Teamwork + Grace: Co-Parenting in a Competitive Community

The Vail Valley is packed with some of the raddest kids on the planet, the rambunctious offspring of the adventurous mountain folk who have made their homes here. Bewildered to have settled down at all, these parents have at least numerically grown up. Despite the veneer of perfection that shines in our paradise, we are not immune to troubles: couples get divorced here, just like everywhere else. In the aftermath of those schisms, adults and children alike need to figure out how to proceed in a healthy manner.

Axiomatic to any successful co-parenting endeavor is the mutual and immutable recognition that the children are always the priority. Already prone to exhibiting solipsistic, selfish tendencies, when mountain people unexpectedly find themselves single again, there is an understandable but troubling impulse to concentrate only on one’s own recovery. That is a luxury that the parents forewent at the time of the child’s conception. The kids are adrift in the myriad uncertainties of living between two homes, and they need steadfast guidance and undivided attention.

This Valley’s denizens have a proclivity for being hyper competitive, always striving to move faster, climb higher, send deeper. These predilections are fantastic for a life in the mountains but, if unchecked, can be highly destructive to successful co-parenting. One’s former spouse is a teammate, not a competitor. The race to be more permissive, to buy more gifts, to take the kids on bigger, better trips is one that only has losers. Children still love and cherish both of their parents, so it becomes extremely confusing and off-putting if the parents are locked in a battle for affection. Supporting one’s ex, being patient, giving a lot of grace, even when you are upset: these are the hallmarks of a great teammate. These are also traits that children should inherit.

A catalyst for divorce is almost always a breakdown in communication. This failing must quickly be remedied; the only way to be on the same co-parenting team is to be able to communicate effectively. There will undoubtedly be very difficult conversations as to school choice, extracurricular expenses, puberty problems; the list is interminable (parenting is hard!). These require active listening, cooperation and coordination. If parents revert to a passive-aggressive, or simply aggressive, manner of speaking/arguing, the ensuing conflagration will lead to a death spiral. If parents can have calm, rational discussion in the face of emotional turmoil, that sets an amazing example for the kids. Thus, always take the extra minute to evaluate the text to one’s ex. If it is of even questionable tone, erase it and come back to it later. Some things cannot be unwound.

Inevitably, one’s former mate is going to say or do something that is maddening. When one receives this negative input, it is likely that a kid will be in earshot. It would be so easy to make even a passing disparaging remark about one’s co-parent. It is an impulse that must be avoided at all costs. Yes, this requires unbelievable levels of self-restraint. But, the children’s well-being is very much in the balance; it is mega important to be unfailingly positive when discussing the actions of one’s counterpart. Kids who witness mutual respect between their divorced parents are much more likely to carry that ethos forward in their own life. The converse is true; if parents tread the low road, their children will follow.

In a tight-knit community such as ours, the necessity of behaving appropriately as a newly single human is all the more critical. Gossip spreads like wildfire here; the last thing that a kid needs to hear is a rumor about his or her parent, whether it be as to the parent’s dating life or other lifestyle choices. Discretion and decorum are important virtues in any town; here the lack thereof can destroy a reputation, a ruination that will absolutely trickle down to the children.

There are many couples in the Valley on the precipice of, or in the nascent stages of, a separation. While daunting, there is so much reason for optimism. The same qualities of resilience, patience and fortitude that made one an elite mountain athlete can be transmogrified into the basis for a successful co-parenting relationship, assuming one remembers to save the psychotic stubbornness for physical pursuits. No peak seems attainable when at the trailhead, but the view from the top is what makes this life so special. Remembering to breathe, to take breaks, to push when it is warranted, will let one survive the ordeal of parenting through divorce just as it keeps one alive in outdoor adventures.