"You all get along?" -Everyone all the time
"You go on vacations together? And how does that work?"- Everyone on social media
Trust me when I tell you that I have heard my fair share of comments and seen plenty of awkward facial expressions when I describe the close relationship I have with my son's father and step-mom. Let me just preface this all by saying, we get it. It's weird. Most relationships that end don't end well. If you have a child together that just adds some fuel to the fire. Here's a fun little twist...lets add another adult into the mix. It's only natural to be a bit put off by all of the gross niceness that my family displays, but honestly its other people's preconceived notations that make it weird. We live in a society where we just expect one another to be assholes and bicker and fight to the tenth degree over every little thing. We satirize it, we make movies and sitcoms about it, but that isn't REALITY.
As a child of divorce, I can honestly tell you that it takes a lot of calculated choices to raise kids in a co-parenting situation. My parents fought over everything. Money, birthdays, holidays, weekends, relationships....EVERYTHING. Every momentous moment in my life held tremendous amount of anxiety and stress for me because I was afraid of how my parents would react to being in the same room with one another. Hollywood movie magic makes that shit look funny, but when you're 11 and your parents get into a screaming argument at camp in front of everyone it can make you seriously question any and all parties sanity. It also makes you question whether or not actually HAVING moments in life where family would come together is worth it. I think it led me to be the kind of person that never really wanted to be in the spotlight and never have attention drawn to me. Inevitably they would all the in the same room to see me and it would end in some sort of verbal altercation of epic proportions.
In our framily, we have chosen the path less followed. It doesn't come easy. We ARE exes for a reason, people! Duh. BUT, we also have a lot invested in each other's happiness, health and wellbeing...OUR child. Oh, yeah. That's right. Theres a kid involved. I think sometimes adults fail to remember that it isn't about US its about the CHILDREN. Sometimes when I try to communicate with people about raising my son in a blended family they can't seem to realize that the end goal is to raise a well-adjusted person who feels a close connection with all of the people who love him in this world. As his mother, I would like to provide him with the best opportunity to be a good, kind and decent MAN. That is why he has a close bond with his father. That is why I have embraced his step-mother as another advocate and confidant that provide a shoulder to cry on and a perspective in life to learn from. I mean, how many times have you sat around and thought..."gee, too many people love me." NEVER. So why wouldn't I want my son to feel endless and boundless joy and love from people who actually care how he functions in the world? Seems like a simple answer to me, we all want our children to feel loved.
Beyond all of the obvious, there's another component to this whole situation that I feel like people have a hard time seeing. We call ourselves the Modern FRAMILY. That's to say that we are not only family but we are also FRIENDS. We genuinely care for, respect and LIKE one another. Has this always been the case? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. We have been through it. My son's father and I have been to the darkest of places and back together. To be honest, there has been pain and resentment. There has been anger and frustration, fear and fury. It took a lot of time and communication and CHANGE to get back into the light. We both had to make CHOICES to change and we both had to resolve to put the past where it belongs and move forward for our child. I am not saying it's easy. I am not saying it's possible for everyone to accomplish even a tenth of the progress we have made. I'm not saying that how we function as a family works for everyone, in every situation, but it can be a goal. Often I catch myself imagining what it would be like to live in all of that drama, chaos and bitterness that my parents lived in and I think about how awful that would be. Granted, their situation was different than ours. Every story has two sides and the truth, after all. Doesn't mean I want to repeat that life for myself or my son. It means I learn from what the past presented me and grow forward. We all need to play the hand of cards we are dealt. Even if you're holding a shitty hand, put your game face on and just think about the moves you need to make to allow your child to come out ahead. If you're willing to double down on happiness than my suggestion is to find a way to make the relationships in your life work.
Real talk: As single parents, both us feel pretty good about the amount of free time we get, or our abilities to live balanced lives without complete burnout. We get nights to go out, time to go to concerts, time to pursue goals and dream and careers and all without feeling alone. We support each other and in that support, foster an environment where we can all spend time together and TRULY enjoy it. Fun Fact: My son's Step-Mom and I often make time to go to dinner with my son or have a girls night out just the two of us. Theres a few reasons we make the choice to do this: One, we actually like each other, so thats cool. It's nice to feel like we have our own friendship and connection outside of my ex. Two, it allows for my son to see a united front between all of us and shows him that I trust her, and therefore, so should he. That's important because I want him to feel like she is there to disclose his emotions so that she, too, can be there to work through the hard times and the happy times when his Dad and I can't physically be there. Like I said, you can't have too much love. And three, my life is a lot easier knowing that I have someone to advocate to my ex for ME sometimes too. Although we are very close, he is also him and I am also me. She knows us both and knows how to talk to her partner in ways I just don't or can't or sometime just won't, because we aren't a sitcom or a movie...we are real people with real emotions and real reactions to life sometimes and we all have our supreme dickhead moments...even me (or should I say, especially me? I don't know...don't answer that one.)
I only have a few tips on how we made it happen and maybe they can help you, too:
1. Get over yourself. YOUR issues are yours. You have to work those out. Go to therapy Talk it out. Find the root causes of your struggles and make the CHOICE to make your life better. It frees up your heart to be more open to a fuller family dynamic.
2. Talk to each other. Don't text. Sit down and talk to the co-parent and step parent. Set boundaries. Set expectations. Allow them to express their anxieties. Actually HEAR them and allow them to HEAR you. Words are important but so is actually seeing someones facial expressions and body language. You can often pick up more than you realize. We do a monthly "parents only dinner." A lot gets discussed. A lot of plans get formulated and a lot of resolutions are made during these dinners. We also laugh a lot and trade ridiculous stories of parenting, so that's a bonus.
3. Make this core group of you and your child or children the top priority. These are your people. Holidays, birthdays, special occasions...these are the people that will be there with you and these are the people you should make the sole focus of these moments. If you guys are cool, everyone else will follow suit.
Yes, we do school events together. Yes, we take the time to go to dinner alone and just as parents to catch up on what is going on with our son. Yes, we try to go on little vacations and outings together. Yes, sometimes it's just me and the step-momma. And YES, we all get along. No, we aren't weird. No, we aren't perfect. Its hard work to parent. It's hard work to co-parent. But it's an easy decision to choose to create a family (or FRAMILY) for the betterment of our child.