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Co-Parenting Doesn’t Have to be Ugly

Co-Parenting Doesn't Have to be Ugly -

I married my husband in 2009 shortly after graduating college. It was a young love story full of parental defiance and dreams of the perfect American marriage, picket fence and all. When the stress of the wedding was over, I battled with vaginismus, and it tested our strength as a couple. After overcoming that battle, many feelings were left over that may not have been properly addressed now that I look back on it.

In 2011, struggling a bit financially to fund the life we dreamed of, we welcomed our beautiful baby girl. Maybe we rushed our relationship and parenthood came too quickly, but our marriage took a deep dive south. My husband was hardly home, and I attributed it to the new stress of becoming a father. New parents always go through struggles learning to adjust, and we weren’t equipped with the knowledge and patience it took to juggle our marriage, new careers, family and a new baby. After family interventions, marriage counselors, and many arguments, I decided I was not able to fight this new battle to save our marriage. I asked my husband for a divorce in April of 2014 – right before a trip with his family to the Poconos. I asked him to keep it a secret until the trip was over, but feelings got out of hand and the trip didn’t end very well. His family is so supporting, loving and faithful and they did a lot to help us work out our issues. After much self reflection I expressed my need to leave the relationship. I wanted a divorce so that my daughter did not grow up in a toxic home where her parents could not get along or respect each other. I experienced that childhood firsthand and had always promised myself that my children would not have to bear the stress of adult problems.

Maybe we rushed our relationship and parenthood came too quickly, but our marriage took a deep dive south.

A few weeks ago, I posted a photo on Facebook of my ex-husband, my daughter, and I enjoying some ice cream after gymnastics practice. To my surprise, the picture received over 300 likes, 40 comments, and even a few shares! This public display of civil co-parenting was something that made people happy and inspired me to encourage couples to really put their children’s well-being first.

Divorces are on the rise and unfortunately tend to get very messy. When I decided that I was not going to be able to work it out with my husband, I made it very clear to him that I would continue to put our daughter first. I kept repeating “You can see her any time, you will help make her life decisions, I will not take her away. Emotions were high, and one argument got so out of hand that it led me to the police station.  I share this with you – a little of the struggle at the beginning of the divorce – because I don’t think any divorce can really end in complete agreement immediately. After all, the disagreements were what brought us to a divorce.

I am about to take you through an emotional time and admit to some things I am not proud of, but that I believe are necessary precautions. A couple of years back, a close family friend was murdered by her soon to be ex-husband while their beautiful twin daughters were asleep upstairs. I could not help but put myself in that situation and fear for my life and my daughter’s. My husband did not threaten to kill me, or abuse me physically in any way, but the possibility of anger taking over a situation was always lingering in the back of my mind. I specifically remember one friend asking me very seriously while staring me in the eyes – if I was afraid he would hurt me. This friend, who was very close to the victim previously mentioned and her family, had never been so serious with me before. That question made me realize that I needed to protect myself at the first sign of a threat. When the argument got out of hand, and there was minor (emotionally driven) physical shuffling and shoving I became frightened that some of the things I had screamed at my husband would throw him over the top.

After that argument and a long sleepless night pacing around our apartment practicing what I would yell at him if he would come back to fight, I went to the police station to file a restraining order. My decision was purely out of fear. I was honestly terrified of ending up on a newspaper cover. The weekend passed, the dust settled and a big boulder was weighing down on my chest. My then 2-year old, was constantly asking about her dad and it made me sick to my stomach that I abandoned the one thing I was committed to; my daughter’s emotional well being.

Monday morning came and I immediately went to Family Court to remove the restraining order from my daughter. I left the restraining order on myself because I was still afraid and wanted to force him to take a break from our constant fighting. The thought of my daughter being deprived of her father saddened me. It was at that point that I realized that it was my actions that would determine how this marriage ended. I became conscious of my actions, and put a leash on my emotions. It took my husband a while to understand what was happening and how to equally handle the situation as maturely as possible.

Once everything was calmer and emotions simmered, I removed the restraining order and invited dialogue in public places without my daughter present. I discussed finances, child custody expectations and other topics as peacefully as possible. This took months to get adjusted to. I did not hesitate to collaborate with him for her 3rd birthday and extend the invite to his family and friends.

Nine months later I told my husband that I was officially filing for a divorce and that I wanted to move back to my home state to take a new job opportunity. I felt that I needed to be closer to my family and friends to receive the right support I needed with my daughter. He reluctantly agreed, seeing that it would be a better environment for my daughter and less of a financial strain on me than living alone in New York.

I implemented an open door policy which gave him all of the access he would ever need to spend time with our daughter. It helped that two of my close male friends were going through divorces and I saw how custody battles affected them. Having that point of view really opened my eyes and heart to have rahma (Mercy) towards my husband and my daughter and to consider their feelings during the decision I made to end the marriage. In Islam, rahma is more than just mercy, it is described in one Hadith as being an act that even an animal shows to its offspring. A mother’s mercy towards her children is the utmost example a human can experience after that of Allah’s mercy.

Reaching that point of peace took a lot of prayer and self-reflection. The common approach of fighting for full custody, or “getting back at him” for a failed marriage did not appeal to me. I began to research and explore different methods of shared custody and healthy ways to raise our child in a split marriage. My husband and I had visited multiple marriage counselors, and when things weren’t looking good for our marriage, the conversation turned to healthy co-parenting. That’s when I was recommended books by our counselors and began my own research to better equip myself for the journey ahead. My favorite readings and guidance came from the Holy Quran – one ayat (verse) stood out to me the most. “Take mutual counsel together, according to what is just and reasonable.” (65:6)

That verse centered my focus around the decisions that I was to take and always grounded me in faith that God had a plan for us. I believed that as long as my actions were “just and reasonable,” they would harvest a balanced healthy relationship between my daughter, her father, and myself.

A mother’s mercy towards her children is the utmost example a human can experience after that of Allah’s mercy.

Fast forward 2 years since we’ve split, and my ex-husband and I are able to have casual conversations beyond the needs of my daughter. These conversations, to our friends’ and families’ surprise, are very respectful and direct. We discuss the people we date and who we bring around our daughter. We agree on terms that make both of us comfortable. We invite each other to share in our daughter’s life even when it overlaps with each other’s families and significant others. The maturity we display during these awkward encounters benefits our daughter and will hopefully instill in her the confidence and emotional well-being that a child needs in order to grow.

When I hear about custody battles and ugly situations where children are the victims I sometimes question the motives behind the actions. I hope in sharing our story, other couples can set their differences aside and really focus on their children. So often we hear “I only care about my kids,” but the actions these individuals take do not reflect that statement. It takes putting your pride aside and doing what is truly best for your child despite the differences and emotions that manifest from a divorce. Bashing the other parent in front of the child, depriving a parent from spending time with the child, or teaching the child to “snitch” on the other parent is extremely detrimental to their health. Also – I firmly believe that using child custody to negotiate financial terms is probably the lowest thing a parent can do. Your child is not a ticket to a higher alimony check.

It takes putting your pride aside and doing what is truly best for your child despite the differences and emotions that manifest from a divorce.

Encourage your children to love the other parent, call them, respect them and pray for them. At the end of our lives God will hold us accountable for all of our actions, don’t let resentment or anger hold you back from Jannah (heaven) or from giving your child the opportunity to experience a healthy childhood. Because parenting is not about you.

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