This morning, I got an Amber Alert for two children who had been abducted at gunpoint by their father and grandfather, and you know, sometimes, there are just awful people and nothing will ever change their awful-ness. But it got me thinking about a conversation I had the other day about divorce, breakups, and co-parenting relationships when there are kids involved.
One of my favorite bloggers on my blogroll, Ilkaisha, is actually a dear, real-life friend of mine whom I have known since middle school. She also happened to be in my general area on Wednesday, and so she came by my house for a spur-of-the-moment get-together. I forget how the subject came up, but we started talking about co-parenting. Co-parenting is what happens when two people who have kids separate/divorce/break up, and I said something that I’ve been thinking about since then. I said: “Obvious circumstances aside, if someone can’t have a civil co-parenting relationship with a former partner, they’re being a bad parent”.
Before I get an uproar on my hands, let me explain further. Circumstances like drug use/domestic abuse in all its forms/child abuse in all its forms/someone just being a bad parent will obviously throw civility out the window. What I meant was if two people part ways for reasons like infidelity/just not in love anymore or things along those lines, it is their parental duty to maintain a civil co-parenting relationship.
For example, if the Mister cheated on me and we broke up, that’s not the kids’ problem. He didn’t cheat on them. His infidelity would have no bearing on the children so long as his ability and capacity as a father did not suffer or decline as a result of said infidelity. Any hurt or anger I would feel towards him would be between ourselves, and if I were to talk badly about him to/around the kids, if I were to withhold them from seeing him because of my hurt and anger, I would be a very, very bad parent. If you’re a parent, you know that kids are little sponges. They see, hear, and absorb more than we think they do, and being hostile and vindictive about their other parent will inflict wounds that will take years of therapy to heal, if they ever heal at all.
My mom and dad are friends, have been for a long time now. But there was a time when that wasn’t always the case. To their credit, they tried (for the most part) to keep their hostility towards one another from me, but there was a very brief period of time where they failed miserably. I couldn’t be around one without hearing bad things being said about the other. Even when they did succeed at refraining from talking about each other in front of me, I still heard things that I wasn’t supposed to hear. I remember laying in bed, trying to fall asleep, and hearing discussions that weren’t meant for my ears. Walls don’t block out much when voices get raised. It hurt me so badly to hear them talk about each other that way. But, as far as I know, I very rarely repeated to one what I’d heard the other say. My grandmother became the vault for those little tidbits.
It shouldn’t have hurt me as badly as it did, but I was just a child, and children don’t always have the logic and insight needed to know that parents trashing each other has nothing to do with them. If I’d heard the same things as an adult, I would probably roll my eyes and say “Well, you have Mom’s number, call her and rant at her, this has nothing to do with me” or “Mom, I love you both. Keep me out of your issues with my dad”.
Also, when they finally did bury the hatchet and became good friends, it really confused the heck out of me. How could two people who had such animosity towards one another just all of a sudden be friends to the point that when my dad had his camp-outs, my mom would come with my brothers *and* my step-dad? I got used to it, but it was weird for a little bit.
Now, there are some people out there who just aren’t good people. But if you and your partner go your own respective ways, and there were none of the obvious exceptions I mentioned above, ask yourself one thing:
“Is he/she a good mother/father to our children?”
If your answer is yes, then you need to strive for civility when it comes to anything related to those kids. Of course, it would be awesome if you could remain friendly, but at least aim for civility. If your answer is yes, and you trash your former partner to the kids, around the kids, you are damaging them. Obvious exceptions aside, most kids love both their parents. How do you feel when two of your best friends suddenly have a vicious falling out with one another and trash each other to you? You might feel stuck in the middle, right? You might feel like you need to fix it, but you feel helpless to do so. All of a sudden, you have to divide your time between the two, because they won’t be anywhere near each other, and on rare occasions when they are, the tension is so thick it’s almost suffocating. And when they say mean things to you about the other, you’re torn, because if someone else was saying these things to you, you’d tell the other friend. But you can’t tell them, because the person saying those things is your friend too, and that would be betraying their trust. It sucks, but you can deal for the most part because you’re all grown up and you know that eventually things will work out. Even if they’re never friends with each other again, they will adapt and respect that you are friends with them both, and things will reach a point of indifference.
Now imagine that you’re a kid. These ‘friends’ are your parents. Your loyalty to each of them magnifies all those feelings above, and you feel so torn. But you haven’t gained years of wisdom and logic yet. You’re still a kid. Your emotions rule you for the most part. Now take your grown-up knowledge that time flies by and throw it out the window. Remember when we all thought that 30 was old? When you’re young, years stretch ahead of you, intangible, making it near impossible to comprehend that time will pass and things will settle down, even if they don’t get better. Take that emotional turmoil and multiply it. You can’t fix what’s wrong with your parents, because you’re a kid. Talk about feeling helpless and hopeless.
That is why I believe (again, obvious exceptions aside) that hostile co-parenting might border on mental abuse, but at the very least, will definitely harm the kids involved. And if you can’t pull up your big girl panties or big boy boxers and suck up your own hurt and anger for the sake of the mental well-being of your kids, then at best, you’re a selfish arse…
…and at worst, an abusive, crappy excuse for a parent.