A page of co-parenting truths.
One year ago, my son would scream as I took him to his father’s door. Oh, those “I want mummy cries” would kill me. Recently, things have changed. The other night Leo’s cheeks were still kissed angry pink as I tucked him and his Micky Mouse pyjamas into bed. My eyes were gritty with tired after a 45-minute battle of refusals to brush teeth, to wear pyjamas, of ‘I am hungry, my drink is too warm, no I will not sleep, I want to watch TV’. You know, one of those nights. As I tried to gently carry a kicking, screaming boy half my size back up two flights of stairs, I was inwardly pleading he would settle down. It seems to be a constant battle of opinions and wills recently. Seven going on seventeen. Annoyed at myself a couple of times I had shouted through sheer exasperation. He was obviously fed up and cross, fists balled up he turned away and said he wanted to live with his dad.
Calmly I kissed his head and told him he lives here, and daddy would act the same and put him to bed. Downstairs I cried at his throw away cross words.
When did daddy become the better liked parent?
The relationship I had with my dad was fleeting, so I wanted so badly for my son to have a solid one even with our separation. For me? It would be easier if daddy had faded off into memory. Whatever my feelings, whenever Leo talks about how great his father is and his weekend, I plaster on the biggest smile.
A lot of the difficulty is in that I am everyday mummy, there to do homework every night, to taxi to school clubs, to force Leo to eat his peas and have a bath. We have fun, together time, laugh and cuddle but that is forgotten in the fog of ‘I will play in a minute, get dressed now, don’t hit your sister’. These moments are all precious but not when you are seven, at least not when compared to weekends with daddy – filled with swimming and rock climbing, the cinema, no school. They play squash, go bowling, see movies I wouldn’t allow, play with his partner who has a dog. Visit his second home in Spain. And these are all good things, I am not arguing that. But we don’t have the money to do the same as daddy does. What did I do wrong? Should I have allowed more screen time? Also, there is a new member of the family that shares my time. Perhaps I would be more ‘fun’ if I only had the kids two days a fortnight, I might be able to have more than five hours sleep a night. But I can’t and would ever explain that to my son.
Of course, I know my boy loves me, I’m his mother but now I think he is angry and disappointed that I am not daddy. I am also not saying it is not hard for daddy missing out on time, but he chose this and at times I feel Leo and I are dragged along in his tide.
And how does mummy feel (because this is the only space where she can say it?)
Hollow. I feel like the other dad. The person I am not as good as. Being mum, at this moment, feels like the comfortable jumper that you wear everyday but pay no attention to. Now, put your shovels down Doris this is not a dad, or importance of dad’s attack, a one-upmanship escapade. As I have said before mummy and daddy both end in y words. My struggle is with the complexity of co-parenting, how there is no shoulder to lean on. Practically and sometimes legally, its all a bit of a ‘hmmm’ subject. I can’t even be concise because all I am is a bucket of feelings some of which I don’t know how to name or explain. Like nausea. I am not jealous, I guess I feel left out, outplaced, cast aside, not good enough in comparison. Unable to equalise.
There is a quiet piece of me, deep down hidden in the acid of my stomach that feel like it’s unfair. Unfair because I fought for this, through bitter calls and grumbles of “well I never wanted to keep him”. Through let down visits and refused maintenance payments.
Sometimes, I don’t want to be the grown-up parent.
If daddy said yes and it was truly what Leo wanted, I wouldn’t stand in the way of them living together. It would probably kill me, but I want my boy happy.
When Leo asks “can I see daddy more?” I very carefully explain daddy would love that, but he has an important job being a nurse and work makes it too difficult. By me saying this, true or not, he knows his daddy loves him and I will never tell Leo anything different. Holding him tight I will ask if he wants to call or draw daddy a picture. What Leo will never know is that I quit my job, changed my life, where daddy wont. I am the one who looks after him on sick days, through nights of no sleep, making school costumes, I am the ordinary moments. When he is older, he might understand but for now I’m the one that doesn’t have Pokemon Go on their phone.
Daddy wants equal say on decisions but wants to cut monthly payments. When did joint parenting became a 70:30 ratio? Mummy and daddy, I am sure, love him the same, but when it comes to the physical parenting it’s not even close. I advocate fathers’ rights, but why is his the right to assume entitlement and make demands over my own?
So, does daddy think he is better than mummy too?
When my partner and I first got together six years ago daddy demanded he not spent time with Leo, nor spend the night. After days of messages flashing up in an angry torrent of capitals and barbed phone calls, we agreed to take relationships slow for Leo’s best interest. Rules were made.
How long did it take before you introduced new partners to children?
My partner and I waited almost a year to spend a weekend with Leo and four before we moved in as a family. Recently, daddy introduced his girlfriend to Leo after a couple of months, without preparing him or prewarning mummy. Only after three days of kicking, crying, pushing limits did my very confused seven-year-old vocalise what was wrong. It required Gandhi-esque channelling to nose breathe my death rage.
Why one decision for me and another for him?
Tenuously I relied on my degree in child psychology, a LOT of cuddles and chocolate to help Leo work through his big feelings. I had to sit on my own as they threatened to spill bitterly from my mouth. Weeks later she is there each weekend, my son shrugs and says she might have moved in. He seems to really like her but it’s a big transition for a very small boy. We gloss over the fact that Leo has called her ‘Mummy’ on more than one occasion, it’s just too difficult. I must admit it’s hard for me to have someone I know nothing about care for my child and wish background checks were legal. I just pray she is kind. And not a crack dealer.
All is fair, in love, war and separation.
No, it’s not. Some parents will find the holy grail of post relationship breakdown; effective co-parenting. In practicality my son’s dad and I seem to do well, even though the whole scenario kills me sometimes. Splintered parenting of fortnightly weekends. A life of timesharing and calendars and hoping someone will be kind enough to switch days. Tag your it.
Knowing that I will always have a tether to someone that I would prefer to not communicate with is hard. Partners breakup for a reason, not often positive ones. The best advice I can give? Keep your side of the street clean. Your ex is going to do what they’re going to do. The good, the bad and the ugly. You can point out inconsistencies till the cows come home. I do feel like I am the one to sacrifice continuously. And, a lot of the time it is a one-sided act. But then again (I whisper into my generous measure of gin), ‘this is what is best for Leo.’ Though self care is important too. So, smile and be pleasant like you do to the postman (our postman is very nice actually). It is easier in my case to stop expecting reciprocity as I end up disappointed. Years can be spent trying to fathom someone else’s actions; why they say that, why they do this. Why they can’t understand you. Why people are selfish. Headbanging against a wall will drag you down and get you stuck in a rut. Rage is not a ditch you want to dig into.
It is still painful to accept all of this after nearly eight years.
Mummy accepts she is not daddy, that she is hidden behind clean uniforms, of bedtimes by 8pm as that is what her son needs. That’s what being a mother means to me. Remind yourself, “This is good for him, he’s lucky to have a dad who loves him.” And co-parenting? It is not always fair, not always easy, and I will admit I’m not sure the right way to do this.
But I try.