It’s been a long time since I’ve been open about co-parenting.
I really do believe that, when it comes to a split, you owe it to the other party not to talk about it – at least the personal and finer details – online. I just think it’s the fairest way of dealing with things, and fairest when there are littles involved too.
It’s been over two years since Bill’s father and I decided to split and parent separately. And it’s been quite the learning curve.
When you split with someone – whether it was your decision, their decision, or mutual, as in our case – you naturally, at some point, feel like it’s best to remove that person from your life.
It’s all part of moving on. And sometimes you might hate them, and sometimes you might feel nothing, and sometimes, you may even find a way to be friends. But you need that space first.
And you don’t get it when you have children together.
Even if your contact is minimal, you are tied together forever more.
I don’t at all regret the way my life has turned out, because, I’m so happy now. And I believe that Bill is happier too, because he’s not the sole audience to a happy relationship. I’ve got Mark – my lobster. And his daughter is currently making my belly dance. And I’ve also got a son who makes my heart come alive.
But co-parenting is not easy. And it’s a big pay-off for your own personal happiness.
This path, for me, has always felt very unnatural. There’s something that feels wrong when I say goodbye to my son. There’s something about it that will never feel right.
So what’s it been like these past two years?
Well, initially it was the adjustment and the judgement.
I started single motherhood with a lot of opinions being offered to me on a platter. Like I was being force-fed solutions, or judgement that I didn’t want or need.
I lost some mutual friends, because some couldn’t accept that I’d found someone new and it didn’t involve a sordid affair. And I remember adjusting to this new world where, apparently, I was a tramp, a leech on society, who couldn’t keep her legs closed. You don’t need to know my sex life, but trust me, I’m a pretty old-fashioned young lady, and even then, does it matter?
You have people who really rally around you on the other hand. People who love you. And who are so confident in you being the good guy, and the other party being the bad guy, that sometimes ‘fairness’ gets lost. Of course I’ve had days where I’ve wanted to throw a dirty nappy at my ex, and I’m sure he’s wanted to do the same to me. And I’ve ranted, and I’ve raved, and I’ve cried, and I’ve been hurt.
But there’s no innocent party. The instinct to parent and to love your children is such an overriding factor, that you naturally put your needs first. Of course you do. Bill’s my son. I chose to have my little surprise. I grew him. I fed him. I did my very best. And I’m so obsessively in love with him.
But to be that in love is to understand that you cannot be enough. I know that there are exceptions to this rule, obviously, but when my son was born with a father in his life, I should never be the one to take that father away.
This isn’t actually about me. Or his dad. It’s about Bill. I am not a 100% happy mother. I mean, who is? I suppose what I mean to say is that I am not the mother I wanted to be. I wanted to be a part of my child’s life for as much as possible, while they needed me in that raw way that little ones do. And I couldn’t be, first because of work, and now because of a situation that I chose for our family.
That’s a very large pill to swallow on a lonely night when your son is not in your arms.
You begin, very quickly, to start questioning yourself. When you argue over times, and dates, and who has him when, it starts to make you feel sick because your child is not a possession, but you don’t want to be the one who is always caught short in a hard deal either.
I work full-time in consistent office hours, so I’m fixed. I’m the reliable one in the sense that everyone knows when I’m around. I’m also the one who is blessed with the mother who cares for our son when I’m at work. I’m also the primary caregiver.
It also means that I have to be quite flexible too. I try my best to cater to the different working hours of Bill’s dad. And also my mum’s needs to have a break, which she rightly deserves. It’s put me in a position where, honestly, I don’t know what the next month will be like until I’m told. That’s one of the weirdest parts of all of this, because I don’t know whether I can RSVP with three of us, or just two. Or make plans, in case they get changed.
And there are dates you will fight over, Christmas, their birthday, your birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. And you regularly have to stop and check yourself – at least I do – and ask: “Am I being a dick? Am I being unreasonable? What would Bill want?”
And even then, I don’t know the answer to that question.
Over the past two years, I’ve had times where Bill has cried heartbreaking tears when he has to leave me. And I’ve felt horrible. And even now, he won’t want to go sometimes, particularly on weekends, when he knows it’s what he calls a ‘Mama & Mark Day’. Every morning he asks me what type of day it is, and I know sometimes, based on his mood, he’ll hope for one over the other. I think, as he’s getting closer to four, he is starting to become more aware of our time together and he does try and tell me he wants more of it: “Mama, please don’t go to work today.” Or: “I just want to stay with you and Mark.” And the pain of feeling like I’ve rejected him is sometimes too much to bear.
I still cry, pretty much every week, when he leaves. Or over the situation in general. And I’d love to say that it has gotten easier – I suppose, in some ways, it has – but at the same time, I wonder if I’ll ever honestly accept it?
I do think it has defined me as a parent. I know that, sometimes, I must seem to only ever be happy and in love with my son. Like I mustn’t have bad days, or struggle with parenting. And I’ve had a few people nudge or hint those thoughts at me. But I suppose, parenting, as I have learned, is wholly perceptive.
What is bad for you, may not be bad for me. But that does not make it any less bad. My downfalls and my hard times, are when my son is not around. And that’s my battle. My issue. My bad part. We’re experiencing all the shitty times too. Like Bill’s new thing for the past week, which is to pretty much refuse to eat his tea. Now, when you’ve just got home from work and you’ve taken the time to make a nice meal, from scratch, with a swinging baby belly in the way, that is rubbish. Even more so is the tantrum that goes with it.
And then there’s the worry that goes with things like that too. Is it me? Does he prefer the food his dad makes? Is he happier with my mum when he’s with her and I’m at work? Does he not like me? Am I the bad cop? What have I done wrong? Is this normal behaviour for a child, or is this some sort of deeper struggle of being a child who doesn’t know which family member he’ll wake up with tomorrow?
The answer, this is my first child, I just don’t know.
Now I’m expecting my second, a daughter that will be here all of the time. I’ve never experienced that. A daughter who I will have nine months with when she’s born. I’ve never experienced that. Maybe I will learn a lot in that time. And maybe I’ll feel better, or even worse. But it’s a whole new challenge in itself.
I think, what I’m trying to say is that, ultimately, it’s a very unusual life to lead. But also very normal at the same time. My son has the blessing of being loved by his biological parents, and more people besides.
Mark had Bill one night when I went to a friend’s leaving do from work, and he said to Bill, as he was cooking their tea: “Look at me cooking your dinner like Mama!” (I’m the cook in our house). And Bill replied: “Mark, you are not a mama! You are my Mark Daddy!” We’ve never encouraged this, out of utmost respect for Bill’s dad, but it’s good and healthy for us to know that Bill not only accepts Mark, but adores him. And I don’t think I could have asked for a better man to play that role.
Now we’re entering a new phase, as this little girl comes our way, and a new set of challenges when school begins in September, and no doubt weekends will be more fought over.
I just hope that I can continue to try my best to do what my head tells me is right, even when my heart is screaming in the background: “Don’t let him go again. Please don’t.”
I know that to be fair, and put yourself last, is not to be weak, it is to be strong.
And Bill, should you ever read this one day, you are always going to be my first. And I hope I did you proud.