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The Painful Side of Co-Parenting Peacefully with My Ex

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The weekend stretched ahead, long and empty. With the kids off school on Monday and Tuesday, the idea that we could use our annual passes one last time with a trip to Disneyland popped into my head. Unlike our last trip, my boyfriend wasn’t able to go. My ex-husband, however, was free and chomping at the bit to hit up the happiest place on earth. As we walked down Main Street, sharing a pretzel and chatting, it occurred to me that, from the outside, we looked like the picture perfect family.

But in reality we’re anything but.

Three years post-separation, my ex and I have become good friends. The issues that arose while we were married have mellowed and been resolved. Irritations are easier to deal with when you can tell the other person to go home. Having our own lives has allowed us to grow and mature as people and parents. He’s been sober for three and a half years and is feeling — and acting — like the man I married all those years ago. While there are still insurmountable reasons to stay separated, it feels good to know that we can be friends.

But there is a painful side to being able to peacefully co-parent our children.

As we laughed together at the antics of our children while they danced with their favorite Disney characters, I realized I was being given a glimpse into an alternate reality. A reality where we hadn’t made that agonizing decision on a sunny April afternoon on the too soft couch in our therapist’s office. A reality that didn’t include months of heartbreak and years of slowly re-building our lives alone.

It’s part of my personality to ask what if. What if things were different? What if he’d gotten help earlier? What if he hadn’t disclosed things that made it impossible to stay married?

We have a shared history. We traveled together, getting lost down Irish country lanes and in cities where we couldn’t remember to drive on the opposite side of the road. We went through the pain of miscarriage and the joy of childbirth. We share an unconditional love of our children and the same hopes and dreams for them.

I asked him, “What if?”

And he, that pragmatic man rooted deep into the now, replied, “That’s never a good question.”

He’s right.

I’m happy in my life now. I’m happy with my relationships and the direction I’m heading. I’m happy my ex is still in my life and I know, without a doubt, I’d not be who I am today if we were still together. Neither would he. Because if we start down the path of “what if” it would include the painful reminder that as with so many alcoholics and addicts, he wasn’t able to help himself until I stopped trying to help him myself.

The illusion of a happy family is just that: an illusion. The reality of a happy family looks far different than those photos in travel brochures, but it’s still a happy family.

 Photo: Getty