There was a time when I thought I wanted to be a divorce coach. Already a professional coach helping clients with career issues, including transitions, it hit me about a year after my separation that I was being called to help people with divorce.
I intentionally did not pursue the path of divorce coach. I quickly decided I didn’t want to eat/sleep/breathe divorce – not even healthy divorce. I was clear I didn’t want my professional life to so closely mirror my personal life. However, I did feel like I had something to say that might be useful to others and ended up writing about it.
The Art of Co-Parenting has been in circulation since 2012 and outlines the platinum principles of shared parenting during divorce. The booklet was born of extensive research and my own experience. It is not my personal story, however, it is a set of operating instructions I live by.
- Protect your child from parental conflict, whether subtle or overt. Take the high road even (and especially) if the other parent doesn’t. Civility is a choice.
- Do your own work to fully grieve the marriage and the loss of traditional family life. Divorce is not a single event to “get over” but a long process of integration.
- View the other parent as both an integral part of your child’s life and your life-long business partner – it’s a package deal. And a critical one.
- Commit to a schedule and establish a parenting agreement. Give your child the gift of certainty during this painful and disruptive time.
- Identify and honor healthy emotional boundaries with your child. They are not your confidante, surrogate spouse, pawn, messenger or spy.
- Commit to staying out of court and chart your own future. The judicial system isn’t designed to produce two winners.
I define co-parenting as active participation in and commitment to a cooperative and collaborative parenting partnership with your former spouse/partner. It is an active verb, and not merely some pie-in-the-sky concept. The principles outlined in the booklet are offered as a roadmap of sorts. They are simple, but they are not easy.
Sadly, there is no GPS for this one…if only.
In the spirit of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have compiled a parallel version here on the topic of divorce. While addiction and divorce are not the same animal, there is no question about the power of the twelve step model in the recovery community. Perhaps we could use such a model in the divorce community.
- We admitted we had power over how our particular divorce would go down, and whether we were the leaver or the left chose to roll differently.
- Came to believe that just as we had intentionally built a life together we could carve out a healthy, new normal as parents living apart.
- Made a decision to bust the paradigm of the nasty, contentious divorce for the sake of our children, our own emotional health and as a gift to future partners.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, our marriage and our hopes and dreams for the future.
- Admitted to ourselves and at least one other person our role in the dissolution of the marriage, as we understood it.
- Were entirely ready to own our half of the dance and fully embrace the truth of things – that it takes two to tango in a relationship.
- Humbly asked for forgiveness from the other – whether in person, in writing, in prayer/meditation, in smoke signals – and forgave ourselves as well for all that was done and left undone in the marriage.
- Made a list of all the ways we had harmed our children, former spouse, and others, and with self-compassion committed to being more awake to our motives and actions in the future.
- Made direct amends to the folks identified in step eight wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory, focusing on progress and not perfection, fully embracing the reality that this is a multi-year process of integration.
- Sought to serve the best interests of our children at every turn and grasped healthy divorce as both possible and preferable.
- Having experienced the power of these steps, carried this message to others by modeling a cooperative, collaborative and child-centered divorce of our own.
Consigning inestimably complex issues to a tidy list of reminders and admonitions is by no means a cure-all, but it can offer an aspirational path to follow. It might also spark thoughts and feelings necessary in the navigation process.
Thirteenth century poet and mystic Rumi elegantly invites us into a different possibility with just two sentences:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.