Co-parenting

IMG_7769[1]If you had talked to me 5 years ago, I would have been pretty clear.  Never in a million years would I have pictured myself divorced, knowledgeable about divorce papers, custody, child support, or co-parenting.  Not because I had a rock solid marriage to my ex-husband, but because I couldn’t picture putting my children in that position.  I had a lot of preconceived judgments on the matter as well, but that’s a blog for another day.  Just hearing those words would have struck fear in my heart, sadness, an obvious heartache for the children involved.  I just couldn’t imagine it.  I couldn’t imagine being away from the kids.  I had never even spent more than a night away from any of them.  Staying married seemed to be the answer to the fear that I could potentially be the cause of my children’s suffering.  I had a strong idea that my job was to protect them from hard things.  Staying married would prevent that.  I was wrong.  I made a choice a few years back, a single choice that placed my happiness above anyone else’s.  It was risky because I had never done that before.  I typically operate on the idea that if I can keep everyone around me happy, then I can be happy too.  After taking this leap, I struggled a bit.  Did I just blow my only job?  Did I consciously and directly cause hardship to my children?  Could I shift my mindset?  Was my job really not to prevent hard things for them and give up happiness for myself?  I realized over time, that my job is not to protect them from difficulties in life but to help them survive and thrive in spite of them.  Sure, it’s a hard pill to swallow when you can easily point a finger at your own chest instead of someone else’s.

Now it’s a real thing.  We’ve been doing it for a couple years already.  I’ve had to quickly reshape my worldview on this to survive.  In order not to be consumed by guilt at how I was sure to be “ruining” my kids.  I have lots of mom guilt about lots of things and this is no exception.  I could rationalize the positives and not think too much about the negatives.  But what I didn’t expect was how it’s been a really good thing for everyone.  I’m seeing it myself and our kids and my ex-husband.

There are many things I love about our arrangement.  Mostly it’s my wife and I and all 5 kids.  Sometimes it’s me with the 5 kids.  Some days we just have 4.  Some days we just have 1.  Some days, it’s just the two of us.  I love how it’s always changing.  I love how we can embrace the dynamics each time.  The littlest might get both of us to himself.  The littlest might be with dad and the older kids get some much needed attention.  We can take them to do big kid stuff like Geocaching or camping or hiking or to the movies.  The majority of the time it’s all 5 of them and sometimes it’s loud and chaotic and everyone is fighting but sometimes they are all playing and our girl, right in the middle is playing school teacher for the little boys.  Sometimes they all have friends over and there are 10 children in the house or on the swingset and it’s glorious and stressful all at once.  They are all happily playing and then you catch yourself yelling at the neighbor kid because you treat them all the same.  You’re handing popsicles out left and right and just noticed a kid that isn’t yours is helping themselves to something in the fridge.  Then you sigh in relief when you are back down to “only” 5.  I love bonding with our littlest; free times with no sibling rivalry.  I love babying #4 when he’s the littlest in the house for a day.  I love watching them interact when even a day or 2 separation has them asking after one another.  When our daughter lugs #5 around the house after time apart.

My favorite part is the random breaks we now have the privilege of.  It’s almost not fair but I love it.  To balance out the occasional heartaches of “the second time around” there are some sweet, sweet moments.  When we get the house to ourselves for a night, a weekend, a whole week if the stars all align.  It’s an advantage that we wouldn’t have had if it were the “first time around.”  What typically happens is you get all that “alone time/couple time” up front in your relationship.  You date a couple years, you get married, a year or 2 in you have a baby.  Gone is that time alone.  If you are one of the lucky ones, you have family nearby to spell you, give you a weekend alone, once in a huge while.  We never got the up front time, but we get it sprinkled consistently though our life now, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I get to go on dates with my wife and we take full advantage of kid-less times.  We embrace it, soak it up, ready to jump if a time falls into our laps.  Then we are just as ready to get the kids back home.

The older kids love spending time with their dad, as he takes them bowling and swimming and to play pickleball and basketball.  They do lots of activities and come home on those weekends exhausted, excited to have gone and ready to settle down into their consistent routines with us.  The only hard part has been some occasional tears coming or going and we have to hold our hearts and hold them and let them cry.  Soon the tears dry and that’s that.  It’s a heartache for sure but I remember that my job is to help them through and not fix it.  They are loved by all the parents and that is all they feel.  We encourage them to be excited and we show our excitement when they come home.

It’s easy to look at all of this in a bubble and see what’s on the surface:  Kids trying to make the most of a broken home.  At least we’re trying but it’s only second best.  But I see something different.  For the oldest 4, I see kids that have a lot more going for them now than they did 3 years ago.  The divorce, the move, the custody agreement have spurred dad on to be involved, active, and present.  This was not the dad that they were growing up with before.  They have two moms now, covering each other, filling each other’s gaps, giving attention, love, and teaching all the time.  They have a mom who gets a break.  Who, in 13 years previously, never, ever did.  I was running out of steam.  No, correction, I had run out of steam long before.  I’m JUST now getting it back.  This summer is the first time, aside from 3 vacations in the past 2 years, that I haven’t been responsible for all the kids since they were born.  I’ve had chunks of 4 or 5 days now at a time, where I’m being relieved.  It’s still new and I can’t say for sure where I’ll land but for right now I know that I needed a break.  I can already see how beyond burnt out I have been functioning, wondering why a 2 day break here, or a 5 day break 2 months ago did nothing to rejuvenate me.  I had started wondering why, after a weekend of freedom I didn’t feel ready to dive in again.  Maybe breaks weren’t the solution, I thought.  But here, even just a month in to a summer where I’ve had just 1 or even a few days all to myself, I can already feel the shift.  I look forward to the weekends, and for the first time in years don’t feel like the worst mom on the planet for not having energy to do “fun things”.    And I’ll look forward to things getting back to “normal” this fall when we have the kids most of the time.

I know it’s looking at the bright side of things and it’s the kids who feel it the most.  I know they would prefer not to have to leave any parent on any given day, but there are 2 sides to every coin.  If they had that, there are so many things they wouldn’t have.  It’s almost impossible in life to make comparisons like that because we tend to forget what wouldn’t be the same. It’s easy for the kids to think that they would have the mom they have in this moment and the dad they have in this moment but it doesn’t work like that.  I think it’s a domino effect.  We can’t take how we are in the present and drop it into a neat little package into an alternate world.  Because we are changed BECAUSE of the situation.  We also can’t forecast the alternate future, saying, “if I hadn’t chosen my wife, my life would have looked like this.”  I can spend my life fretting about the potential negatives I’ve caused for my kids or I can rest on the positives I’m providing for them.  So I’m choosing to focus on the gains we all have, the gains the kids have, and know that I wouldn’t change it for the world.  I love the changes.  I love who my kids are becoming.  I love that we are all better parents for it.  We’ve all chosen to use this situation to pour extra love into our children’s lives as well as each other’s.  Love wins again.

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