“I never expected when I had my son I would have to learn to co-parent but then I did. It was right in front of us. We were staring at it head-on, whether it was what we wanted or not. I knew from the beginning we had two choices: remain bitter and hateful and face 18 years of hard times, or choose to work towards forgiveness and learn to work together for the happiness of our son.
My son’s dad, Nate, and I split up just days before his first birthday. We went from being two young, college-aged kids with a baby to two young college-aged kids with a baby, lots of heartbreak, and the huge task of learning to co-parent. The details of our separation are not details we choose to share, but it wasn’t a decision we came to easily. At just 19 and 21 years old, we tried in all the ways we knew how to ‘make things work’ for our son. Ultimately, we realized the best way to make things work for him was to be separate. He deserved two happy parents, even if that meant we would not be living under the same roof anymore.
No matter how respectfully we came to the decision, it was absolutely gut-wrenching. The ultimate lows of co-parenting came right at the beginning for me. I felt like such a failure. All I could focus on was everything he would miss out on by growing up with separated parents: split holidays, his belongings being divided by two homes, no family vacations, no family dinners, etc. I was devastated at the thought of being just another statistic. Just another set of young parents who could not make it work for the sake of their child.
After realizing we both had the same fears, we had a discussion about what was important to both of us going forward and decided we were both determined to beat the statistic we were so afraid of becoming. We could still be great parents together, even though we were no longer in a domestic partnership. Neither of us wanted to miss out on Carter, and neither of us wanted Carter to miss out on anything because of our decision. We were still raising our child together. He was not property to fight over. He was not more ‘mine’ than he was his dad’s. He was a little boy, who deserved the world, and we would both still do whatever we needed to provide that for him.
The foundation of our co-parenting journey was built with one thing: respect. I would always be Carter’s mother, and Nate would always be Carter’s father. To ensure we were both an equal part of his life, we knew we needed to always keep lines of communication open. This meant being open to discussing any decision we made regarding our son. Whether it be about what daycare he would attend or how we should deal with a new behavior he was having, which health insurance policy was best for him or if we were okay with him having a playdate with someone from school.
The first step in creating this line of communication meant breaking down any barriers we had to communicate as parents, but no longer as a couple. We decided to give ‘couples counseling’ a try. We showed up very open-minded and with the same goal: not to mend our relationship and be a couple again, but to mend our relationship so that we could effectively communicate as co-parents. We had to learn to get past what split us up, but we also had to learn to switch from being in an intimate relationship to being friends. It was not an easy feat. There were days we both left sad and defeated, but with perseverance and one goal in sight, we got through it.
If I had to choose one piece of advice to give to parents facing the very beginning of their co-parenting journey it would be to seek professional counseling. We would not be where we are today if it were not for the months Beth spent devoted to helping us overcome our hardships.
Over the next year and a half, we had many ups and downs, but overall, we stayed grounded by our foundation of respect. There were disagreements, speed bumps, hard feelings, even some hateful words but, we never allowed our son to see or hear the negative. This was so important to both of us. We never wanted Carter to feel like he had to choose one side or another. We never wanted our son to carry the burden of having to defend one of his parents, to his other parent. Adult problems are too heavy for a child to carry on their shoulders. He did not need to know everything his parents did wrong to each other. He did not need to know all the sad and hurtful feelings we were both learning to navigate. He just needed to know we both loved him the same as we did the day he was born.
People often ask me, ‘If you don’t tell your son why you split up, how do you answer his questions about why you live separately?’ My answer to that is always this, we answer his questions in an age-appropriate manner without adding the weight of heartbreak. It usually goes something like this, ‘Dad and I are still friends. Sometimes adults must make adult decisions and just because we decided not to live together anymore doesn’t mean we love you any less.’ I also stand by the fact children learn so much more by watching than they do by listening. Carter rarely asks why his life is the way it is. I have never observed him feeling or acting sad at the fact his parents are not together in the same home. He sees we communicate daily, he sees we respect each other when we talk, he sees we celebrate his milestones and watch him do the things he loves together, he sees we are both still there for him whenever he needs us, just like any child whose parents live in the same home. Kids absorb how you talk and feel about situations, and Carter has only ever been exposed to positivity when it comes to his family situation.
When Carter was 2 and a half years old, I met my husband, Josh. I had dated in-between the two but never serious enough to allow them to be a part of my son’s life. This was another topic on the list of things Nate and I discussed at our separation, when would we allow someone to be around our son. It came down to learning to trust that the other parent would make a decision that was best for our son. Trust then became the second layer to our co-parenting foundation.
Dating as a single mom was hard. I was not just looking for a person who made me happy, but also someone who accepted my ‘package deal.’ In this case, I was not just looking for someone to love and accept Carter. I was also looking for someone who would be open and accepting of the fact Nate would always be there. I would always have to communicate with Nate, and I would always have to respect him. He was not just an ex-boyfriend we could forget about and never mention again. He would always be there. I think that is a lot for someone to take on, and I think it takes a really special person to open their heart to that.
To anyone reading this who may be a single parent, wait for that. Wait for the person who never questions why you have to discuss your child with their other parent. Wait for the person who never bats an eye at all that comes with loving a child who is not biologically theirs. These things are so important to co-parenting success, and it’s not a life that’s meant for everyone.
I made sure to introduce Nate and Josh to each other as soon as both parties were comfortable. I wanted them to be able to communicate as well. I know, in the beginning, Nate worried what this would mean for co-parenting, so I made sure to comfort him by telling him, ‘You will always be Carter’s dad. No one will replace you in that position. So, even though Josh will be involved now, he will always play the role of a ‘bonus parent,’ never a replacement parent.’ I felt like Nate deserved those comforting words because I wanted him to know both Josh and I respected him in his role and he could trust that the dynamics of our co-parenting would only get better, not worse by adding another person to it.
We spent the next 3 years learning how to make this work between all three adults. We made it a point to sit together at all of his sports games and functions, and there were a few occasions where we all did stuff together, like attending our local fair. The effort we put into creating this bond led to one of the highest points of our co-parenting journey so far. Nate attended Josh’s and my wedding in 2018 when our son was almost 6 years old. Most people are surprised to hear it was actually my husband’s idea to invite him. I never thought of it until he said, ‘It’s a big day for Carter too, and he should be able to share that with his dad.’ Duh! I don’t know why I didn’t think of that but of course, he deserved to share this big day with his dad. Having Nate there to celebrate with us really gave the relationship between all of us a family vibe. We were not just three people who all loved the same little boy. We were a family.
At this time, Nate still had not found a partner to introduce into his life with Carter. Truthfully, one of my biggest fears was he would meet someone who would not understand the relationship we had all worked so hard to build. When I would find myself in the headspace of ‘what ifs,’ I had to remind myself to trust his judgment like he trusted mine. He loved Carter just as much as I did, and he worked just as hard as I did to get to where we were.
Any fears I had about the girl he would someday bring into our co-parenting ‘family’ were thrown to the wind when he introduced us to Kirsten. She is truly a godsend. She loves my son, and she has been open and supportive to building a family for our son since day one. When I met her, I realized all of the things I was certain Carter would miss out on with separated parents were actually things he didn’t have to miss out on at all. We didn’t have to have separate holidays, we could still have family dinners. His stuff didn’t have to belong to one house or another.
This year, we came up with the idea to celebrate Christmas together. So the four of us adults, our son, and my husband’s and my 1-year-old daughter spent an entire evening together to celebrate. We all pitched in and cooked a meal, had dessert, and hung out. When the night was over, my heart was bursting with happiness. Our son was smiling from ear to ear the entire evening and all he could talk about was how ‘cool’ it was his dad and Kirsten got to hang out at our house with us.
I knew at this moment all the work we had put in was paying off. It was all worth it. Every tear shed, every speed bump we hit, every minute we spent working together— it all led us to here. Four adults opened their minds and hearts to ensure this little boy never felt like he was missing out. If you had asked me when we first split up if I ever saw us making it to where we are now, I would’ve laughed at you, or maybe even cried, but we did it. We are one family, full of so much love.
I know the difficult reality is not everyone in our position will get to this place. There are so many factors that come into play when building this relationship, and some of those are out of a person’s control. I am so proud we are here. I am proud of all four of us for overcoming whatever emotions we needed along the way to provide this life for Carter. My hope is people reading this will be inspired to give it a try. Try to get past the barriers preventing you from this relationship. Start as small as you have to. Taking any step is better than taking no step at all. Every child whose parents are separated deserves this kind of happiness, and so does every parent. It is hard work, but it is worth every second. I promise you, you will never regret it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Felicia Logan from Maine. You can follow her on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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