Coparenting Sucker Punch
My daughter came home, after a weekend with her father, talking about how his girlfriend paid $150 for a cabana at a hotel pool they spent the day at. In her innocence, she went into detail about the added expenses of paying for food on top of the cabana fee in language that sounded like a reconstituted adult conversation. She said that she overheard the waiter explaining their cabana policy (children seem preoccupied but don’t miss a thing...and their brains don’t filter). The following weeks were filled with stories of a yearly Disney pass her father was buying for her after his house sold. And then another account of the Hamilton tickets he was trying to score for them.
Finally, came my breaking point: my denouement came to bloom.
My tears and fears came welling up to the surface. You want your children to have amazing experiences, but the reality is you won’t be able to share in every momentous occasion. This is especially true in divorce.
I was out of town receiving treatment with a doctor in Houston when the loss of control happened. I had sent my ex an email detailing parenting choices I was making in my home. He had wanted the information, in an attempt to create cohesion between our two homes. I mentioned wanting to take a class with our daughter—a shared experience for her and I. So It was in all innocence when he texted that Saturday to say he was signing them up to take ukulele lessons together. The initial Id in my ego defiantly finger waved, “Oh no he didn’t.” Then the body functions took over, wind left my chest and I felt sucker punched. My body constricted, a film of sweat laced my body and that feeling of the being attacked by wild game came over me.
You see, separation and divorce are the hardest decisions I've ever committed to.
I took neither choice lightly. I did not want my daughter to grow up a child of divorce. I tried everything possible to save my marriage and totally emptied out my relationship tool box. But, at the end of the day, you also want your child to see their parents happy and loved. You want a child to know they deserve joy in their lives and that the behaviors they witness at home are the model for living that joy. I did not want my daughter seeing a mother who felt worthy of living without a loving relationship in her life.
For me, the gutting, monstrous work came after separation. What one can never prepare for are the milestones after divorce. My ex-husband, at warp speed, entered into a new committed relationship with another after I moved out. I thought there would be a time for grieving, for adjustment. I hoped for a slow rebuilding of our family unit. Fate had something very different in mind and with each new unfolding, another gremlin of low self-worth had to be friended.
At the end of the day, I get it. I know this man is doing all he can to be a good father. At my best, I imagine his girlfriend is attempting to create a happy experience for her first meetings with my daughter. What could be better than people taking thoughtful care of your child when you can't be there 50% of the time?
But in those first moments after he told me of his fun plans with our daughter, all I wanted to do was write one of my fire and brimstone emails to him — a correspondence breaking down how threatened I was by their pummeling stories on a loop of good fortune, high times and living their best life. I wanted to jab him with caustic, new age jargon wishes of supporting their prosperity and enlightenment. And then it hit me, will these acts provide harm or harmony?
I remembered back to my yoga instructor sharing a story in class about our endless wrestling with trying to get rid of the ego. In Hinduism, an ego is a tool necessary for navigating human existence. It is not something to obliterate like we see it in the West. As a tool, we must constantly be in the dance of using it to create actions that either produce harm or harmony in our life. Are we allowing and receiving love or committing an action that creates separation from our source of life force?
The crypt keeper in my brain kept screaming, "You are inadequate; you are not enough." “You will never be able to “compete” with their combined economic means.” My struggles with abundance and feeling abandoned by him felt like fists swinging at both sides of my head as if I were sparing with a heavyweight boxer.
I took a breath.
With the breath was a spark of recognition that no one is trying to create hurt. I was not under attack and the only one that could make me feel small was myself. Thanks for nothing, Eleanor Roosevelt! In the end their actions were not personal.
With enough breath now flowing to my extremities, I started affirmations—“I am a good mother”—to create some window of comfort. After a little more oxygen, I went into my best Kyle Cease exercises of acknowledging what I feared most. I feared some other woman trying to become my child’s mother. I had to admit to myself my fears of never having economic freedom. I looked at that fear, that fiery death swirling around like a vice grip around my organs and answered back, “And I love that.” That action of allowing switched up the coding in my mainframe. In a moment a seed was planted for total radical acceptance of a once frightening juncture. The action brought the limited, threatening self-beliefs out into the light. It was just enough to navigate a volatile situation to dry land. I wasn’t in the grips of the ego’s ancient defense system trying to protect me from the saber-tooth tiger.
I was honest: I did let him know that taking a class together was something I had mentioned wanting to do with her. But I also realized that maybe what he was trying to do was let me know the idea was a good one. That he valued my solution and wanted to participate in a shared experience with her as well.
In a real moment of rerouting my crazy train, I reached out to him.
I composed an email expressing how much I valued him as a dad. I wanted him to know I witnessed his depth of care as a father and how it would shape our daughter in the future.
A feeling of deep gratitude came over me. I could see what this situation brought to the surface, a chance to witness effectively using my ego as a tool for creating harmony and support for myself. I took a moment to recognize how far I have come with hurt and abandonment. With this life exercise, I was asked to come back to the self, to break glass, grab my coping toolbox to rebuild, resurrect, to fortify the heart.
We think love only shapes us when we look into our lover's eyes. In truth, it is when we realize the universe sends us lessons that shape us by shaking us up. Little mini earthquakes to create new formations that allow the heart and mind to expand. A way to look into your life experiences and realize you are the lover, you are the one you have been waiting all this time for. The beloved is within you everywhere, even in the IAH United terminal.