i am sad to see mothering magazine go. i would have liked to have submitted an article there at some point. i always felt there was somewhat of a misrepresentation and under-representation of single mamas. i’m sure (as in, 100% certain) i have a gigantic chip on my shoulder about this. at the same time, i have heard it from others as well, that single mothers always seemed left out of the mothering conversation, or pitied and disparaged, if spoken of at all.
the good news is, yes, even single parenting can be pulled off with style, flair, and success. if i may be bold (and it’s certainly brash of me to suggest that my child is a success when he is only about to turn 4 but i’ll still say it) i’d say that in many cases, single parenting is the best and most beneficial option for some families. i have come across quite a few unconventionally-formatted families in my time on different parenting forums and blogs, and it’s quite inspiring to find the depth and breadth of family styles creatively co-created by two single parents, or forged by single mamas on their own ( i haven’t come across any single dads but that’s likely a cafe mom bias, ha).
no one ever will say that it is ideal for a child’s parents to be separated, all else being equal. however, given the option of two whole, healthy, happy parents, or a couple of miserable, broken ones (as in, all things are decidedly not equal)- the choice is clear. i’m also not saying it is always this cut and dry, but in our case…
in our case, it didn’t seem cut and dry from within the (broken) situation, but a few years later, with some new tools in our belts and having had glimpses of real happiness, it is crystal clear to me that we took the best path by going our separate ways. when i say separate, we have done our best to disentangle our personal lives from each other, while also endeavoring to maintain very high levels of communication and collaboration and cooperation surrounding all matters that involve our son. this means, we don’t get to tell each others’ stories anymore, we aren’t wrapped up in what we think of each other anymore, we are each the author of our own story, and quinn has an intact mama, and an intact dada, who both love him very much.
i attended a parenting class early on after we split up, where i heard the phrase “if you think building a successful marriage is hard, try building a successful divorce.” while the terms marriage and divorce don’t apply to us in the letter, the spirit of this statement is highly applicable. it’s not really that it’s easier to make things go well in separation than it was in that utterly unhappy coupledom. it is still hard work.
however, the big promise of getting separate is that i know for myself, i had a lot of growing i needed to do that couldn’t happen inside of that relationship with its particular dysfunctions that the two of us co-created. i still have lots of growing to do, and i know that if i’m going to be a part of a couple again someday, it’s going to have to follow the rules i’ve been learning, starting with my first commitment is to myself and i get to tell my own story.
i am overjoyed that i am living these truths, and that my son is seeing it modeled before his very eyes, day in and day out.
but back to creative coparenting. in our situation, we are lucky in that both parents have extremely similar ideals when it comes to what we want for quinn. while that may seem like stating the obvious (or why would we have created a child together?) i know that parenting differences (preferences about everything from food clothing shelter, every aspect of education, breastfeeding, weaning, cosleeping, child care, television, books and movies, on and on) often surface once the children are on the scene. things that childless people may not even think of, come to the forefront when there is a little real person involved. quinn’s dad and i both want quinn surrounded with nature, with natural toys and games and relationships, with an unschooling approach to learning, with an abundance of good friends, food, music, and experiences. we both strive to provide him with unconditional love, emotional competence, learning opportunities without end, endless supplies of playdough, markers, paper, wood, glue, beaches and forests to romp in. we both want for quinn to be raised by us, not child care providers, not teachers, not school administrators.
it can be a tricky dance. one of the trickiest bits has been providing us both with income separately, to live in separate homes and provide two rent holes with rent, without having quinn in child care.
i’ll be honest here: it hasn’t been pretty the whole time, and it isn’t straightforward, and i will not claim we have made the best system or that it shouldn’t be completely revamped. but i am proud to say that we are capable of approaching this stuff with a solution-oriented attitude, and that we do solve things. we have made it happen, one day at a time. i’m proud that quinn can see us working towards solving problems, that he can see us be civil and cooperative. i’m happy for him that he, too, gets to know what it’s like to be swung by two big strong parents’ hands as they walk down the sidewalk with him, on the way out of their monthly calendering meeting, after his treat of getting his very own teapot to pour tea from in a cafe. of course my heart breaks for him when he gets dada on the phone and tells him “i was wondering if you would come on along over. we still have your rocking chair…” as a way of inviting him to be a family of three once again, and i know that deep desire will likely never go away for him. i know he may always draw all three of us together in a boat, or together on a crab dock, when he grabs his markers and drawing book. but i am also ecstatic for him that he has the language to say how things feel inside, how it is to always be missing someone (one or the other) and chronically have that one thing he needs at the other parents’ house. he’s got a lot of tools, too.
how it works right now… i am the one with the paycheck. dada is the one providing 9-5 childcare four days a week so i can work a day job as a biologist. i pay my rent as well as dada’s, he makes the rest of his ends meet however he can. one wrinkle- i look at the check i write him as covering the “choice hours” tax for the weekday time, as in, he can’t work while i’m working. in theory, he can work whenever he wants, as he has a fully functional wood shop. he looks at the check as compensation for providing child care services, and he looks at his time providing child care as his “work”. i have major issues with this, as (you will be chorusing with me) “but he is the father not the babysitter”and he has issues with me (if i can tell what i know of his story for a microsecond) saying that he should be providing his own income. aiyayayai. well, like i said, it isn’t always pretty or straightforward. time wise, i provide the lion’s share of the child care including almost all nights (they have one overnight roughly every other week that seems to be the rhythm that’s working for both boys), almost all evenings and then the 3 full days i’m not working.
it’s horribly unfair, both of us have deep seated resentments about different aspects of the arrangement, and we’re constantly reworking the scheme to try to get yet another kink out. still, we have accomplished the goal we set out to accomplish, and our little boy has had virtually no daycare, preschool, or life, without either his mama or dada involved. (there was a period of 4 months with some daycare but that was during the major transition time… in the grander scheme, it barely counts.)
we’ve got a little boy who knows both his parents better than he knows anyone else. he knows his dad better than most children, even in families with married parents, know their dads. he has had an abundance of nurturing love every step of the way.
lately coparent and i (can we up the usage of the term coparent, by the way? let’s colloquialize it, please! i like not always having to say “my ex” as if all he is to me, is a former partner. or “quinn’s dad” as if he’s nothing to me, he’s only something to quinn. when in reality, he’s something to me every day in the present moment- he’s my coparent. for better or worse, till death do us part) have been embarking on some business endeavors together, to hopefully help us keep this quinn-hangs-with-his-parents thing going. as some of you know, i am slowly growing a small handmade organic cloth diaper and baby carrier (and other baby stuff) business called earth huggy, and have recently decided to start selling some of coparent’s wooden toy creations. he’s an amazing artist, a master of woodworking. he can make anything out of wood, no joke. a baby spoon, a schooner, and anything in between. recently i commissioned some wooden rattles and some tree blocks and driftwood blocks…. and they are now a part of my small, very slowly (*crosses fingers* sustainably!) growing business. it’s not clear if this will be the key to everything, or whether we are even being wise having business dealings when we already have enough trouble communicating as it is. that’s the fun part about life, you get to keep trying over and over and over and over again. life is messy. but it’s very good. even if we crash and burn, i am still excited to see where the next phase of this journey takes us.
i’d love to see more support for not-your-average families in our world. i hope that my little tale here passes for such support- i hope it brings hope and strength to anyone out there who is feeling not quite normal, and helps the unconventional folks feel a little less alone. do you have an unconventional family structure? are you a single parent? what has been your unique experience on this path?
my ~dwell~ series will be back next week- this is what i was feeling today, so this is what i posted. really, it’s just another area of life where i’ve been trying to live with intention, so i think it’s fitting for a dwell thursday anyway.