If you would have told me just four years ago that I would be raising a child with another human being, I would have told you to stop doing whatever drug you were clearly doing. Parenthood wasn't even remotely on my radar, nor was interested in sharing the responsibility and connection you share with someone when you have a baby with them. Then, as you might have guessed, I had a baby. My partner and I aren't married, however, so I can only assume there are some things our baby wants us to know about co-parenting; things that put the tough times into perspective; things that remind us that even when co-parenting is the most annoying, it can be wonderful and so very, very worth it.
My partner and I are romantically involved, live together, and while we don't plan on ever getting married are as committed as a married couple is (or, you know, can be). Still, people seem pretty interested in how we make our "parenting situation" work, as if marriage is a required prerequisite for parenthood. Most wonder if we feel "safe and secure" in our relationship, knowing that a break up is much easier to facilitate than a divorce. Others wonder what we're "teaching our son," by living together but not getting married. We simply bypass all of those condescending questions, and simply focus on the facts: co-parenting is just as hard as any other parenting situation, married or not. Seriously, it's just not easy raising a human being with someone who isn't exactly like you, and it can — at times — become rather easy to focus on the negative instead of all the positives that come along with co-parenting.
Which, of course, is when I try to think about my son and what he's witnessing and/or what he would probably want me to know, if he could understand complex relationships or say more than a few words at a time. I'd imagine most of what he wants me to know about co-parenting involves the following, and I'd like to think your kid feels the same way about your particular parenting situation, too.
"You're Setting A Wonderful Example"
Raising a tiny human with another human isn't easy. Like, at all. Whether you're dating but not married, separated, or divorced; co-parenting a walk in the metaphorical park, no matter what your relationship with your parenting partner looks like or how prepared you think you (or both of you) are.
However, you're setting a pretty wonderful example for your kid and, whether they can articulate it or not, they notice. They're learning how to interact with other people — people they're currently in a relationship with, or where once in a relationship with — in a healthy and mutually beneficial way. That's pretty awesome, and I have no doubt that your kid will grow up to one day appreciate all the work you're putting into co-parenting.
"I'll Find Myself In A Healthy And Happy Romantic Relationship, One Day, Because Of You"
I know what an unhealthy parenting relationship looks like, and I can tell you that the lasting affects can be pretty difficult to shake as you become a young adult and have romantic relationships of your own. My parents were married for over 20 years, but my father was emotionally, verbally and physically abusive. They "stayed together for the kids," so "the kids" weren't provided a healthy example of what a romantic relationship (or any other relationship, for that matter) can and should look like.
My kid, on the other hand, will know that marriage isn't necessary if you want to have and share a life with someone. His father and I aren't married, yet we've created an environment that's much safer than the one I grew up.
"I Know People Can't Always Get Along, And That's OK"
As long as you're disagreeing or even arguing in a healthy, respectful way, you're not "screwing up" your kid. No, really. You're not. Your kid is going to end up interacting with other people, and those interactions won't always be pleasant. So, by arguing in front of your kid (again, in a healthy way) you're teaching your kid how to successfully and respectfully disagree with someone else. That's a good thing, you guys.
"I Know That When You're Disagreeing, It's Because You Both Love Me So Much"
I'd like to think that when my parenting partner and I are having a disagreement in front of our kid, our kid realizes how much we truly love him. I mean, we love him so much we are literally arguing about what is or isn't the "right way" to love him. That's insanity, if you really stop to think about it.
I know that even when my partner and I don't get along or see eye-to-eye, we both have the same goal in mind: providing a great life and a safe, healthy environment for our son.
"It's Awesome To Have Two (Or More) People Love Me So Much"
I mean, not every kid has two (or more) parents literally arguing over how to love them and how to protect them and how to do what's best for them and their interests. Even when co-parenting becomes a complete pain in the ass and I start thinking (even for a second) that it would be easier if I was on my own, I know that my son benefits from having two parents that love him and work to find the compromises when (and if) they can.
"It's Better For Me If You're Separated And Happy, Instead Of Together And Miserable"
I know that "staying together for the kids," is a pretty popular opinion and something so many married couples (or even dating couples) do. However, I'm here to tell you that kids know. You think you're being sneaky and hiding how unhappy you are or how many fights you're having or just how unhealthy your relationship is, but your kid knows. While we've convinced parents that they need to sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of their kids, I know that kids want (and benefit from) seeing their parents happy.
I would have given anything to have my mom and dad divorce when I was a kid. In fact, I begged my mother to leave my father on a pretty regular basis. Your happiness is infectious, so the happier you are — with or without your parenting partner, or anyone else for that matter — the happier your kid will be, too.
"I Can Tell When You're Both Stressed"
Numerous studies have suggested that kids can pick up on their parents' moods, and act accordingly.
So, again, you might think you're hiding any unhappiness or issues between you and your parenting partner, but you're not. Kids are tiny little detectives and their skills rival that of The Great Mouse Detective (and yes, that's my 2-year-old toddler's favorite movie right now).
So, the best thing to do is find a co-parenting arrangement that works best for the both of you, whether it's separate or together. Your mental health and your emotional state matters, not just because you're a human being and you deserve to be healthy and happy, but because your kid can pick up and be affected by your feelings.
"I Know You're Both Working Hard To Be The Best Parents You Can Possibly Be"
Co-parenting isn't easy, so you're both going to screw up; collectively and together. Be kind to yourself when those mistakes do, in fact, happen. You both are doing your best and your kid notices.
"Parenthood Isn't A Competition"
There's no need to play the "who's parenting harder" game. That game is futile. That game is infantile. That game shouldn't exist.
You're both wonderful parents and you're both doing the best you can when it comes to providing for the child you share. Don't keep a mental list of who has done what and who hasn't. Trust me, that's a wonderful way to muddy the co-parenting waters. My partner and I figured out pretty early on that we couldn't continuously have the, "Well, I changed four diapers today and you only changed three so I'm clearly more invested than you are" talk. Seriously. That's not a good conversation to have. Ever.
"I Love You Both..."
Your baby knows who his or her parents are, and loves you both equally.
Yes, sometimes it might appear like your baby has favorites (usually the one with the food) but your kid loves you both and cherishes you both and needs you both.
"...And I Know You Both Love Me, Too"
That's all that matters, right? If your kid knows they're loved, you're both doing a great job.