Today, Sunday, I found out that my son had his first Cub Scouts meeting on Wednesday. Like, five days ago Wednesday. And I just found out about it.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuckity Fuck.
Now, I know I’m busy, and I sometimes forget things, like, say, my own lunch, but I don’t forget shit like my son’s first Cub Scouts meeting.
Nope. Because he’s my son, mine, my child. And his sister? Also my child, my job. Me, I do the handling of the things, the making of the appointments, the enrolling in groups, the phone calls, all the kid things. Mine. I do them, by my own fucking self.
Except now I don’t.
I’ve had an ex-husband for over five years, and for at least four of those, I was rolling 100-percent solo. No co-parenting, no shared decision-making, no mutual appearances at school functions, just one chair filled at parent-teacher conferences, just one seat in the stands at the soccer game. It was just me, and my kids.
It was really fucking hard.
They got a stepmom right away. She wouldn’t make eye contact with me, and not just because I’m a million-feet tall. I didn’t talk to her, and not because I don’t like talking. There was no conversation, and honestly, because I only had to interact with her and my ex once every 12 days, I didn’t spend much time considering what that other family unit looked like.
I refused to even classify it as a family. I was their family, the mom, the only one.
And I used that leverage to feed my anger. I was doing it all alone, without support and without his interest. He, in my opinion, was clearly failing to show up for my kids, incapable probably and inept at best. It was his fault. He couldn’t do it, so I did his part and mine.
But, I got to make all the rules, all the memories, all the plans. I got to wear the bossy pants every day, uncontested. And I liked it.
Except I didn’t.
As a single parent, the thing I wanted most was help—someone to provide backup, who could squash the backtalk, give me a sanity break, pick up the Legos from the bedroom floor, remind me about my own damn lunch box, or wash the fucking dishes just one time. Trying to be two people in one—mother and father, disciplinarian and entertainer, the strong one and the fun one—wore the soft parts down quickly.
Responsibility is heavy. Adulting is hard. Parenting is hardest.
My own parents live far away, and that meant that when I wanted to do anything without my kids, like, any single thing that didn’t happen while they were at school or within that tiny 48-hour window every 12 days, I was paying a babysitter or trading kid-care with a girlfriend.
About two years ago, things started to look different. He wanted more time with my kids, a weeknight every week, then two. I was furious and righteous. He had missed toddlerhood and potty training and first lost teeth and learning to ride a bike. He had not stayed up nights monitoring fevers and cleaning vomit. He couldn’t even have been bothered to show up to the ER the times my daughter had the flu so bad she needed an IV and when my son fell at school and broke his nose and had a concussion.
Who the fuck was he to just walk into their lives now, at ages 5 and 8, like it was no big deal? Did he want an award for coming to back-to-school night, praise for doing what every other parent was already doing? Welcome to parenthood, Asshole.
I was angry.
But still, I didn’t want to get in the way of my kids having a relationship with their father, because therapy is expensive and guilt feels bad.
So I let them spend some more time with him and her. It went in spurts of normalcy. Things would be OK, and then not. We’d communicate respectfully for a while, and then I’d fall off the chill wagon again.
He started having an opinion about what the kids were doing and involved in, and we’d argue about that. He came to parent-teacher conferences and toured a new school with me to see if it would be a good fit. I hated it—intensely. When the stepmother bought bras for my 10-year-old daughter, I positively lost my shit.
Mine. These kids are mine. Not ours. Mine. Back the fuck off.
My kids started taking vacations with them. Suddenly we were at 50/50 custody, and the reality that there was this other family unit, outside of me, beyond me, not me, making memories with my kids, hit me. Someone else was creating things in my kids’ lives, and it absolutely terrified me. The one thing I’d been asking for for all these years—help—was finally available, and instead of being grateful, I was sick with angst.
They will do it wrong. It won’t be my way, the right way. It’s not in alignment with way I’m raising them. It’s different. What if he fails them again? I can’t protect them from hurt if I let them go.
No one can possibly love them like I do. I’m their mother. They don’t need a spare. They need two parents, tops. That’s all that’s necessary. Extra parents get in the way.
Oh God, what if they like them more?
No. All of their childhood memories should be tied to me. Even if I just coordinate or approve something, it should be connected to me. Because they are MY kids, right? Mine, as though they are a possession to whom only I hold the rights to enjoy.
Mmm hmm. Who’s the asshole now?
Yeah, they are my kids, and they’re also his kids. Now, they’re also their stepmother’s kids. Now, they’re also their stepfather’s kids. They have four parents now.
Not one, not two, but four parents. Not half parents, not partial parents, not just these people to whom their “real” parents are married. We are all parents. These are our children. Not just mine.
Because when I get into it, and the stories I’ve been telling myself, our kids are really just two beautiful humans who chose four other humans to love them. It’s not a contest. We don’t get to win at this, but we sure as shit can lose, and hard.
So their dad missed what he missed. He did what he did. He said what he said. I did what I did, I said what I said, and I made damn sure he was given as little access to them as possible. I made it hard for him. That part is over. This part is happening. I have two choices to make here—I can go back to being mad, angry, jealous and insecure and keep resisting reality, or I can soften into gratitude.
I’m grateful my kids have another woman who loves and cares for them at their other home and who creates space for them and wants to be involved. She doesn’t have to; she’s choosing to. How lucky are we that she is?
I’m watching my new husband adjust to being a family unit, and I’m awestruck at the intensity of his love for our children.
I’m grateful their father is ready to show up consistently for them and take the initiative to do something like sign our kid up for something. I’m grateful he cares enough to do the work.
I’m grateful I care enough to do the work.
I’m grateful that my kids get to travel and create new memories with all of their parents. They’ll have a wealth of learning and experiences to carry with them into adulthood. They are more fortunate than they may ever understand.
I’m grateful that I have help. That I have support. That I get a break in my week to go take care of me, so that when our kids come back to this home, I can just be one person, just me.
I’m grateful for reflection and the opportunity to move forward in a new way. For the chance to learn to communicate differently and to learn what co-parenting can really look like.
I’m grateful for the chance to get to redefine this, again.
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