Our daughter was born in 2005. In the midst of this incredible blessing and an abundance of other life-altering events, my partner and I realised we weren’t going to work out. By the time our daughter turned 18 months, we split up.
The reasons why her dad and I split up aren’t important but how we dealt with it was and is. We actively chose to create two happy homes for our daughter and not continue with trying to keep it together in an emotionally tense situation. In many respects, we realised that we weren’t doing our daughter any favours with our attempts to remain a nuclear family.
Let the drama go
Our split was not dramatic or tearful – we approached it like a business and worked together to lay down the foundations for how our child would be raised. It wasn’t a heartache-free decision taken lightly but we both knew we had to put our respective anguish aside and work hard at creating a love-filled life for our child.
I make it sound easy, don’t I? Splitting up with my child’s father was actually my most difficult life event thus far, superceding even the loss of my parents. While we weren’t married and hence, didn’t have to worry about the legal and emotional ramifications of a divorce, it did very much feel like one. It still does, to this day, more than five years onwards. But we have healed, moved on and work together to make our daughter’s life filled with love, fun and learning.
People are different
We disagree on a regular basis. Our differing view points often cause us to butt heads but we never reveal our disagreements to her. We work incredibly hard to keep our disagreements out of her life and both agree that there’s no reason to involve her in them. We don’t do nasty telephone calls and we don’t ever speak badly of each other. To us, these are cardinal rules for keeping her safe from adult disagreements and ensuring that she never feels like the cause of an argument. In truth, she never actually is.
We disagree over the typical stuff –money, time and other people. These things form only the background to her life though, and are not deemed important enough by us to bring to the fore. The important things in her life –her education, social development and family life are the critical facets of her life and we agree on those.
All about her
We work from a perspective that focuses on the things we agree on and not on things we disagree about. By simply ensuring that our focus remains positive, we find our interactions are not fraught but simple. I realise, all too well, that this is not the case for many divorced people or ex-couples.
I’ve heard absolute horror stories of others’ situations – of abusive ex-husbands, bitter mothers restricting a father’s access to the children and awful misunderstandings. These cases, where the child is subject to emotional abuse or neglect as a result of their parents’ actions, are thankfully not the type of situation we’ve found ourselves in. We’ve been lucky to escape such trauma and we are happy co-parents.
We have always believed that our child needs both her parents and to feel secure that we are always focused on her. When she asked me, at four years old, why mom and dad have separate homes, I explained that, “We had to make a choice so that we could all be happy.”
Tanya, a co-parenting mom of one in Johannesburg, agrees with our approach: “From the onset, we said we’d put our child first. And that has meant putting aside any of our own sadness or anger, and making him the priority. As a result, we communicate well, parent consistently, and are at our toddler’s birthday parties together. We also said from the beginning that we would never speak badly about each other to our son, and that he would never feel he has to choose, or be in the middle of a battlefield. As a result of these intentions, we’ve had a smooth experience so far.” Tanya also agreed that “thinking of your child first” is the most important element of co-parenting.
What it means for her
Making it clear, in every way, that our split had nothing to do with her and everything to do with our mutual love for her, has empowered our daughter. We attend family events together and, even though that was awkward for us at first, we’ve appreciated each event more for it. Having the support of our larger families has been critical in further entrenching our daughter’s happiness and security. She doesn’t view herself as different, she actually sees herself as very lucky.
To her, she has two homes, two loving and involved parents and an abundance of family members. As is the way with life, my child’s dad and I went on to find new loves and new life partners. As a result, our child also feels confident. A recent art project at school required that she draw her family tree. My heart burst with pride when she told me about it and exclaimed, “Mom, mine was two pages long!”