It is considered taboo in the divorced parenting world to fall victim to the “I’m the better parent” syndrome. Well, I am the first to say that I did live in that world and felt the need to micromanage every parenting decision that my ex made throughout my children’s childhood. (Scowl if you will, I just am woman enough to admit it.)
My kids are now 18 and 20, settled in college life and on their way to creating a life devoid of divorced parent squabbles. I always imagined that when they were out of the house and no longer needing velcro sneakers and homework help that this “better parent game” would end.
Gone would be the questions about bedtimes, playdates and inappropriate TV shows. It would be a new stage in our lives. My former and I would be able to enjoy the wonderful young adults our children have become and revel in our accomplishments as parents. We would no longer play one upmanship, or wonder if the kids were happier at the other one’s house. I envisioned a world free of petty disaggreements where we all sat around reminicing of times gone by. Life would be as calm and carefree as a Norman Rockwell painting… right?
Surprise!!! Just because the children might not be brushing their teeth at your house or reading the Magic Tree House doesn’t mean that the “he said, she said” words of divorce have come to an end. It has simply been replaced by a new version; the college edition of “I’m the better, more involved parent.” Gone are comments such as, “Did you know he likes grilled broccoli with olive oil?” They have been replaced with, “I had a conversation with Johnny and he’s going to change his meal plan,”or “Did you hear who was at the frat party he went to the other night?”
“Frat party? I didn’t know anything about a frat party!”
As these comments became more and more prevalent I found myself pinching myself to remember that the kids were no longer children. They were young adults who drive and send resumes to Fortune 500 companies for summer employment. How can this still be happening? Then I began to wonder….
Maybe it isn’t about the children at all, maybe it’s about us, the parents. The parents whose children no longer need us to tell them who to play with or that their screen time is up. Perhaps it is hanging on to the familiar because if we let go, we will be propelled into a new chapter of life. A life devoid of each other’s comfortable nagging ways. Maybe by keeping the comments and the one upmanship alive we are putting off the inevitable ending of an era.
As I reveled in this new lofty way of thinking I decided that I was ready to face the future and welcome a new relationship with my former. I would no longer engage in the semantics of the better parent game.
My son is coming home in a few weeks for winter break.
“I’ll pick him up from the airport, then he can rest at my house and come to you in the morning,” were the words of my ex.
I bit my tongue and didn’t reply. Well at least not to him. I called my son and began to question him relentlessly about why he wasn’t coming home to “mommy’s house first.” As I began to bribe him with food and cable channels he informed me that he wasn’t even coming to us first. He was spending the first few days at his girlfriend’s house.
His girlfriends house? I bet my ex didn’t even know our son had a girlfriend!!! I immediately threw out my new way of thinking and began to dial my son’s father. As soon as he answered, I doubled checked my information ammunition and let him have it.
“Did you know that Johnny isn’t even coming straight home during his break? He’s going to his girlfriend’s house!!”
I felt vindicated. I finally had more information than he did. I was victorious! I was prepared for a snarky reply letting me know that this was old information; instead my ex was silent.
“Hello? Are you there?”
I wasn’t ready for this lack of response.
Was the game over? Wasn’t he going to reply with an, “I already knew”.
I felt a wave of panic rush over me realizing that I was as much an equal contender in this game as he had been. I wasn’t as self-realized as I had thought and was nowhere near ready to move onto the other stage.
Feeling ashamed and ready to delve into some Ben and Jerry’s, I heard him mumble something.
It sounded like, “Did you know that Jackie is planning on taking 18 credits next semester?”
Like a jolt of lightening in the form of adreniline I was back on the field. But this time I didn’t play with the old rules. I quickly realized that it might be time to change things up a bit. I answered with,” I didn’t know that, I’ll be sure to discuss that with her next time we speak.”
I don’t know if this less antagonistic way of receiving information will be long lived. I do know that even though I’m not a newbie in the divorce arena, situations are always changing and, I for one, do not want my future grandchildren to be privy to the insane,”I’m the better grandparent” scenario.
Here’s to a little bit more divorced, a little bit older and wiser.
Has co-parenting gotten easier for you?
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