The Beauty (and Burdens) of Cordial Co-Parenting
Photo: @Planetnehemiah/

The Beauty (and Burdens) of Cordial Co-Parenting

My ex and I have set aside our problems for our children’s sake. The real challenge is getting our friends and family to understand.

Something unexpected happened about two-and-a-half years after separating from my husband. Despite the court appearances and lawyers fees and parenting plans and custody hearings, he and I unexpectedly found ourselves getting along. And not just “getting along,” but in some ways syncing far better than we ever did back when we were a couple.

While we’re not looking to reconcile, things are copacetic enough that he and I—along with our twin boys—now spend a decent amount of time together eating out, watching musicals, and enjoying family playdates. The four of us even braved and conquered a three-day visit to a working farm in Upstate New York. Our vibe, apparently, is so congenial that other parents react with shock when they finally figure out that my ex and I are no longer together.

All of this positivity is obviously a good thing—for us and our co-parenting; for the world, now spared of our epic quarrels; and, most crucially, for our boys, who are never happier than when they’re spending time with both Daddy and Papi. This new normal can make for a bit of an adjustment. Not so much for Daddy and Papi, who somehow, inexplicably, had already slipped into the rhythms of reconciliation well before an actual reconciliation. The biggest adjustment is for the battle weary around us: the friends and family who witnessed our divorce and are still, understandably, unsure how to move on.

The way I see it, my ex and I had little choice but to work toward a happy(ish) ending. Still toddlers when we split up, our boys required the kind of carefully coordinated care that only works with two parents at least attempting to get along. This was admittedly harder in the early days, when so much of our communication was via intermediaries—those same friends, family and, yes, even lawyers. But this quickly proved both inefficient and unnecessary as we realized the most effective dialogue was clearly one-on-one.

That dialogue, at first via text, eventually led to video chats, quick coffee conversations, and, ultimately, meals and outings and celebrations with the kids. With our families small and many in far-away places, we intuitively understood that if we wanted our boys to have a family, that “family” would have to be us. The only problem was figuring out how to get the rest of our people on board.

While plenty has been written for couples going through a divorce, there’s no rule book for supporting cast members who went through it with them. Especially when going through it meant lots of tears, a decent amount of ex-bashing, and plenty of conciliatory alcohol.

Every divorce is damaging, ours included. There’s the damage of breaking up a family, the damage of a broken heart, the damage of breaking your bank account from seemingly endless lawyers fees. Divorce sucks, which is why I tell friends complaining about their spouses or contemplating separation to “stay married!”

In our case, we survived divorce with relatively minimal damage, mostly because we had the kids to focus on and hardly enough money worth fighting over. Most crucially, while my heart may have been broken, it never fully closed to my ex—one of the few people for whom my love will always flow unconditionally. How could it not? He and I have already passed through the gates of relationship hell and somehow emerged still friendly. Plus, who else loves most in the world the very things that I love most in the world: our two boys.

Still, most people would probably find this all a bit perplexing—including the folks who endured our break-up. Which is fair enough. While plenty has been written for couples going through a divorce, there’s no rule book for supporting cast members who went through it with them. Especially when going through it meant lots of tears, a decent amount of ex-bashing and plenty of conciliatory alcohol. After spending so much time vilifying my ex, folks typically need a minute to accept the reality of us hanging out again. Which can make for some pretty comedic moments.

Early in our “on-again” phase—when the chords of connectedness were still more tenuous—I was actually afraid to tell others about it. I worried they would judge, worried they think I’m weak, worried that even talking about it would jinx the whole thing. And so I kept it on the down low, which made for some challenging, if not occasionally confounding, theatrics.

Our twins' birthday, for instance, falls alongside Thanksgiving, which means our extended families are all in town and ready to party. But how do you party when most of the guests have little interest in gathering in the same room? We considered two birthday bashes, but that felt hectic during an already-hectic holiday weekend. Back in peak-pandemic days, we actually opted for no party; but the kids are at an age where that would be both unfair and untenable. So we decided to keep it simple. The boys spent their birthday with just their dads: a trip to a thrilling new skyscraper attraction near Grand Central Station followed by cake and ice cream back at home.

I eventually “came out” about my ex, braving the concerned looks and contemptuous stares from folks who probably wished he and I would just leave each other alone. I accepted their concern, and yes, judgment, with love and patience—the same kind of love and patience they’d shown me during the worst days of our divorce. “Whatever is best for the boys,” they’d almost inevitably conclude, which is, after all, the only thing that matters.

Three years after we first separated, my former husband and I are deep into the “what happens next” phases of our lives. Yet because of our sons, whatever happens “next’ will always involve the both of us. I’m acutely aware that our family’s outcome is not necessarily typical—that so many children of divorce grow up with parents who despise each other, families who won’t acknowledge each other, and with two different birthday parties intended to keep everyone happy (except, inevitably, the kids themselves).

Our sons—I pray—will enjoy a very different childhood, one in which they only know their parents getting along. They’ve never seen us fight, and rarely witness disagreements or conflict. Our task is to keep it this way, because failure is not an option. The stakes (our sons' happiness) are simply too great. And so my ex and I are now experiencing the one thing that might truly last: friendship. Considering the journey it took to get here, what more could I ask for?