“You’re willing to die for them, but are you willing to live for them, too?”
The title of this post is taken from Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce, a book written by our friends Deesha Philyaw and Mike Thomas. Deesha and Mike are co-creators of “Co-Parenting 101,” an extensive resource for couples, married or not, who are splitting up and trying to forge new lives as co-parents. We respect their work a lot, so when their publisher asked us to review their book, we jumped at the chance. (We received no compensation apart from advance galleys of the book.)
What follows is a discussion Moxie and I had about the book over IM. Typos have been changed to protect the crap typists.
Doug: Would you like to start?
Magda: Sure. Can we establish some ground rules?
Doug: Such as?
Magda: Like, I get to go back and edit my spelling? You know I can’t type for crap.
Doug: Of course. Why wouldn’t I want that?
Magda: Cinéma vérité.
Doug: There is no vérité in social media.
Magda: True. OK, I’ll start by saying that I specifically avoided books about divorce and parenting after divorce while you and I were in the middle of it. I don’t know if you were reading a lot, but I felt like all the divorce books were all Doom and Gloom, basically saying our kids would be so damaged that they’d end up in the streets with no ability to connect to anyone. And the parenting books seemed so obvious and preachy.
Doug: What about Uncoupling?
Magda: Uncoupling was the only one I could read, because it was just a map of what was likely to happen, not any kind of prognosis or judgment. The rest just made me feel like I was wearing a big red F on my chest for “You’ve failed.”
Doug: Given the rawness of the moment, that feeling was probably unavoidable. But I’m glad to say that Co-Parenting 101 makes a very successful, matter-of-fact effort not to make you feel that way. It starts off further into the narrative, after you’ve decided it’s over, and gets you thinking about how you’re going to make your life work under this New Normal.
Magda: Exactly. There is no back-tracking and Monday-morning quarterbacking about why you’re co-parenting in the first place. It takes it as a given that you’re competent enough to know that splitting up was the right decision. Then it says, “How do we all move on in a way that’s good for the kids?” I LOVE that there’s no comparison of co-parented kids and together-parented kids, which is apples and oranges anyway.
Doug: It’s a worthless comparison to make, anyway, when together-parented kids are no longer an option.
Magda: Right. If you could have had a happy two-parent home you wouldn’t have gotten divorced in the first place. But anyway. The other thing I love about the book is that they address all kinds of situations and lay out the framework in detail. I feel like that’s got to be both a relief and a reality check for people about how their co-parenting situation compares to other people’s.
Doug: It’s remarkably thorough, suggesting aspects of co-parenting that I hadn’t thought about. I did some reading while we were in the weeds, but this is the exact sort of straightforward resource that I wish existed when I spent my days scared shitless by predatory and self-interested divorce lawyers.
Magda: It IS so straightforward, and kind of lays out the worst-case scenario and still lets you know that you have agency, even if you’re in that scenario. I mean, you and I have both heard some crazy, crazy shit. I feel like being as systematic as the book suggests and approaching it as problem-solving instead of win/lose would help anyone in any of those situations.
Doug: And that’s a huge step, letting go of the emotions (guilt, betrayal, despair) that can and often do derail a divorce process and subsequent attempts to co-parent. Deesha and Mike know they’re not therapists, and they’re not going to tell you how to push through your fears. They do, however, emphasize heavily the need to do it. That’s what makes this book so valuable. In my case, my fears stemmed from ignorance. A little knowledge from credible, disinterested sources goes a long way toward peace of mind.
Magda: From the first few sentences I was struck by how the tone of this book was just so encouraging. They assume you’re smart, that you want to do the best thing for your kid, and that if you can make things easier, you will. So they tell you ways to make it easier, no matter where you’re starting. It’s like a combination pep talk and reality check.
Doug: And that’s a huge assumption, because you need to have navigated your Five Stages and found a way to start focusing your energy on your kids, a theme to which Deesha and Mike refer constantly. Divorcing can be really tough terrain, but keeping your eye on your kids’ well-being on the horizon helps ease the journey.
Magda: You know that letter from a Texas judge that keeps going around Facebook that basically says, “You people are so stupid that you couldn’t keep your marriage together, so now I’m going to assume you’re too stupid to parent your kids”? This book is the antithesis of that. But it also just has dozens of tips, things I’d never thought about, for dealing with routine situations, painful situations, and special cases.
Doug: That first part relates to the scariest part of the divorce for me: I was the most vulnerable I’d ever been, and the stakes of getting things right had never been so high. I needed a support system and the right legal counsel, and one of the first things Deesha and Mike recommend is to find the best help you can. You have the right to be represented the way you want, based on the type of divorce you and your STBX are pursuing. Divorces progress the most efficiently when both parties have retained their dignity.
Magda: Yes. Even if one person is the one who “did something wrong” that person still has the right (and obligation, I think) to be an equal part of the divorce and to be an equal parent in every way.
Doug: Well, that’s the Gordian knot of the whole process, isn’t it? You can’t co-parent well together unless you both want to. And although this book does devote a chapter to the most frustrating intractable situations, the tips and checklists will work best for you if you and your ex have already achieved some level of détente.
Magda: But détenté is détenté. I think people think you have to be like Deesha and Michael (meaning, you essentially get along) to be able to co-parent. The book brings out that you don’t have to get along that well; you just have to be not actively trying to screw each other over.
Doug: Which isn’t to say that any book could help two utterly incompatible exes find common ground. It’s incumbent on each person, independent of the other, to learn not “to take poison every day and wait for the other person to die.”
Magda: It’s a book, not a magic bean. So, yeah. If you hate each other, the book won’t help.
Doug: What did you think of that quiz in Chapter 4, and the three categories of co-parents they established? I imagine we’d end up somewhere on the “Business Partners” scale, with a star rising in the house of “Super Friends.” (Or something. I don’t know from horoscopes.)
Magda: Ha! I thought the same thing. I mean, you and I have pretty specifically referred to ourselves as business partners in the last few years, but I think we’re getting to be friends now. Maybe not Super Friends, but we’d need our superhero costumes for that, anyway.
Doug: Those three categories are pretty extreme. Better to use a five-point scale, for a little more nuance. If it’s good enough for NORAD, it could work here.
Magda: What would the other two points be? “Pretend To Cooperate But Really Act In Your Own Best Interest” and “Uninterested In Kids, Anyway”?
Doug: I’d make a place for “Parallel Parents,” who seem, to me at least, a step above “Oil and Water.”
Magda: The book talks about Parallel Parents, but they didn’t rate for the quiz. I think it can be hard to recognize and accept if you’re parallel parenting. It’s not really a construct in the popular culture, you know? We’re either fighting like cats and dogs, or buddy-buddy.
Doug: Which of course is nonsense. That’s another of this book’s prime assets—how it discusses many facets of the co-parenting spectrum. There’s no one way to do this, and as each ex-couple sets about making its decisions, it really helps to know about the myriad options that have worked for others. For example, the thought of Nesting never occurred to me while we were splitting. And even though I know it never ever ever EVER would have worked for us, it still would have helped me think more creatively.
Magda: YES. (And also yes to no on nesting.) Have you talked to people whose minds are blown by our custody schedule? I feel like the book was full of all sorts of data points that were mind-blowing. I feel like if a couple agreed to negotiate everything based on this principles of this book and Getting To Yes, people would come up with arrangements that were better for everyone involved. And it would take less work to negotiate to those arrangements.
Doug: If this book brings more work to therapists at the expense of divorce lawyers, I’m all for it.
Magda: YES. That’s it. I think that’s the perfect ending to this review.
Doug: So this is a special thank-you shout-out to Deesha and Mike, for writing a book that I hope will help make more divorces a little more cordial, a lot more informed, and a helluva lot less expensive.