We all know the Golden Rule of Co-Parenting: Don’t talk badly about the other parent–within earshot, at least. But what about the other stuff?

Cool shirt, buddy. I love the dinosaur.

Thanks, Mommy. My daddy got it for me.

Gut punch. My daddy. My daddy. A few months prior, it was just daddy. Where did this my come from?

Stunned with my sudden fall from grace–from mommy to outsider–I turned up the music on the car radio and stared straight ahead as my 3 year old boy nodded off to sleep, completely unaware of how he just rocked my entire world with a pronoun.

We all know the Golden Rule of Co-Parenting post divorce: Don’t talk badly about the other parent– within earshot, at least. But what about the other stuff? No one tells us how to deal with awkward pronoun conversations.

I’ve started thinking about some of the seemingly innocuous things we say and do post-divorce that we probably shouldn’t and after a whole lot of uncomfortable reflection, I’ve come up with a list called “Oh, Dear God-I Can’t Believe I Said That.”

1.Take that shirt off before you go to dad’s house-I just bought it.

I still cringe thinking about all of the uncomfortable situations our son was put in because of clothes. For years, I was constantly annoyed about clothes.

I remember praying that school picture day would fall on my day because I wanted to dress him. I remember shopping for school clothes and feeling agitated about having to ‘share the clothes.’ I even remember telling our son to change out of his new clothes before his dad picked him up. Yes, really.

One weekend over a decade ago, my ex caught onto this totally unhealthy change-your-clothes strategy and upped the ante by bringing our son back to me dressed in an old Halloween costume.

I’ll take your ill-fitting pants and raise you a Spiderman leotard.

I’d like to say that this moment was a turning point for me but alas, it was not. When Spiderman walked up my front steps, I saw red. The argument that followed was epic.

I don’t know exactly when I stopped obsessing about clothes. I do know that I haven’t checked the school calendar about a picture day in years. I am also happy to report that our son hasn’t been delivered to my doorstep in full superhero garb since that fateful day. So, progress.

2. Those toys stay at mommy’s house.

Pretty much the only thing worse than telling your kid to change his clothes before his dad picks him up is telling your kid to leave his new toy behind when his dad picks him up.

Yep, I said that.

Same basic concept as the clothes: I bought it so it stays here.

One Christmas, Santa brought our son a much-anticipated Nintendo DS and I actually made our then 6 year old child leave it behind when his dad picked him up Christmas morning. Yes, really.

At the time, I explained my selfishness away by stating that I didn’t want him to be preoccupied with his new DS while opening presents at his dad’s house.

See, dad? I’m doing you a favor. You’re welcome.

A few months later, his dad bought him another DS–a better one actually–and he let him bring it to my house. #Ouch.

3. I have to ask dad if you can go to the party; it’s on his day.

When your parents live under the same roof, birthday party invites are no big thing.

Hey, mom. There’s a pool party this weekend. End of conversation.

When your parents don’t live under the same roof, you worry about whose day it is. Plans need to be rearranged. Phone calls need to be made. It’s a thing.

What if one parent is closer to the friend’s parent but the party isn’t on their day? Does the other parent acquiesce and give up her day? Do both parents go? Who buys the present?

If you’re an enlightened parent, all of this happens behind the scenes. This is grown-up stuff; our children should never act as messengers. By now, I’m pretty sure you can guess which category I fell into for the first few years.

4. Why is he always like this when he gets back from his dad’s house? He must get away with murder over there.

I am happy to report that I never said this one in front of my son. But I did say it and I said it often.

Any divorced parent knows the pit in your stomach feeling when your child returns from the other parent’s house. You’ve missed your child terribly for the past few days and can’t wait to see him. But you know that the next twenty-four hours are going to be rough. There will be tantrums. There will be yelling. There will be tears.

It’s easier to blame this behavior on the other parent–he’s always like this when he gets back— than it is to face the reality that your child is trying to cope with living in two houses with two sets of rules and that all of this is really hard on his little body and mind.

Thankfully now that our son is a teenager, he’s developed the necessary coping skills to manage the weekly upheaval and the pit in my stomach is gone.

Part of me will never be able to understand how our son has gotten to the point where the constant back-and-forth doesn’t affect him.

This is new terrain for all of us. My parents have been married for over forty years. My ex’s parents have been married for over fifty years. We’ve both since remarried and even our new spouse’s parents have never been divorced.

And yet somehow over the past decade, we’ve all managed to navigate our way through this co-parenting landmine and our son has–miraculously– come through safely on the other side.

And so have we. My ex and I have both since remarried and given our son two loving homes and 4 more siblings. We even live around the corner from each other and our son rides his bike back and forth between our two homes. In pants that fit.

And while I never did find the right words during that initial car ride over a decade ago, my son dropped the ‘my daddy’ bomb again a few weeks later and this time I was a little more prepared:

“My daddy just got a new puppy!”

“I know! That’s so awesome, buddy. Daddy showed me a picture of your new puppy and he’s super cute.”

“But hey, you know what? No matter what happens– you, me, and daddy are all a family so you don’t have to call him my daddy. You can just say daddy.”

“His name is Memphis and he peed on the carpet twice yesterday. It was awesome.”

“So awesome.”


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