By Paulina O’Kieffe
In the early stages of co-parenting with Sarah, things were tense to say the least. So much so that it actually took an effect on my mental health and sense of inner peace. My heart would literally race on Sundays at 7pm when I saw Sarah pull up in our driveway to pick up Sherika. I would have frequent nightmares about violent confrontations that may happen in future if one of us decided to stop holding our tongues on any particular day. All the pent up resentment, anger and anxiety would just unleash out into the open air and who knew if we would be able to come back from it; or more importantly if my step-daughter, Sherika could come back from it.
Ironically enough it was a dream that started me on my path to reconciliation and eventually friendship with Sarah. In that dream it became clear to me though that the missing element, the thing that was really putting up a barrier for me and her to move on from past drama and move forward into a more positive relationship was forgiveness. I found myself wanting to hold onto every single action I considered an injustice done to me by Sarah. All that did was allow my resentment to fester and push me into full fledged anxiety attacks (complete with heart palpitations).
I finally convinced myself that it was ok to forgive (and eventually forget) not just for the sake of a better co-parenting relationship, but for my own mental health. I found forgiveness though came in a few layers that I want to share with you here.
1. Forgive Yourself
This I think was the hardest part for me because I was so used to playing a tit for tat game with Sarah that I even though I felt slighted by her actions, I didn’t want to reconcile because it would mean having to face my own negative role in the breakdown of the co-parenting relationship. Once I forgave myself and realized that I am only a human being who is forever on a journey of self-improvement, I found the strength to forgive myself and work on being better. Forgiving yourself may occur more than once as the path to reconciliation and positive co-parenting doesn’t come easy. You may slide back down into the depths of PettyVille, but just be ready to own up to your mistake and forgive yourself.
2. Forgive the Other Person
When I found the strength to forgive Sarah for her part in this madness, it was like a weight was instantly lifted off my chest. The anxiety was drastically reduced and I was able to, for the first time, see things from her perspective. Once that happened it was easier to find more things in common and focus less on our differences or let ego come into play. Just like forgiving yourself, forgiving the other person may not be a onetime deal as you both are adjusting from being in a toxic relationship to one of mutual respect and maybe eventual friendship.
3. Seek forgiveness from the child(ren)
The hardest layer of forgiveness was having to ask forgiveness from my stepdaughter for my role in the creation of the unstable and toxic environment we had created for her. In the time Sarah and I were focused on outdoing one another, Sherika was suffering, being pressured to pick sides, show loyalty and overall see two grown women she cared about (and who cared about her) aggressively try to dismantle one another. Seeking forgiveness from the child(ren) is important because it teaches them that no matter how old you are or what level of power or privilege you hold, one must own up to their mistakes and try and make it right; and that is a very powerful lesson.
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult concepts to master for a lot of people. Most feel like it lets the other person off the hook, but in reality it actual lets you off the hook. It is a sign of maturity but also sometimes a sense of transcendence above the societal norm that actually keeps us locked into an ongoing mental and emotional (sometimes physical) battle with the other person. When you can forgive someone you clear that negative spiritual energy out of your system; and if that person so happens to take ownership and move to correct the situation than you might even create a new and positive relationship with someone who once gave you anxiety and heart palpitations when they walked up your driveway every Sunday at 7pm.