Tonight is one of the second of five days when my parents have a night off — not from babysitting, but from co-parenting. My mom and dad, like myself, are my son’s full-time parents. I am a 24-year-old single mom, and I've found myself in the unique, or maybe not so unique, position of parenting my son with my parents. I moved back into their house a month before I gave birth to arguably the most precious baby boy on earth, and now, nine months later, we're still navigating the waters of raising my son side by side.
Like most things, there are upsides and downsides to my parents helping me out full time. I'd like to preface some of the downsides by saying that I am eternally grateful to my parents for sacrificing their time and energy for me and my son. They've taken on a tremendous responsibility, and without them I'd be a shell of a human being and probably half the mother I am today. The day my son was born my mother was my birthing partner, and was impressed when I only snapped at her once in the delivery room. My dad was my cheerleader, making me laugh so hard during my contractions that it eventually helped me push my son out. In the weeks following, my mother came downstairs into my bedroom, or what they so generously call my “apartment,” almost every night to help me get my son back to sleep during his witching hour, despite her early work schedule. They are much more than just "extra help" or "added hands." They are my co-parents.
My dad entertained my son even after having knee surgery 10 days after he was born, while I gained a little income writing health and wellness articles weekly. They didn’t say a word while I took a suspiciously excessive amount of time to use the restroom or take a shower, when I was really catching up on social media and finally texting back my friends. When my older brother and his wife helped me get my son on a rigorous “eat, play, sleep” schedule, my parents were quick to follow suit. When I got my current waitressing job five nights a week, no questions asked, my dad adjusted his work schedule to get home everyday in time for me to get ready and go to work. I could cry writing about all the ways they've helped me, empowered me, shifted their lives in order to make mine and my son's possible. In fact, I am crying.
Parenting with my parents is kind of like having the bumpers up while bowling; I’m hardly ever going to fall face first if I have their mistakes to learn from.
I thank them everyday when I leave for work and every night when I come home and slink my baby boy downstairs to his crib. My thank yous feel like a cheap display of gratitude compared to the way I'd like to shower them with the diamonds they deserve.
Despite their unwavering support, I find that I struggle with coming into my own as a parent, and I mostly feel that it’s because I’m parenting with two people who have done this three times over. What do I know, right? Sometimes I worry I'm not creating a thick enough skin for myself as a single parent. Parenting with my parents is kind of like having the bumpers up while bowling; I’m hardly ever going to fall face first if I have their mistakes to learn from. I’m worried that once I do get out on my own I’ll be too soft and much too spoiled by their support both emotionally, and much to my embarrassment, financially, to make it on my own. Arguments with the two of them leave me feeling horribly guilty because I feel as though I’m not in the position to be fighting with these insanely generous people. And the fact that I’m luckier than a lot of single moms my age is not lost on me at all.
I wouldn’t trade the current co-parenting situation I have with her and my dad for anything in the world.
There are times when I feel ashamed that I've volunteered them for such a great responsibility, raising another child when they thought they were long done with that job. There are also times when they've pushed me out of the parenting picture completely and not consulted me in their decision making. I understand that they sometimes cannot help but treat me as a child, like some sort of knee-jerk reaction, but I've had to remind them that ultimately I am the mother and all parenting decisions need to be run by me first. Although they might judge me on the way I go about getting my child to sleep, or not changing him into a new outfit every single day, philosophically, our ideals on parenting align. And that's honestly all I can ask for in a successful co-parenting situation.
My mother also encourages my ex and I to co-parent together because she understands the importance of sharing in such an exciting yet terrifying time with someone who’s just as clueless as you are. Sometimes I really do feel like I’m missing out on that baby deer-like period in new parenthood, the one where all new parents fumble to go through this season of life together. It’s an unfortunate thing that my ex and I are frankly just not in the position to do so. However, I don’t think my mom knows that I wouldn’t trade the current co-parenting situation I have with her and my dad for anything in the world.
My son benefits so much from my parent's love and all of the wisdom they bring to the table. They provide patience and understanding my child needs on the days that I simply just cannot. They are they compass by which I navigate childrearing. I know that when I eventually spread my wings, stop eating their food, and move out, they’ll have a hard time adjusting. I will too. Who knows, maybe they’ll even jump at the chance to change a poopy diaper when that time comes.