coParents: Acceptance Through Interdependence
How did Alison, a newly divorcing coParent of a special needs child, deal with the ongoing stresses?
“It varies,” Alison stated. “I complain to good friends and get sympathy and validation. Sometimes I try to discern whether my reaction is appropriate. And I decide whether to try to influence Russell (my ex), or not. Often I try to accept and move on.”
Her world view expanded as she learned new skills. “Adversity does build character,” she added. “I am more sympathetic toward others and able to support them. I have had to reach out for help more. I was an independent person before, and now I’m interdependent. It’s better to be in a community; it can be isolating to be totally self-sufficient. To get there, though, you have to flex some new muscles. And for a while, you have to ask for help without being able to reciprocate. It’s good to get to the other side of that, and be able to give back. In retrospect I wish I had asked for more help sooner. It would have been freely given, and we would have gotten back on our feet sooner.”
Her perspectives had deepened. “I’m more curious about people. I work with folks who are pretty down and out. I didn’t get, before, how challenges can present in people’s lives and it not be their fault. I have a deeper understanding and a sincere interest in other people and their story… more empathy and less judgment.”
Her message to her earlier self: “I did lots of worrying and it didn’t improve the outcomes! Relax a bit. Over time, things will get easier.”
When Alison and Russell split, they had many things to sort out: how to parent Mika, how to meet Russell’s wish for a smaller role in Mika’s life, how to survive the isolating role of a parent of a special needs child — all while changing from one family to two.
They took time to think through the transition and used a mediator. Their carefully crafted schedule gave Alison all except two weekends each month with Mika — a lot of time with a volatile child. Her parenting coach gave skillful help and Alison had social supports, but even so, she felt anxious and sometimes overwhelmed. By interview time, Alison had expanded her self-management skills. She could see her own contribution to conflicts with Russell, and had learned compassion for others and how to ask for help.
Alison’s growth helped her survive and sustained her in her new, bigger mothering role with Mika.