Co-parenting. One of the hardest things I have ever had to learn how to do. The “Co” in co-parenting should stand for co-mplicated. Complicated parenting. Where no situation is the same. Where there is no “one size fits all.” It is messy and full of glitches. It can become a game of tug of war. Two parents pulling, while the child is stuck in the middle, feeling more like an object than a blessing. It takes trial after trial and error after error to get it right. It takes work to become a well oiled machine. And even then, fights happen, tempers roar and the two “co-parents” become “co-vert” about the lives they share with their child. Blame, resentment, and fingers are often pointed. And through all of this, your child is left ripped apart. It isn’t right. But, as humans, it’s hard NOT to do. I’ve been there. I’ve been that mom who tried to keep my baby all to myself. I’ve been that mom who looked for ways to deem him an “unfit” parent. Was that better? Heck no! Having a good relationship isn’t easy. But, it can be done. A good relationship can be formed, over time. It is possible. Just look at how far I have come.
I was 19 when I got pregnant. I was young, naive, and that girl that thought teen pregnancy couldn’t happen to her. I was so naive that I didn’t even feel I needed to practice “safety” in this department. We all know what happened next. Yes, I got pregnant. Shocking! Needless to say, neither of us were at a stage in life where we were ready to start a family. We were selfish, unfocused, and stumbling through life ourselves. A baby threw a wrench in things and magnified the areas of our relationship we tried to ignore. Eventually, we broke up. I became a single, pregnant, now 20 year old, who had no idea how the heck I was going to do this on my own. Even with family help, going to college full time, raising a baby full time, dealing with an ex full time. It was a lot. Usually when you break up with your boyfriend, they go away. They poof out of existence and you are left with their faint memory. Well, not when a child is involved and the father wants to be involved in its life. They. Never. Go. Away. Ever. Sorry to disappoint.
Throughout my pregnancy, we hardly talked, unless it was to fight or bicker about something. He went to one doctors appointment because that was all I could handle. He was still the same person. He hadn’t changed (yet). When a woman gets pregnant, she immediately has to change. She stops doing things that are harmful (drinking, smoking, eating unhealthy, etc). Her boobs hurt constantly. You stop loving your favorite foods and crave the most disgusting things. You are constantly reminded you are carrying a child as you hover over the toilet, revisiting the lunch you just ate ten minutes ago. Your body changes in the most uncomfortable ways. But, when the baby moves, you are reminded of the joy that will soon follow all of your discomfort. That kick in the gut gives you strength to keep waddling on.
Women become insta-moms. Some dads however, take longer to come around. When I became pregnant, I was like an oven. I took 9 months to prepare for the baby. I nested, got her room ready, felt her growing inside of me. Her dad, my ex, he was a microwave. He did his thing while she was in the womb, then quickly became a father when she was born. It wasn’t until he held her for the first time that he finally truly felt like a dad.
It was a bitter sweet moment in that hospital. On one hand, I held my beautiful, curious, sweet baby in my arms. On the other hand, so did her dad. The man I was no longer with. The man I would have to share her with. The man, who a percent of the time, would take her away from me. That is how I saw it back then.
Six months after she was born, we went to court. It was a long, expensive, painful custody battle, that we needed. Yes, we actually needed court. It was time for a reality check. For me, I needed to come to terms with his girlfriend (now wife), being involved in my daughters life. But, thats a whole other topic. Spoiler alert! We are actually friends now! I also needed to see it from his point of view too. He loved our little girl and not only did I miss her when she was gone, but he missed not seeing her too. We both loved her. Equally. Differently. Deeply. He needed court to take a walk in my shoes as a new mother. This was a hard step. A painful step. Like I said, it hasn’t been easy. I still remember the feeling of my heart being ripped apart as I dropped my 6 month old off at her dads for her very first over night visit. I still feel the pain of my first Thanksgiving staring at her empty high chair. That’s what happens when you have a child with someone you don’t spend forever with. You share. And sharing means you don’t get your child all to yourself. What parent wants that? No parent. But, it has to happen.
Over time, we started talking more as two people, on the same team, with the same goal. It took a co-parenting class to actually get us on the same page. It felt awkward and uncomfortable at first. It started with small talk, short trips to the park together and even lunch with him, his wife and our daughter. Things would be going great. We would be communicating effectively and then bam…something would be said, or done and those few steps we took forward were erased by ten steps backwards. We knew when to take a breather. To stop talking until we cooled off. We had to remember how the other person works. He knows (and sometimes forgets) that I need time to process. So, when he is asking for more time, giving me a day to think about it usually ends up better than making me decide on the spot. For him, shutting him down right away creates an explosion. Even though we are not together, we still need to understand how the other person ticks. Without that, no good communication will ever happen.
It was through lots and lots of communicating, crying, arguing, and disagreeing, that we finally began to see the bigger picture. Her. Our child. We saw the joy spread across her face when we both took her trick or treating. The excitement she expressed when we both cheered her on for soccer, ballet, and cheer. The love she showed when she got to hug us both on Thanksgiving. Being a co-parent sucks sometimes. But, having a child feel loved, cared for, cherished and happy. Well, for that, I’ll smile and include him and even become his friend. Because my daughter is worth it. Because, as crazy as this lifestyle may seem, it is her “normal”.
These steps worked for me.
1. Talk. To start, find something you two can agree on and start there.
2. Start participating in something involving your child together and actually support them together.
3. Get to know who they are in a relationship with. Remember, this person is involved in your child life too. Find out who they are and give them a chance. Unless there are reasons of safety involved, in that case, seek help. Chances are, she is feeling ten times more uncomfortable and on edge than you.
4. Talk positively about the other parent to their child. If you talk negatively, you’re the one your child won’t want to share things with. Encourage their relationship with the other parent. I know it’s hard.
5. Explain your feelings to your co-parent. Chances are, they are feeling them too. And yes, this means siting down and having a very awkward conversation. But, it can help.
6. Stay focused on your child and what is best for them. Most of the time doing what is right is the hardest thing. But keeping them in the forefront helps.
Like I said, no co-parent situation is the same. If anyone has any questions or comments about the struggles of co-parenting, please comment below. I have been through hell and back with my ex and would love to talk or even listen. I’m here.