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As my sons’ dad and I sat across from each other in our first parent-teacher conference of the day, the confused teacher looked at us and awkwardly said, “Are you guys . . . ?” She couldn’t quite bring herself to say what she wasn’t sure was true. My heart wanted to make it easier for her and avoid the awkwardness by being straightforward.

“We are divorced, yes.”

“Wow. I really must commend your ability to work together so effortlessly! Most of my divorced parents schedule two separate meetings because they can’t stand to share the same space,” she replied.

It was so nice to hear. Particularly because it was not always true. My ex-husband and I have been divorced for nearly 10 years. We have two sons together. A fifth grader and a seventh grader. We did not always get along the way we do today. I am ashamed to admit that, but I want to give hope to others who are facing separation or going through the ridiculously difficult minefields that define co-parenting—a non-traditional and swiftly becoming fairly common, modern family. I didn’t ask for this role, but I decided long ago that I could either fight it tooth and nail (and be miserable) or accept it and make the best of it. And guess who benefits from the latter? My sons.

In the beginning, there was so much hurt, anger, and resentment over the unreconciled issues in our broken marriage. Our sons were very young at the time. We selfishly thought we shielded them from the fallout of their parent’s failed marriage due to their tender ages. We were wrong. There is no shortage of victims when it comes to divorce. And the children are typically the ones who suffer the most.

RELATED: Co-parenting Is about the Kids, Not Your Feelings after Divorce

After years of holiday arguments, custody battles, and trying to enforce our child-rearing ideals on each other, something shifted. The hands of time. Moving on to other relationships. Simply growing weary from the constant battles. We did not agree on much of anything in the beginning. But one thing has always bonded us: our immense love for and fierce protection of the same two little souls we created. If there are only two things we got right in our often rocky union of marital bliss, it was our two adored sons.

We are both active in our boys’ lives. I think at some undefined point in time, we decided to just give in. There is no getting away from seeing this man several times a week. We both attend ball games, school events, parent-teacher conferences, and all the big milestones. We definitely still have our moments (not unlike married parents) but they are few and far between at this point.

We have a common goal: to lovingly raise our boys to be well-educated, endlessly loved, responsible young men who can function in this quickly changing society that I honestly don’t even recognize at times. I often laugh at their dad’s crazy ideas, and I am sure he does the same with mine. But I will say that life is much less stressful (for all involved) if you can openly communicate and support your child’s other parent.

I have heard it said, “You have to love your children more than you hate your ex.” I do believe there is an element of truth in that phrase. I am not sure I have ever hated my ex-husband. After all, he is a very integral part of my children’s very DNA. Hating him would be like hating a part of my children and that is inconceivable. Sure, there was immense hurt and pain during and for several years after the dissolution of our marriage. But time truly does give us a different perspective.

My oldest son has faced some difficulties in school this year. Nothing outlandish. He is in seventh grade, and I am told by those who have gone before in this adventurous parenting journey, that it simply goes with the junior high boy territory. As difficult as it has been, his father and I have sort of been forced to step up. Many long phone conversations, meetings at school with the counselor, bouncing ideas off each other, being united in discipline and rewards, encouraging each other in parenting, and constantly reminding the other parent that this too shall pass. In a truly ironic way, it has allowed us to put to rest some of our former issues and simply concentrate on our son. Something that should have always been at the forefront of our relationship once those divorce papers were signed.

I certainly wouldn’t term us poster-parents for divorce. But, we have heard over the years, from teachers, faculty, and even joint friends, that we are an inspiration. I take that very seriously. I am honored that we could actively work through some seemingly insurmountable odds and come to a healthy, even pleasant, friendship and effective co-parenting relationship.

RELATED: Divorce Made My Ex-Husband and Me Better Parents

When I think of my son’s dad as their father and not as my ex-husband, it allows for all the years of hurt, anger, and disappointment to simply fade away. We have both had to walk a very rocky road of forgiveness and re-establish a relationship with our boys at the forefront of every interaction.

I am not saying this is easy! It is likely the hardest thing either of us have ever done. But guess what? It is a gift to our two sons. Knowing they are supported, protected, and loved by both parents is a non-negotiable gift every child should receive. Whether divorced, separated, married, living together, or whatever the situation, kids deserve to be the center of their parents’ world. And you cannot truly do that while being at constant odds with the other parent.

I feel fortunate that I married someone who retained his strength of character, even in divorce. I would not have always felt that way, and I am sure the feeling is mutual with my ex. I could focus on all the things that went wrong in our marriage. Or, I could focus on the two amazing humans who, in many ways, have been instrumental in this evolving, maturing, co-parenting relationship between their father and me.

After all, there is only one other human on the face of this earth who could possibly understand the depth and intensity of my love for these two precious humans. Their father. When you look at those odds, it makes our relationship worlds more successful. And trust me, if we can arrive at this level of co-parenting bliss, it is absolutely possible for anyone reading this message. Put the kids first and everything else will fall into place. It will take time. It will take effort. It will take forgiveness (again and again and again). But it is possible. Our family is proof.

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Manndi Maphies Wilkins

I am a boy momma of two, who works at a School of Pharmacy and enjoys freelance writing on the side. I enjoy sharing my daily adventures as a (former) single mom with anyone who will read them. Life is full of ups…and downs…and then more ups. The joy is in the journey and if others find my journey humorous, relatable, and inspiring, I will never quit sharing it! So happy to connect with such an inspiring group of writers!

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