My Happy, Hurting Heart: The Beauty and Pain of Co-Parenting

Visitation is hard.. So far it hasn’t happened all that often; but when it does, it’s hard.

It’s not just hard because of the obvious struggles of having to share my boys with the person who has hurt me the most in life. It’s not just difficult because of his unreliable track record and frequent inability to follow through. It isn’t just painful because of his alcoholism and knowing what he has repeatedly chosen over valuable time with his sons.

The hardest part is knowing that despite all he’s done and all he’s missed, my boys think he hung the moon. And I’m grateful for that.

But that gratitude mixed with the grief that inevitably rises to the surface when I see him, along with the happiness I feel in my heart when I see my boys so elated, is painful.

They don’t need to know any of the bad things. I want to shelter them from that as much as I can, for as long as I can. On the rare occasion that my ex follows through with a scheduled visit, he tends to show the best of himself. Not always, but most of the time.

Today, he pulled out all the stops. Offered to buy me groceries because he got to our meeting spot before us. Told me the night before he’d gone to the store and stocked up on food for the boys. Agreed to get the boys a haircut tomorrow while I go to the dentist after work without having to bring them with me. Built them a fort in the living room when they got scared of the thunderstorm. Promised to continue his scheduled Wednesdays for the next couple weeks….until summer classes and a different job begin.

The parts of him that I love; the good sides of him that he gave me when it was convenient for him, and that he now gives the boys when it fits into his schedule…those are the parts that kept me hanging on year by year. Those are the parts that kept me believing that underneath all the garbage, he really was who I wanted him to be.

Without fail, those good parts fade back into the background as time goes on. It isn’t sustainable for him, and that’s why we can’t be together. But he can maintain that good facade for 24 hour periods of time occasionally, and when he does, my boys benefit.

So when I tell my sons that they’re going to see their dad and they almost jump out of their skin in excitement, my heart skips a few beats. For many reasons.

When my baby repeatedly says, “Mom! That makes my heart SO happy to see my daddy!!!” as we drive to the grocery store parking lot to meet him, my heart drops; and with a tear in my eye I say, “Oh punkin, that makes my heart happy too!”

When we pull up and my youngest says, “DADA!” while my twins proclaim, “I’m going to give my dad a big hug and kiss!!!” there’s a tightening in my chest.

And when he gets out of his truck with a father of the year smile on his face, and my sons run into his arms, my heart hurts.

It hurts because it reminds me of our brokenness. Of our inability to be together; not because of a lack of love or commitment on my side, but because of core differences that make us unhealthy together. It hurts because for a brief moment, we look like a happy family. For a few seconds, we look, on the outside, like the image I always wanted.

But it’s the same facade we always carried on. The same pained smiles that hid the tears. The same masquerade of family togetherness I tried to create when we were together. And it’s hard.

It’s hard because my sons deserve the image of himself that he presents. They deserve a present, loving, committed father. The kind of father he acts like he is, both to them and the rest of the world. But only for a few hours, every few weeks or months.

The truth is, as long he isn’t hungover, he is a great sometimes dad. They love him and each day they get to see him it’s like Christmas. He’s the Disney dad and pulls out all the stops when he has them. And they’re in heaven.

No matter how much pain he caused me and no matter how much he wrecked my heart, I want my boys to love him. I want them to spend time with him, as long as when he is with them, he gives them his best.

It does make my heart happy to see my sons so excited to spend a night with their daddy. But it also feels like someone is squeezing my heart in their fist. It also makes me angry that they don’t get that part of him more often, and that I don’t either. It makes me furious knowing the truth behind that veneer, and it makes me grieve, again, the loss of what we never had.

I am continuing to release that dream, and now, my heart has stopped chasing after it just because for a moment it looks tangible. But I still feel it for a few minutes as I’m hugging my sons good-bye. I still feel a sense of loss as I watch our two vehicles drive off in separate directions. I still wish he was different.

But I am learning to accept what is, rather than what I wish it was. I am learning how to appreciate the good when it comes. To be grateful for the joy in my boys hearts when they get to spend time with their dad. To let go of my anger because it’s what’s best for me and my sons. And to co-parent with this man who gave me the greatest gifts of my life.

It’s not what I wanted, but it’s our new normal. I’m their all the time mom and he’s their sometimes dad. They love us both. They need us both. And they have the best of us both.

He’s giving them what he’s capable of giving, and I’m grateful for that much.

Although it’s difficult for so many reasons, and it soaks through to each layer of my pain, I’m healing. I’m letting go. I’m releasing the reverie as I relinquish my sons to their father’s arms. I’m absolving him of the debt he owes and appreciating the good he can give.

But I feel everything. The pain, the hate, the love, the joy, the disappointment, the fear… It’s all there. All those emotions in one place is painful. Just like it always was.

Through it all, I can feel myself getting stronger and I see my boys flourishing despite the intermittent visits with their dad. They will learn, like me, to appreciate the good he can offer and let the expectation end there. They’ll love us both, and we’ll both love them, even if it looks different than I hoped it would.

My heart, even though it hurts, is happy. And we will all be ok.

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30 thoughts on “My Happy, Hurting Heart: The Beauty and Pain of Co-Parenting

  1. How well I know these feelings! This new normal will continue to get easier, especially with a healthy attitude like yours! Beautifully put, as always.

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  2. How incredibly well put. Everything is so juxtaposedly well put. Your perspective is inspiring. My prayer is that your faith continues to bring you through each difficult moment. Very, very well written ❤

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  3. After 8 years of co-parenting, it still has moments that “get to me.” But I think overall, broken bottles become worn into beautiful sea glass by the water of time and the friction with the sand of co-parenting. I like to comfort others and say “it definitely gets better.” Your heart is evident in the words on this post. I’m sure you’re parenting and gestures do the same. Keep on rocking it, momma~ Blessings.

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    • Oh what a beautiful way to describe it. Thank you for sharing your experience and encouragement with me. I believe it gets better. It already has, But I believe it will always have a twinge of pain mixed in with it. But we become stronger and our edges get smoothed with the wearing of time. Thank you!

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  4. Thanks for sharing your heart. Many who haven’t been in this situation don’t understand the anger, hurt, disappointment, and loss. But my heart cried along with you because I’ve been there too. I had to put my 13 year old daughter on a plane by herself to fly and see her dad half way across the country. I spent almost all of the holidays by myself because, at least my ex tried to be a good dad and lived far away so seeing my daughter then wasn’t possible. And then when at 24 she wanted to go and live with her dad my heart died. But today she is grown and we now live in the same town together and are closer than ever. She loves her dad and is a better woman for that – and I am too for allowing her to see her dad in a good light. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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    • Wow I can’t imagine! And s much as I want them to have a good relationship, if a day comes that they want to live with him, I think I might die. I’m so glad she came back and you’re closer than ever now. This road is so hard. But I’m encouraged by others who are further along than me, who survived and are thriving in spite of the difficulty. Thanks for sharing!!!

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  5. I remember it being hard for my mom too, when my parents got divorced. It was a much different situation, but she had a hard time “sharing” us and would sometimes cry. It’s OK to be hurt and happy, you’re doing a beautiful job raising those boys. And no matter what, you’ll always be their mommy ❤

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  6. New reader here 🙂

    I am walking (stumbling really) along this road myself. Our divorce isn’t final and I dread the visitation, the sharing of the children with him. He is so unhealthy, in many ways that differ from your ex, and I cringe to send the children to him. He is in full on “Disney Dad” mode these days, having been separated a few months. The kids adore him, but are too young to see the manipulation – so I gently guide, ask questions, and pray, pray, pray. He will have the kids again this weekend, and it hurts my heart so much to send them off with him on Friday night. It’s almost too much to bear.

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    • I was exactly there when we first started…and I still am depending on what’s been going on. It’s better now that I have gained strength and have been able to heal and find solace in the fact that he doesn’t ask to have them as much as he should. It’s a strange thing to learn to adjust to, and something I never expected to have to do…as no one does. Just know that you and your kids will be ok. The right things will happen and God will protect you and them somehow. I was sick over it all, and my ex kind of took care of my worry by flaking out on us a lot. It’s a sad thing to be grateful for, but I was. He is now trying to do better and so my heart can rest slightly easier, since he only does it when he is feeling capable…and only for about 24 hours. Anyway….I feel your pain and you are not alone. You’re a good mama and are doing what you need to for your babies. Trust your gut and don’t just agree to the system if you don’t feel it’s what’s best for your babies. Fight if you need to! I’m behind you and praying for your situation!

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  7. This was a great but hard post to read. I think I do what you mentioned. I “chase the dream because for a moment it looks tangible.” Yes…. That’s exactly what I do. Thanks so much for sharing. ❤️

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    • It’s a painful thing to do to ourselves! Thanks for reading and being here. You are gaining strength and will learn to release the dream. I have had to do it over and over again… and I still do sometimes. Such a process. But it sure does strengthen our hearts! As long as we allow it to strengthen, not harden, we are in the right place!

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  8. I have allot of respect for you and how you work with co-parenting despite your relationship with dad. It takes allot for someone to put on a brave face and embrace your kids happiness to see someone who hurt you so badly. I am amazed at how strong you are, keep it up 🙂 your doing a great job!

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    • Thank you so much. I can’t call it co-parenting all the time, but when he shows up in his best, then we actually can co-parent successfully and it’s nice. Although still painful. But we learn as we go and we gain strength each day. Hang in there!!

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  9. “No matter how much pain he caused me and no matter how much he wrecked my heart, I want my boys to love him. I want them to spend time with him, as long as when he is with them, he gives them his best.” That line really touched me. As a stepmom, I see a different side of co-parenting. I am grateful that my (almost) husband and his ex-wife are both stable people who care for Molly. What matters is the children, and I hope that they are able to maintain a relationship with their father and great job to you for helping with that, even when it’s hard.

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    • Wow, good for you! It sounds like you all really have a healthy dynamic and the kids will surely flourish in an environment like that! I pray that when step parents start to enter our equation, we can handle it so gracefully. Thank you!

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  10. Tears steaming down my face as I read this. I finally feel that someone so gets my situation and the way you articulate the emotions tied with this situation. My hurt hurts reading this but I feel like I am finally able to release some of the anger, pain, resentment etc. Your words have touched me beyond measure. I thank you and my 6 year old son Jack does too. I am so grateful I came across your blog and will be a avid follower

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  11. I cried through every word of this as I feel like I am living a parallel life to yours…except my journey has just begun and we only have 1 son. I am so grateful for your words…they have motivated me and given me strength and courage in the past few months. I am curious if you were granted sole custody based on the alcoholism? Thank you for opening your heart to others…you don’t know how much i have been touched. ♡

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    • Thank you so much for sharing that with me. What an encouragement. I do not have sole custody…we are still in the divorce process and haven’t really gotten that far in court yet. I’ve wanted sole custody, but my lawyer said that unless the boys have been physically harmed while in is care due to alcohol, they won’t grant me sole custody. Even with failed visits and evidence of his lifestyle. Pretty crazy. Luckily when he has the boys, it appears he isn’t drinking and does take good care of them overall. So I’m resting easier now than in the beginning… It’s tough, and unfortunately our system is not always set up to do what’s best for our children. Thankfully, God always steps in and takes care of us one way or another. Hang in there mama!

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