Before I became a mother, I was acutely aware that parenthood would be tough. I knew that I would be exhausted and that I would have numerous responsibilities and that I would have to make some very serious decisions. I didn't realize, however, how difficult co-parenting would be. There are things no one will tell you about co-parenting; Things that would create more realistic expectations for new mothers, like myself, who have no freakin' idea what they're in for.
When I found out I was pregnant and decided I wanted to be a mother, I was not married. I had just started dating my partner, and after carefully considering what parenthood would entail and evaluating our new relationship, we both decided that we could be parents, as individuals and together. I consider us pretty like-minded and we agree on so many things, but that doesn't mean co-parenting has been easy. Whether it's fighting to combat the idea that we're somehow lesser parents because we aren't married, or it's agreeing to disagree or find some sort of compromise when we have different ideas about parenting in general; co-parenting is difficult. Like motherhood, it isn't all rainbows and butterflies the way so many people, and society in general, would lead you to believe.
Thankfully, as the idea of "family" has evolved and more and more people are realizing that a family doesn't have to look any one way to be valued and respected, co-parenting relationships are being openly discussed in an honest and real way. I'm more than happy to add to that discussion, because even though I've only been a mother for two years I have learned os much about what it means to be a co-parent. Here are just a few of those lessons:
It doesn't matter if your co-parent is someone you're currently dating, are constantly on the same page with, a trusted family member or a fantastic friend you hardly ever argue with; co-parenting isn't easy. It's just, well, not. I love my co-parent very much and I think we're on the same page in regards to a lot of things, especially parenting things, but we battle and we disagree and we are faced with decisions that are just difficult to make together.
You can talk about potential parenting choices and discuss belief systems until you're blue in the face, but until you're a parent facing a particular situation, you can't say for sure how you'll react or what you'll decide. Minds change and choices are altered and, well, you will probably disagree with your parenting partner on a few things. Even though you both have the same goal, doesn't mean that you're the same person with the same idea of how to get to that goal. My parenting partner and I both love our son to pieces, and consider ourselves like-minded, but we have different mindsets, sometimes, of how that love should shape our decisions and choices. This is normal, and honestly, just what happens when two human beings try to do something together.
I love my partner, but I don't always like my partner. I don't like my partner when we are arguing about gun control. I didn't like my partner when I was up at night breastfeeding (again) and he was asleep next to me. I don't like my partner when he questions a decision I make, even if he does so in the kindest way possible. I always love him, I just don't always like him.
I can say the same thing about my mother and my brother and my best friends. Just because you love or care for someone, doesn't mean you will always like them or agree with them or even appreciate their presence. It's pretty damn natural, you guys. It's not indicitive of your relationship or how much you care, it just means you're a human being who gets frustrated.
Compromise is the name of the co-parenting game, but it isn't always possible. Life just doesn't work out that way, unfortunately, so someone is bound to "get their way" while another will have to succumb to the fact that what one parent needs or wants or decides either takes priority, or is right. You won't always "win" but, honestly, "winning" an argument or always being the one to make a decisions shouldn't be your goal as a co-parent.
I'll be the first to admit that in general, and especially when it comes to your kids, swallowing your pride and dismissing your ego can be tough. We all want to do our best and, well, when we realize that what we thought was best wasn't actually best, it can be demoralizing, to say the least. It's tough and it takes a while to get used to, but you won't always be right. Sometimes, your co-parent will, and in those moments you will need to suck it up and admit that you were wrong and let your ego take the hit. Trust me, rolls will reverse and you'll be on the receiving end of an apology, too.
Co-parenting, like adulthood, is nothing more than an extended balancing act. It can be super tough to balance what you need and want and deserve, with the needs and wants of someone else. That can mean your kid, but it can definitely (and often does) mean your co-parent, too. Your co-parent will need a break, just like you. Your co-parent will need to feel like they're being heard, just like you. Your co-parent will need to make decisions and feel validated in those decisions, just like you. Balancing those needs with your own will be challenging and, sometimes, you both will fail. It's alright, if and when this happens. Just pick everything back up and keep practicing.
Sorry, but co-parenting doesn't mean two people are both making the decisions all the time. Sometimes, you won't get a way in what your co-parent needs or wants. Sometimes, it will be your co-parent who gets the final say in what is best for them and your child. That's just the way it goes.
And, of course, sometimes your co-parenting partner won't get a say, either. If you decide and/or are able to breastfeed, your co-parent won't get a say in when you breastfeed or how you breastfeed or for how long you breastfeed. If you're the one giving birth, your co-parent won't get a say in how you decide to give birth or whether or not you choose to have a medicated or unmedicated birth. When it comes to your body, you get the final say, even if it does have the potential to affect your child.
Apparently there are couples that never fight, but I have yet to meed and/or even hear of one. Fighting is normal, when done in a healthy way, and somewhat inevitable, especially when you're exhausted and frustrated and responsible for another life. In fact, fighting can actually be beneficial to both your child and your co-parenting relationship, so don't be deterred if you're not constantly agreeing with your parenting partner, or visa versa. I, personally, have learned more from the arguments I have had with my partner, than the times we have passionately agreed with one another.
Just because you disagree or even argue, doesn't mean that you and your co-parenting partner are failing. An argument is not what failure looks like. A disagreement is not what failure looks like. As long as you two continue to communicate and evolve and learn so that you can be the best parents you can be, either together or separate, you're not failing.
It really and truly is. Even at my most frustrated, when I am not seeing eye-to-eye with my partner and I want to pull my hair out or run away or throw my hands up in the air with complete and utter defeat, it is worth it. It is worth the arguments (because they're healthy) and it's worth the compromise (because they go both ways) and it's worth the environment we are constantly working to create for our son.