There are so many aspects of parenting that seemingly everyone (parents and non-parents, alike) have some thoughts about. That's all well and good, except most people seem hellbent on sharing said thoughts in an unsolicited, often judgmental manner that I, personally, could do without. So, it comes as no surprise that, as a mother who isn't married to her parenting partner, there are things people need to stop saying about co-parenting, and immediately. Yes, people are entitled to their own opinions and I'm not in the business of policing what someone else believes to be "right." However, in the end, just like I can't tell someone that what they think is "right" is actually "wrong," no one can tell me that the living arrangement that is right for my family, is "wrong," either.
My partner and I met like most millennial couples: at a bar by way of social media. He followed me on Twitter; I followed back. He asked me to meet him for a drink; I obliged because, well, duh. That was the beginning of the end, as they say, and about six months later we were pregnant. I moved in, we had a baby and we started a life together but never once did we stop and think, "We have to get married." I'm not a fan of marriage and we were committed to one another without a ring or a piece of paper or an expensive ceremony so, in the end, we didn't see the point. Sadly, not everyone else thinks the same, and there are a few people who are a little too quick to tell my partner and I that co-parenting as two non-married human beings is somehow detrimental to our child.
I've learned to let those comments go, as they're not worth my time and energy. I also know that even though my partner and I aren't married, we are together and that makes our co-parenting situation (to some people) not as "bad" as, say, a single mother and a single father parenting together, but from separate houses. I mean, it's 2016 people; there's no one way to be a family and there's no one way to have a relationship with someone and there's no one way to parent. Can we just all, collectively, decide to just trust people and take their word for it when they save they've found the set up that works best for them? Awesome. A great way to start, I think, is to stop saying the following things about co-parenting.
Can it be difficult? Sure, but I would argue whether or not two people are married doesn't automatically make parenting with another person easier or harder. Married couples argue about parenting techniques and parenting choices; married couples disagree and get upset; married couples "make mistakes" when it comes to parenting. Your relationship status doesn't necessarily mean co-parenting is going to be any easier or harder. Nope. Not how it works. (Trust me, because if being married automatically meant my partner and I wouldn't argue ever again, we would be married, like, yesterday.)
"...And It's Never Going To Work"
I could say the same thing about marriages (or at least half of marriages) and I would probably be "correct." Whether or not parenting with another adult is going to work or not, relies more on the respect and communication two people share, and less about their marital status. I know some wonderful parents who parent together and aren't married (myself included, thank you very much) and I know some fantastic co-parents who parent together from different houses and are not romantically involved with one another but, instead, romantically involved with other people.
What works for one set of parents might not work best for another and, honestly, sometimes not being married to the parent of your kid is the best possible thing for your kid. Sometimes splitting up and co-parenting separately, is the only way it's going to "work."
"It's Going To End Up Hurting Your Kid..."
How? I've never understood the notion that my kid is somehow suffering because his father and I aren't married. Marriage isn't the end-all-be-all for two people who are romantically involved, nor is it automatically a great example that shows your children that "true love" really, honestly, exists.
Sometimes, staying in a marriage instead of co-parenting separately, is what hurts the kids. Having two separate houses with two parents who are happy and healthy, separately, is far better than having one house that's dysfunctional, and two parents who are miserable. Trust me.
"...And Their Future Relationships"
I think the best way I can model healthy relationship behavior is to show my son that mutual respect, honesty, communication and fostered individuality are all important parts of a romantic connection (or any connection, for that matter). I can show him all of those things, without being married to his father.
I want to show my son that he gets to make up his own rules when it comes to relationships. I want to show him that there is no "one way" to love someone, or even simply respect someone. I want to show my son that having a baby with someone doesn't mean that you absolutely have to marry someone, or even be with someone. I want to show my son that his happiness is the most important, and he is the only person who gets to decide what really, and truly, makes him happy.
My partner and I know that where we are right now — not married but raising our son together — is the place we want to be. This arrangement, this relationship that doesn't include marriage, is making us happy. That's all that matters, and I'm pretty proud to show my son that we get to decide what's best for us and our lives.
"It Would Be Better If You Were Married"
Nope. Not how it works.
I watched my mother suffer through a twenty year marriage, because she honestly thought being married was better than being a single mom. I watched her put up with physical, emotional and verbal abuse, because my father had convinced her that marriage was the best thing for her and her children. She thought she was honestly doing her children a favor, and I can't fault her for that thinking that way. After all, our society has positioned marriage to be the "best possible thing," and for married couples to be the only couples who can raise children "responsibly" or "safely" or in a "healthy, stable environment."
"It's Too Confusing For Your Kid
My son isn't confused about our living arrangement. In fact, he has no idea what marriage is and he has no idea that his father and his mother aren't married. All he knows is that mom and dad love him, they love one another, and we are all living together. He isn't confused, because there's nothing to be confused about. The only reason a child would ever be "weirded out" about a co-parenting situation, is because other people tell them they should.
There are multiple ways to raise a family, none of which are the absolute "right" way. If you don't want a kid to be confused about their parents (who either aren't married or aren't together), don't act like they should be.
"Your Kid Will Get Made Fun Of, Eventually"
Sadly, this is (maybe) right, although I think the days when kids get made fun of for having parents who aren't married are coming to an end (as it's no longer considered the "norm" to the point that every other family situation is considered wrong). Still, kids are mean and they will make fun of other children for the most ridiculous reasons.
Thankfully, I know I'm raising a strong human who will laugh in the face of a bully who thinks marriage is an essential part of the human experience. My kid will know how to handle bullies, he'll know never to bully anyone else and he'll know that what someone thinks, in the end, really and truly doesn't matter. He'll see how happy we all are, and realize that our living situation works best for us.
"It's Setting A Bad Example"
The only example I am setting my child, when it comes to marriage and/or co-parenting, is that there is no "right," "normal" family. I am more than happy with that life lesson.
"It Means You've Failed"
This is a dying sentiment, thankfully, but it doesn't mean it has been completely eradicated. I know plenty of women who are married with children and unhappy in their marriage but afraid to leave, not because they fear for their safety or their children's safety or even how they'll fair as a single parent, but because they're afraid people will think they've somehow "failed."
In my humble opinion (as someone who isn't married and as someone who endured an abusive relationship because her mother and father stayed married) the only way you can fail your kid is if you provide an unhealthy, unstable and potentially harmful environment for them that sets a precedent for the rest of their life. I think you've "failed" if you don't value your own happiness, whatever that may be. I think you've "failed" if you hold onto outdated ideas of "family," and marriage and relationships. There are a million ways to raise a child (with another person, or by yourself) and co-parenting in no way, shape or form means you've failed your child or yourself or anyone else. It simply means you've found what has worked best for you.