“Am I doing this right?” Co-parenting a blended family feels a lot like rocket science.
And for someone who has a degree in “feelings,” rocket science couldn’t be further out of my reach.
It seems terms like “co-parenting” and “bonus parents” have started trending in headlines and social media alike. But anyone involved in navigating a healthy environment for their children after separation from another parent can probably agree, it doesn’t feel very . . . trendy . . .
In fact, oftentimes, the opposite is true. The word that pops into my mind when I look back is “messy!”
As a Co-Parenting Mother in a Blended Family, How Do I Get Validation?
A coworker of mine, who is considering becoming a single adoptive parent, recently asked me what the hardest part of motherhood has been. The quickness of my reply surprised even me.
Many people are quick to ask mothers their favorite part or about the joys of motherhood. Rarely do people ask about the challenges first. It was actually refreshing to have someone so subtly acknowledge how difficult our journeys can be.
I answered, “Never having confirmation about whether you are doing the right thing for your children until it’s too late.”
Mothers are constantly bombarded with advice about simply doing their best. That’s all you can do. Your best. I’m a philosophy person, which means I’m a question person. So this advice always leaves me with a lot of “what ifs?”
What if it’s the best co-parenting decision for me, but not for my kids? Will they resent me for it later? What if I’m causing some unknown emotional trauma to them and won’t find out until they’re older? How and when am I supposed to know if this was the right decision?
Seriously, I could keep going . . .
The Rough Times of a Blended Family End. The Confusion May Not.
Looking back in time eight years ago to the moment I found out I was going to be a mother, panic still ensues. I joke with my friends and family that if it were judged by maturity level, I could easily be considered a “teen mom.” I was 23 years old when I became pregnant with my son. I was facing every possible scenario working against a young mother. I had no job. I’d dropped out of my third year of college. Not to mention, I was still financially dependent on my parents. And in an unstable relationship with my son’s father (understatement!).
Not the greatest mix for bringing life into this world. My options seemed dim. Moving back home. Ignoring the toxic nature of my love life. It all seemed so complicated. I was lost. Mostly, I had no idea who I was.
Against my wishes, but with no capability of supporting myself and my son otherwise, I got in the truck with my dad to travel 11 hours to El Paso, TX to live with my mom. I traveled from one side of the state to the opposite side. I can’t necessarily say I didn’t look back because, of course, I wasn’t the only parent involved.
Fast forward to the present. Eight years, one custody arrangement, one Bipolar Diagnosis, one love of my life, and one more baby girl later, my hot mess express train has arrived at Blended Family.
The sacrifice, growth, and healing it has taken to land where we are in co-parenting are indescribable. My son spends every possible break, holiday, intersession, etc. with his dad. This entails driving five hours to a little town 40 miles east of Midland, TX, exchanging my precious cargo, and then driving five hours back to El Paso. Repeat when visit is over.
When I detail this co-parenting process to friends, it certainly seems like madness. It is madness. But it is in the pursuit of doing what I believe to be best. I won’t know anytime soon how this is going to affect him until later. There’s no way for me to know at what age he may tire of all the back and forth. Or worse, resent us for the decisions we made back then.
Learning to Read Between the Lines
I have been greatly blessed with a supportive family. Including meeting the man of my dreams when my son was fifteen months old. My husband being 100% open to loving and raising my son with me was the most unexpected gift.
Step-parents are not given the credit they deserve all of the time. But meeting someone who has a child and a co-parent is huge. Everyone has to adjust. Especially the children involved.
» » » » » » » RELATED READ: A Simple Question Started My Co-Parenting Journey « « « « « « «
My son also has a step-mom now. You are constantly running circles in your mind about their relationship and how it will grow over time. Trusting your co-parent plays a huge role in this.
Recently, I have tried to look at smaller cues from my son that tell me I’m doing the right thing in co-parenting. He’s sensitive and affectionate. He does not see halves (half-brother, half-sister); he only sees his family. My son asks to snuggle before bed every single night. Facetime could be a burden for him, but he enjoys devoting his full attention to whoever is on the other end.
There are still millions of looming questions. Those may never go away. But I believe that looking for little signs of love and happiness in your child’s life can give you millions of answers.
Or perhaps those are lacking in your own child. Every co-parenting situation has its own story and its own train track. But the enemy is mom-guilt and self-doubt.
There is no one who can read between the lines better than a mother. We hear every word not said. Trust your instincts. Lean into your child for the answers.
Ask for help or affirmation from other moms or people that you trust. In blended families and in co-parenting, there are a LOT of gray areas. But they are a LOT more common in the world we live in today.
Originally published April 2022.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of El Paso Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.