Co-parenting is hard. Co-parenting gracefully is even harder. It is often messy, complicated and difficult. But it is always, always worth it.
I want to take you back to just under two years ago, when we closed the door on our relationship and life together as a “traditional” family. As much as the final call was made by me, the issues that got us to that point were not. Things that mattered so much to me, didn’t to him. Things that he felt passionately about, I did not. We worked hard to change each other’s views and hearts. And in turn, everyone lost.
Earlier in our story, we reached an impasse. We were ready to cut our losses and go our separate ways, when we found out I was pregnant. Our issues got put on the back burner being completely upstaged by the news of my pregnancy, having the baby, and most substantially, my postpartum psychosis. When the dust settled, and I found stability and relative good health, our differences were more prevalent than ever. The reality we faced in the end was heartbreaking for both of us.
Almost every adult on earth has been through a breakup and knows how shitty and painful they can be. Whether you’re the “dumper” or the “dumpee”, no one ever gets out unscathed by the sadness, drama, and loss. In a perfect world, you get to pretend that your ex doesn’t exist. The old, “out of sight, out of mind” thing works for just about everyone. But when co-parenting, not only do you not get that closure, you have to be in constant communication with your ex. You are forced to not only tolerate but work together with someone you have consciously chosen not to spend your life with. That all being said, we put our best foot forward and tried our hardest to walk this journey with grace, dignity and mutual respect. Sometimes it really works, and we are what I like to call, “co-parenting goals”. Other times, not so much.
I won’t kid you and say that this road we’re on is easy. I will actually be the one to openly tell you just how truly difficult it is. Since we separated and began co-parenting, we have seen our fair share of ups and downs. We’ve faced the “big” things, like moving out, dating other people for the first time, and figuring out how to split up the holidays. And on a daily basis we face the “smaller” things, like pick-ups and drop-offs, who has what clothes for Ollie, and how to handle our two-year-old’s ever-changing moods. There was resentment coming from both ends, feeding a palpable anger and contention. There was hurt, jealousy, and guilt. So much guilt. I spent months and months aching to never have to share my time with my baby ever again, and I know he did too. I had to relinquish the sense of “control” I had in raising Ollie, and the ability to parent him exactly how I wanted, all the time. We both had to mourn the loss of the life we had envisioned for our son and accept that his family would be healthy in a much different way than we had planned. For a long time, it seemed like we couldn’t agree on anything and every day was a battle that left us feeling weak and defeated. We had absolutely nothing in common, aside from one very significant thing. We both had an unconditional, heart-achingly deep love for the tiny human that we created together.
That brings me to the pinnacle of this post. The most important message. The one thing that I desperately want each and every one of you to take away. In the struggle of co-parenting, you might feel like you are always fighting a losing battle. But this, I promise you. If you put your child first, you will always win. You heard me, people. The ticket to “winning” at being a co-parent (or just a parent in general) is to put your child before anything and everything else. It is certainly not always the “easy” or most satisfying option, but it is always the best one.
Since before I gave birth to Ollie, I have made daily sacrifices both great and small. My body, my mind, and my life have all been devoted to something and someone much more important than myself. There is no task nor sacrifice too big, and there are never any questions asked. It’s not easy to look at yourself in the mirror, unsatisfied with your postpartum body and your swollen, leaky breasts. But we do it for our babies. It’s not easy to function in total exhaustion, from sleepless night after sleepless night. But we do it for our babies. It’s certainly not easy to work tirelessly, each day, all week, every month, for the whole year with such little gratitude or rest. But we do it for our babies. It’s the farthest thing from easy to live with our heart outside of our chest in the souls of our perfect, precious, and tender-hearted children. But you bet your ass we do it, we do it for our babies. I look at co-parenting this way, too. It would be gratifying to fight tooth and nail for what I want in the moment. It would feel satisfying to text back the bitchy novel I typed up, to get everything off my chest. It would be relieving to push back, to hoard time with Ollie, to stoop down to the lowest lows. It would feel powerful to use my voice and words to cause pain, the way I have been hurt. But I don’t, for my baby.
Ollie lives at two houses, and always will. He has parents who love him mercilessly, and smother him with attention, kisses and gushing pride every minute of every day. He has a solid routine, consistent expectations and boundaries, a healthy diet and two parents that communicate openly and constantly about how we will carry those things out in each of our homes. I know with great certainty that he wakes up each day and falls asleep at night with a feeling of safety, joy, and fullness in his heart. I have felt miserable, exhausted, fed up, defeated and discouraged. But I look at Ollie each day, and I know that he feels none of those things. Because we have protected him, shown respect toward each other in front of him, and always, always put him first.
I have finally come to terms with the fact that I will never escape this chapter or window of my life. I will always be Ollie’s mom; therefore, I will always be a co-parent. And that truth often feels daunting and suffocating. No, this is not what I would’ve chosen for myself. But more importantly, the person who matters most didn’t get a choice. So it is my job in this life to make absolute sure that this family, this way, is the happiest, healthiest and most love-filled one that he could’ve ever imagined. Instead of dwelling on what “should’ve” been or the dread of managing this relationship, I will focus on all that is and will be. We have faced hurdles and will continue to do so. What we seem to have figured out this month, we won’t next. Each phase of Ollie’s life will come and go, taking away the current challenges and bringing with it a whole new set. And though I have no idea yet what those challenges will look like, I know that if both his dad and I can continue to put Ollie before everything, we will be okay. We will be a team. We will all win.