Co-parenting: the biggest test!
Coparenting is bullshit and bloody hard work and anyone who says it isn’t, is lying. It’s the biggest test of my patience and is without a doubt one of my daily struggles. I hate it. I don’t want to share my child. I don’t want to be away from him for more than I have to, and I’m so scared I’ll miss something. For example, when Zak first started crawling he did it at his dads. I was beyond devastated, even though he sent me a video so I could see it too. I know the months of encouragement and practice I had done with Zak prior to it helped him get there but I was so gutted to miss it. To make it more painful it happened on what was supposed to be my 5th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t have hated Tom more in that moment.
That was 6 months ago and its been 15 months since Tom walked out and we seem to be in a better place but its certainly been a rollercoaster. At the end of the day it’s about Zak and being fair to him, he is the innocent party in all this. Tom seems to be very good at taking the emotion out of the situation, something he’s been doing in our relationship for the last 3 years, but it enables him to perhaps state the obvious when I need reminding of it. I am the complete opposite, I am all about the emotion, I feel it with every fibre of my being. And it hurts. A lot. Let’s be honest I have had a fair bit of trauma in the last few years and therefore that makes me a little sassier, a little more stubborn and a lot more protective. But every single decision I make is in the best interest of Zak. I am an overthinker, always have been so when I come to a decision, trust me when I say I have thought of every possible scenario and outcome. What I have learned as a mum is that no one has to agree with my decision, there is no right or wrong its what I think is best for my son and I don’t have to justify that to anyone. But when I want to take Zak on holiday for 10 days its only fair that Tom also takes Zak away, even if it breaks my heart to be away from Zak for that long. When Zak is not with me it’s like half of me is missing but I don’t want to deny Zak that time. Sometimes when my emotions cloud my judgement Tom points out the facts and I must take a step back to look at the bigger picture. Don’t get me wrong its not always the case but its clearly important to listen to both sides.
Tom and I have come a long way with our coparenting, and I am proud of that because it means we both put the work into it. Zak always comes first, and we are able to have adult conversations about what is best for him, or changes we make to his routine/environment and we agree on them together. We are also positive about each other in front of Zak so at handovers, its there’s mummy look go and see her and vice versa. I make sure I tell Zak when he is seeing his dad because I want him to always be excited to see the other parent. We get each other birthday/Xmas presents from Zak and same at mother/Father’s Day as I think this sets Zak a good example and it allows him to be involved. We set a few basic rules so it was fair to both of us and we know where we both stand.
I think if Tom had it his way we would be friends but for me that too hard, I very much look at this as a business arrangement. There’s a schedule, a routine to follow and we both have the same goal which is to make sure Zak knows how much he is loved. I have however this year tried to relax into it a little and I have opened up communication more. Like when I introduced Zak to the naughty step, I explained how I was doing it to Tom so we can discipline the same way because I really believe consistency is key and my theory is that as Zak gets older it will limit how much he plays us off against each other! Now I try really hard to ask open ended questions to Tom and not just state facts. When Zak recently found his manhood and kept playing with it I realised I needed to name it so he could understand it so I ran it by Tom and we agreed on ‘willy’ and had a chuckle about it, as neither of us thought we would be there yet! However, I think it’s really important we keep boundaries in place for both our sakes and I don’t ever want to overstep or blur those. Tom recently seemed really stressed at one particular handover to the point that I text him after to ask if he was ok. This seems like a normal considerate thing to do but it was the first time since he left that I had directly asked how he was and I didn’t sleep a wink that night wondering if I should have even sent that text (told you I was an overthinker). My motto was always he has never asked how I am or even given me a 2nd thought so I am not going to do the same. I never even used to ask what he did with Zak I literally would be so short at handovers. I make no apologies for my past behaviour I was dealing with it the only way I knew how and ultimately it brought us to where we are now. However I have a responsibility to Zak to make sure that Zak is in a safe loving environment and if Tom has stuff going on in his life he needs to talk about to ensure that happens then I have to keep the communication open. As it turns out it as nothing that major just trying to work out child logistics during lockdown!
Something I think we both learned the hard way and quite quickly was to keep other people out of our coparenting relationship. The less involvement others have the better because all it does is create more stress and awkwardness for everyone. Its my one regret from our marriage, we let too many people stick their oar in, certainly in the last few years of it and I’m sure it was a contributing factor to Toms mental health. Now we only communicate with each other and where possible we are the only 2 that pick/drop off Zak and since we did that its definitely been easier! So many people have said I should take Tom to court and rinse him but what would that really achieve apart from more stress & heartache? It also keeps us both living in the past rather than moving forward.
Both Tom and I are in new relationships and have been honest with each other from the start. Tom recently decided to move in with his girlfriend and I have supported this. Now we didn’t agree on the best solution for Zak right away and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t stress me out or that I had a few tears over it but we talked it out like adults and found a compromise that seemed fair to both. Tom seemed to really listen to all my concerns and fears, and he was quite honest with me about how he was feeling. Tom may be a different person to the man I married but there are still parts of him I recognise and know and vice versa. We know how each other ticks and I think we now both work consciously to use that in a positive way and not aggravate each other unnecessarily.
When I met Tom’s girlfriend, she was lovely and very understanding of my situation as she is a mum herself. She seems to be good for Tom and respects me as a mother and that decisions regarding Zak will be between me & Tom. For me it’s important that we get along for Zak’s sake, I don’t want him to witness any animosity or feel uncomfortable in either home. We don’t have to be best friends and go on double dates, but we do need to be able to respect each other and communicate easily. Although my relationship is not quite at the same point and in fact Jay has yet to meet Zak or any of my family, I have to not compare my choices to Tom’s choices. We are 2 very different people and always have been. He is doing what he thinks is best for him. For me this situation was about picking my battles and not every battle is worth fighting and this is just the next transition stage we have to go through. Hopefully now Zak is comfortable with Tom’s new home and lifestyle then when Jay does meet Zak its another smooth transition and it means Zak doesn’t get overwhelmed all at once. I know Zak is only 18 months but kids aren’t stupid and they pick up on things we don’t think they will, so its important that these changes to Zak are gradual.
One of the hardest elements of coparenting is trust. I have to trust not just Tom but other people to make decisions for my child and care for him. It’s hard when I want to do it all myself but also hard because the day Tom walked out any trust I had went too. He begged me for a baby for 7 years and the minute I was pregnant he abandoned me and then physically walked out when I had a 12-week-old. That’s not something you forgive easily and certainly not something you ever forget. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a little when Tom had Zak all weekend at his girlfriends house and I could imagine them all playing happy families. Also doesn’t help whilst we are in lockdown it means when I am child free, I am totally alone with my thoughts and irrational brain. So my mind ponders things like ‘Why wasn’t I good enough to play families with?’ I know that’s not really the case and its about Tom not me but the thought of it makes me feel sick and then thought of someone else comforting my son, its like pouring salt all over that wound that was just starting to close. Ultimately Tom loves Zak and wants the best for him so there must be an element of trust. I also think Tom recognises that my trust has been abused so he will take actions to reassure me. Like sending me pictures of Zaks new bedroom at his new place so I knew it was set up ready for him and he had everything he needed. Those are steps that go towards strengthening this coparenting.
Zak has been my miracle from day 1. My miraculous conception, who I nearly lost at birth and the battles he still faces but we have the strongest bond and Tom leaving probably helped that. Now he is growing up so much and developing his own opinions but he remains the happiest kid albeit a little cheeky and he is so loving. When he comes up and gives me a kiss for no reason or he snuggles in and wakes up saying mumma my heart could literally burst. I really believe that this is because of the environment we have both worked hard to create and maintain for Zak. The benefit of it all is Zak will never know any different, he was too little to remember and so he just knows mummy and daddy don’t live together. I will always be honest with Zak and any questions he has as he gets older I will answer truthfully and I like to think Tom will do the same. The reality is Tom abandoned me not Zak, I was the one who suffered a broken heart and what kind of a mother would I be if I let that jeopardise Zak’s relationship with his dad? Zak deserves the whole world and that means a healthy relationship with both parents and as he gets older I am sure he will make his own opinions and come to his own conclusions. I have to put my pain aside and prioritise Zak and his needs. That part isn’t always easy and I’m definitely still learning to practice the pause before I reply with a sassy remark. As someone who was made without a filter when you hurt me I can be pretty brutal but I am learning to stop, take a deep breath and look at it from Zak’s perspective.
In a nutshell coparenting is without a doubt the hardest part of my life and its not going to go away. It’s harder than childbirth! It is always going to be a work in progress and I’m sure it won’t always be easy but I will certainly do my best to make sure it is fair and about Zak at all times. And I may just consume a fair amount of vodka over the next 16 years…