No matter what anyone tells you, coparenting after divorce is the hardest thing you will ever do.
Even in the most amicable divorce, even under the best of circumstances, coparenting with a spouse or partner is hard enough without introducing a handful of other contributors into the equation.
I raise my kids with four other people, which certainly comes with its own unique baggage and complications.
Collectively, my better half and I have three sons — “yours, mine and ours” — with #4 poised to make a grand appearance in late October.
Our oldest, my 9-year-old stepson, has a mother and stepfather who live around the corner from us, with whom we share 50-50 custody. Our second, my 4-year-old son, has a father who lives in Colorado.
This week, at our house, my stepson was with us Monday and Tuesday, with his mom Wednesday and Thursday, returning to us for the weekend. Sometimes we spend holidays together, go out for the odd meal together, attend each other’s parties. We are friendly by necessity but friends by choice, connected by the strongest of cast-iron bonds: the love of a child.
Meanwhile, my 4-year-old has been packing for his biannual two-week visit to the Rocky Mountains. This time of year, it’s hard for me to say goodbye.
It’s always a challenge — not just navigating four or five other parents’ schedules, needs and opinions at any given time, but drawing appropriate boundaries for your own nuclear unit without damaging your relationship with the others.
At times, disagreements abound — you’ll never know how many decisions go into parenting until you have to clear each major hurdle with a handful of proxy voters — but there’s a richness, too, to sharing this journey.
“We begin to understand that to coparent is to one day look up and notice that you are on a roller coaster with another human being,” writes memoirist Glennon Doyle Melton. “You are in the same car, strapped down side by side and you can never, ever get off. There will never be another moment in your lives when your hearts don’t rise and fall together, when your stomach doesn’t churn in tandem, when you stop seeing huge hills emerge in the distance and simultaneously grab the sides of the car and hold on tight. No one except for the one strapped down beside you will ever understand the particular thrills and terrors of your ride.”
Despite the hiccups along the way, it also means there are will be double and triple the opportunities to share your children’s griefs, triumphs, miseries and joys.
I can only claim credit for half the work of art that is my 4-year-old. And I pretend nothing about the past: Our stories matter, and where we came from matters.
My son has a wonderful stepdad who raises him on a daily basis. But I remain kind to his father — not just because my son is listening, but because it’s the right thing to do.
My divorce has been finalized for a long time, but my child didn’t ask to be brought into this world to be caught in the crossfire of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The world doesn't need more hate. The stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell our children shape the people they will become. Their origin stories are in your hands, and they can heal or hurt, create superheroes or supervillains. Choose wisely.
As for me, I will tell him of his daddy's Bronze Star for valor in Afghanistan, of how he survived the shells exploding inches from his head and protected the lives in his care. I will tell him how his dad can survive in the wilderness for weeks on end with nothing but a hunting knife and the clothes on his back, of how he plays the bagpipes like nobody's business and makes a mean beef bourguignon and doesn't fuss too much when you keep a pet catfish named Spike in the bathtub (until he skins and cooks it for dinner) and worships Julia Child and blasts Sid Vicious to raise the dead and can recite the whole of military history in 17 minutes flat in his pajama pants at 5 a.m. with a pipe in his mouth (which is more than most people can do wide awake), and how he has one of the most brilliant, curious minds I have ever encountered, a mind just like yours, little boy.
And sometimes I look into those grey-green eyes like the sky after a Colorado snowstorm, his daddy's eyes peering up at me every morning, and I know what Rhett Butler meant when he said he liked to imagine his daughter Bonnie Blue was Scarlett, a little girl again, before the war and poverty had done things to her.
The rest is details. And maybe the time will come when he needs to know those, too, but that time is not today. Today, he deserves — like we all do — to rest in the knowledge that he is loved.
Our stories matter. Make theirs good.