Parenting 2.0

Spouse and I have tried to teach our children how to face conflict: assess the situation, design a solution, work hard to do your best, notice what’s working and what isn’t, try even harder, and be flexible and open to new decisions when new information arises. I don’t know if these words have  sunk in yet. We explain that doing the hard, sometimes boring work of practicing a skill, whether reading or soccer or math, is really important for later, when you have to build on that foundation. We’ve explained that mastering any skill takes incessant, regular, repetitive brain exercise. Struggle is important. But too much struggle is sometimes a signal to stop, take a breath, and change course. “We’re a family of problem-solvers,” we always say. Because you can’t bang your head against a brick wall and hope it’ll move. You have to be tricksty.

And now they’re going to see what we really mean about working hard, trying again and again, and, sometimes, giving up because you just can’t make something work. Spouse and I have arrived at a new realization and we’re figuring out how to implement our plan. We’re pretty sure that we’re going to focus on what we do well: love our kids. And we’re going to ditch what we don’t do well: being married.

Marriage is hard work. And we expected that because anything worth having involves active, thoughtful work. But marriage shouldn’t be miserable without cease. And the work should show some reward. Banging our heads against a brick wall trying to force our marriage back where it was ten years ago hasn’t worked. Neither has therapy or empathy or practicing communication skills or willing ourselves to compatibility.

We’re a family of problem solvers, dagnabbit, so we’re going to stop doing the same thing and expecting different results. The life hack here is elegant, simple, and scary: be the best parents possible to our children without being married.

The effects of agreeing to work smarter not harder have been immediate and palpable. After years of being our worst selves with each other, struggling yet finding ourselves sad, lonely, and angry, we’re going to stop forcing it. And saying that out loud has made us more patient with each other and with the boys. We obviously have years of work to do to repair the damage we’ve done to each other in this marriage, but we’ve gone a long way toward some kind of healing this week.

I have always feared divorce. So has Spouse. We both had parents who divorced, and neither of us weathered that process well. In fact, we’ve resisted even talking about a separation for years because we don’t want to hurt the boys.  But here’s the truth: we can’t control everything that happens to them, and we certainly can’t continue the way we are, pretending that married parents are better for children than any other situation. We’d rather address any feelings our children have by actively and lovingly engaging with them. Both of us. We can’t control their feelings but we can control giving them the best home environment we can. Two happy parents listening to them and being with them regularly from different houses is much better than two exhausted and raw parents snapping at each other and at them.

The societal obligation to stay married t one person for 80+ years leaves me tense, waiting to shiver in the shadow of failure-guilt. But since we talked about letting go, we’ve been kind and understanding, gentle with each other and with ourselves. I can’t tell you the relief of getting along, after years of just feeling wrong. I can’t speak for him, but I’m incredibly proud of how mature we’re being. Come back and read in a week and see if that’s still true. For now, this doesn’t feel like failure.

I’ve read and heard many people mocking Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s announcement that they’re consciously uncoupling, forming a partnership that involves co-parenting but not marriage. I don’t understand the vitriol or mocking. I know they have enough money that they don’t share our worries about whose couch to sleep on, whether self-help books from the library are enough to count as therapy, or whether we’ll have to uproot Peanut to a different school system because we can’t afford two rents in our district. But it seems to me that the conscious uncoupling being so roundly mocked on social media is pretty damned mature. Understanding that disentangling adult lives requires leaving intact the framework we’ve built around the children’s growth seems like a baseline for all couples separating. If Gwyneth and Chris are unraveling the parts that aren’t working but redoubling their efforts where their love does the most good, then I say mazel tov.

Spouse and I are making preparations for how things will look in the short- and long-term. And though I got confused initially, the ease with which we can cultivate a warm kindness for each other does not mean we have a marriage. It means that we are partners. And that is the point, because we are going to be partners forever. We have children whose well-being demands our most engaged effort.

I believe separating, consciously uncoupling, and perhaps divorcing are all going to be challenging. But I believe our children are emotionally strong, and that as reasonable human beings and respectful partners, we can engage in this process together and make it right for us.

If someone offered to partner kindly and thoughtfully with you to raise your children, but didn’t want to be married to you, would you take that compromise? Or would you fight to force the union, and let strife affect every moment of your emotional life?

I’m taking what’s behind Door Number Three. Because I’m tired of forcing our family into emotional turmoil. And know a good deal when I see it.



31 thoughts on “Parenting 2.0

  1. I am so proud of you, Christine. Though I only know a fraction of what you struggled with to get to this point, here’s what I know for certain – you are a strong, beautiful, brilliant, thoughtful, and caring woman who always gives her absolute best and most to her family. I know you guys will make 2.0 work, and you’ll become stronger for it. I love you!

  2. Wow. The thoughtfulness with which you have addressed this difficult situation is amazing. I am sending along good wishes for all of you during this change. Please know that I am so deeply impressed by your calmness and wisdom in recognizing the various aspects of what has come to be and what is yet to come. But most of all, love, love, love.

    • Thank you so much, Cyn. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but right now we’re being so respectful and deliberate in our every decision and reaction that we’re reassured and hopeful.
      Time will tell if we can keep doing the hard work to be mature and responsible.

      • You are extraordinarily capable of great maturity and responsibility. If anyone can negotiate this situation with grace and compassion, it’s you. xoxo

        • I hoped when I posted this that it wouldn’t be the equivalent of a facebook bombshell change from married to single. The rallying of friends of family behind us has shown us both that a social media blitz of our choice is actually a smart way to feel supported in something that’s usually hidden and lonely.

          Thank you, darling. I miss you!

  3. I emailed you, but wanted to say here that I am so sorry about the unhappiness you’ve been through. I hope that you can transition to 2.0 with compassion and kindness. Much love and hugs!

  4. Writing here from rockin’ Dayton Ohio in the shittiest hotel room in America, sending you so much love and love and love. And respect and admiration for the way you never dodge; you are titanium. I am here and always will be, for anything. Any time. I love you.

  5. Big hugs for you Nappers. Your boys are awesome, will continue to be awesome. They are resilient buggers. I wished my parents would divorce, their misery was obvious even to creatures without eyeballs. Good for you both for realizing and verbalizing what you each need to be happy. Find your happy, you deserve it.

    • Hey, Undine!

      What a kind gesture. I don’t believe you’ve delurked since Butter was born, and I appreciated hearing from you then, too.

      Thanks for the well wishes. Hope all is well in your world.

  6. “But here’s the truth: we can’t control everything that happens to them, and we certainly can’t continue the way we are, pretending that married parents are better for children than any other situation.” Exactly!

    I applaud you and your parenting partner for your bravery and maturity. Really. The thought of waiting until the kids are in college spells trouble for the marriage from the get go but many of us are not brave enough to take the approach of clean cut.

    You are doing the right thing and I am grateful that you are sharing something so personal with us – we need to know that this works, and is probably a better thing to do.

    Your family will survive this and thrive I believe because as you said you now have two happier people with the same amount if not more commitment. I am rooting for all four of you.

    • I do hope, subwow, that relieving ourselves of the energy suck of forcing a marriage that’s not working will continue to mean more commitment to each other as parents. I hope you’re right about thriving. I know the human tendency toward despising the ex (mostly because nuance feels wonky and it’s challenging to embrace the bifurcation of “I don’t want to be with you anymore but I want to work with you because I like and respect you.”) I genuinely hope we continue to be mature adults focused on the children. It’s going to be an 80 year test, though. Rather like parenthood itself.

  7. Wow. Just chiming in to send hugs and strength and admiration. Finding the bravery and maturity and just the sheer energy to deal with all of this can’t be easy, but I believe you are doing something truly special for your kids. And like with any major change, you are opening up many new doors for all of you – may they take you to wonderful places. xo

    • Oh, macondo, its so good to hear from you. Wow. I miss talking with you.
      Thanks for the hugs, strength, and admiration. They mean the world. Hoping you’re in a wonderful place and you’re all happy, healthy, and hopeful, too.

  8. My parents are separated, and I’ve always thought that both I, and they, are much happier as such, than if they’d stayed together out of some sense of obligation. I get very annoyed at people who are anti-divorce, because staying together if a relationship isn’t working is only going to make everybody miserable in the long run. Sounds like you’ve made some very thought out decisions :)

  9. Crappers I somehow missed this post initially, but I’m so glad you referenced your situation again so I could come find it. I’m sorry to hear you have been going through this! Your kids are lucky to have parents who have come to this decision so thoughtfully – clearly with their best interests in mind. I hope the transition is going as smoothly as possible for all of you and you are getting lots of love and support.

    • Thanks. I’m sure there are big challenges ahead, especially as our eldest experiences one parent move out, but we are certainly being supported. As weird as it might be to announce the decision on a blog and send the link to family and friends, we engendered an instant support network of “we’re here for both of you” and “been there, let me know if I can help.” I don’t think previous generations could access something this powerful, both because of the shame of divorce and the limits of communication venues. Nobody wants to call a whole Rolodex full of names to announce a separation. But starting the conversation impersonally has really given us what we need in terms of an army of affection rallying behind us.

  10. Pingback: Coping mechanisms | Naptime Writing

  11. I tried messaging you on FB but was blocked. My dear I am terribly terribly sorry but know you will be alright. What can I do to help you? please call or email.

    • Every time someone says they’re sorry, I quickly brush it off with an “it’s going to be okay” or a “oh, it’s better this way.”

      But this week I decided I’d really like to honor those “I’m so sorry”s. Because I’m glimpsing how sorry I am, too.

      I emailed.

  12. Let’s hang out Christine. I’m going to say congratulations. When people tell me that it feels good. You made a hard decision and you’ll be better because of it. I hope I can see you soon. I’m thinking about you.


    • So much to talk about, Jody.
      Thank you for the congratulations. Everybody seems more happy, so that just has to be something to congratulate, right? I’m going to stop trying to judge myself so society doesn’t have to. Because society doesn’t have to live in my house. I do.
      See you soon.

Comments are closed.