Awhile back, not too long before the pandemic got started, I was in the grocery store and ran into an ex-client. As I usually do, I got my poker face on and looked off into the middle distance, but she came right over to me, gave me a nice hug and said how great it was to see me. “How are you?”
To make a long story short, she updated me about her situation – which was basically that she was now happily remarried and both she and her two kids were doing well.
When we were done with the updating pleasantries, she said she needed to say to me that she deeply appreciated my help, specifically the piece helping her to “hang in” and sustain the very tenuous communication “around co-parenting with my ex.”
We had begun our work together a few months after their messy separation, in the interim between finalizing the divorce and establishing separate households.
Based on what she’d told me about her situation, I’d kept urging, coaching, nudging her to not succumb to cutting off the communication. Even though he wasn’t a monster, he was a bit of a jerk: on the immature side, entitled, bitter about the divorce, tending to act out – as in not answer calls, show up late, or not stick to the arrangements around the passing off on the visitations.
For a while there she really felt as if he took pleasure in driving her crazy.
But our sessions helped her do what she did already know was the right thing, which was to keep connected, keep communicating, keep expecting him to behave like a responsible adult trying to be a good dad.
Yes, occasionally you do have to be pointed with the feedback and set limits, but otherwise you’ve got to bob and weave because, guess what, the kids love their Dad, and any piece of him they could get was what they wanted and needed – and they wouldn’t understand why mom would draw a line that excludes Dad.
So, my client hung in there and, with the help of our sessions, remained loyal to the idea that she and her ex, despite the bumps, were being effective coparents.
And so now she’s telling me it turns out that dad has found someone. He’s engaged, apparently to a pretty decent person who, probably because she’s divorced herself, is urging him to relax and keep a good relationship with his ex and their kids. (That doesn’t always happen.)
Things have definitely calmed down and everybody’s better for that, especially including my ex-client, but certainly the kids truly are now living in a much healthier emotional environment.
I often say that a major piece of what I do is bring skill to reminding people of what they really already know – but still need to hear, and talk about, with someone. This is a good example. Anyway, she gave me another small hug in front of the dairy case and said goodbye.