controlling bitch or great mom who they girls are lucky to have. Of course, what he thinks of me doesn’t matter, because to my girls, I’m the one who makes them feel safe and loved.
Remember it’s not about you
I have spent the last 7 years protecting our children from his inconsistent, selfish behavior. I have shown them happiness when everything was literally falling apart around us. Some days are hard, and I wish he would fall completely out of their lives for good, but then I remember, it’s not about me.
I can only hope that after my daughter’s experiences with their dad, they will not feel unworthy of his love, or rejected and damaged. Instead, I hope they will learn the true lesson of unconditional love.