Recently, my husband met with an old friend who has two kids under 3. She and her partner, a woman, are co-parenting with the biological father of the children and his partner, a man. I think the plan is to eventually share custody and parenting responsibilities substantially, or maybe equally. For now, the kids are primarily with their moms, one of whom birthed and nursed them.
This arrangement, certainly not that unusual in these parts, got me and Ken to joking - why not find ourselves some co-parents? The thought of some weekends off sounds kind of nice, especially if we don't have to go through a divorce to get there. Clearly, the lack of a biological need for involving other adults has limited our abilities to envision our lives creatively.
Like most jokes, ours about finding co-parents has some basis in reality. Raising kids is an exhausting challenge, albeit one filled with joy and love beyond anything else. But sharing our kids with another couple seems at once easier and more difficult than simply co-parenting together. Sure two more sets of hands, arms, cars for school pickups, people in the rotation for early morning duty would come in handy. However, for me, sharing decision-making about my kids, and experiencing my kids' relationships with their father, is not effortless. Ken and I inevitably approach some things differently, and each of us, at times, needs to let the other's ways and means trump. I know the difficulties of being in a relationship with Ken and it is tough to watch my kids experience those same difficulties without wanting to protect them or being angry at him for making them deal with his shit. I know that Ken feels that anguish whenever our kids experience me losing my temper, or rolls his eyes, along with the kids, when I insist on more hand washing than he may think is necessary, and on wearing pajamas instead of just sleeping in the shirt that has been on all day.
As difficult as it is not to judge yourself for your transgressions as a parent, it is really, really difficult not to judge your co-parent(s).
Part of what motivates both of us, me and my husband, as we tolerate and support one another in this job share of parenting, is our love for each other and our desire to keep our marriage intact. We have to accept, in spite of, because we conclude, over and over, that the good outweighs the bad.
Of course, that is the easy motivator. Without our own relationship, I think it would be more difficult to compromise and let go when our children are involved. But this is the only way I've done it, so what do I know?
Less immediate, though equally important, is the way our support, or not, of each other as parents imapcts our kids' relationships with each of us. The more supportive you can be of your child's other parent-child relationships, the better a parent you yourself are being.
But, it takes a village, right? Our kids need the cousins and elders to lead them and guide them, right? Or is it that we need the co-parents?
Last night we experienced a perverse but common version of that village truism in action:
Dear friends had us over for dinner. We love them, our kids love each other, we love their kids and they love ours. Its been a roller-coaster of a year (or three) for them, we've been rocks and anchors and shoulders for each other and the evening promised some good company and delicious chicken enchiladas.
It all went to hell. The kids fell apart, individually and in concert, in the most humiliating ways; the food was cold by the time we negotiated seating arrangements, which were the source of all existential pain. Objectively, the evening was quite unpleasant. Even subjectively, too.
At one point, when the worst of the evening's misbehavior had passed and all of our children were mostly just mildly whining their way until bed time, my friend turned to me and said, "Thank god it was you guys."
That is it, right there. The village. No one took problems off of anyone else's hands. No one showed anyone else's kid the path to right action or compassion. No one even made anyone else a drink. But, we endured together and moved on together and decided to keep loving each other in spite of the fact that all evidence showed we really went wrong somewhere and our kids needed professional help.
Moreover, we witnessed each other fallible - other parents losing patience, other kids breaking under the pressures of being in school all day and only having the emotional maturity of 7 year olds (appropriate but frustrating).
It does take a village, even if the village is context if nothing more.