‘Your boyfriend and his ex are traveling together? You’re okay with this?!’ I laughed to myself, thinking about Corey driving Robin nuts the entire trip.’: Bonus mom shares co-parenting bond, ‘She makes me feel like part of the family’

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“He had been following me on Facebook me for years. When I started promoting my consulting business online as a nutrition chef and health coach, Corey shared every one of my posts. Every. Single. One. Eventually, he messaged me to ask me out, and I made up an excuse about having a boyfriend. Fast forward a year or so and Corey messaged me again. But this time, to hire me as his coach and help him get in shape. I remember walking the aisles at the grocery store together (I was teaching him how to shop healthy) and the oddest thought struck me; it felt like we were a couple walking the aisles, gently bickering about what to buy. We weren’t, of course; I was professional, he was in a relationship and it was 100% innocent, but I remember feeling something I just couldn’t put my finger on.

So Corey finished his health program with me, life moved on and I didn’t think too much about him afterwards. Then one night I’m at a local restaurant with my best friend and…there’s Corey. Single. Corey made it obvious he was still interested. Feeling brave after a couple of cocktails, I said, ‘Well, I always thought you were handsome.’ And that was it. I opened the door just a crack and he promptly kicked it open, calling my best friend and my brother (whom he had known for years) the next day, trying to convince them to convince me to give him a shot. I laughed, rolled my eyes and told them to ignore him. But he never gave up. Ironically, the thing I rolled my eyes at is now one of the qualities I admire most in Corey today: his persistence, the way he never gives up on what he wants or what he thinks is the right thing to do.

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

So we went out on a few dates. Corey refers to them as ‘interviews,’ which cracks me up. But he’s dead on. I was terrified of him, his past and his addiction. Corey had grown up in my hometown (he’s 5 years older than me, so we never really crossed paths) but everyone knew his past reputation. Despite the fact he had grown up, been sober for four years and owned a successful hardscape and masonry company, I grilled him and carefully monitored everything from his responses to his body language. I had always made ‘safe’ choices and was terrified of drugs. How could two people who are just so different ever make it work? Oh, and did I mention, he had a 9-year-old daughter?

Let’s talk about it. I have never felt the need to have kids. That biological clock women my age love to talk about? Nope. Never felt it. Sophie, my adopted, partially-paralyzed French bulldog (who wears Pampers Swaddlers size 2, thank you very much) more than filled that need. But if there was one thing I knew about Corey, it was how much he LOVED his daughter. Lucy was his little twin on Facebook, digging holes on the job with his work crew and boxing just like her dad (and yeah, it’s not lost on me I had now become the Facebook follower).

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

I met Lucy and her mother on the same night. Corey invited me to his boxing match and I have to admit, I was nervous. I don’t get butterflies often, but the thought of meeting his mini me and her incredibly fit mother, Robin, who Corey described as a ‘Sicilian spit fire,’ was a little scary. It was close to Lucy’s birthday and I armed myself with a gift bag from Claire’s (all little girls like Claire’s, right?!?).

But my fears were for not. Robin could not have been any warmer. Her smile was real; it spread all the way to her eyes and lingered (I can spot a disingenuous smile a mile away). Despite the hard-earned muscles, seemingly 0% body fat and the confidence of a woman who knows who she is, I felt at ease with her. We sat side-by-side on hard folding chairs, cheering Corey on (he won!), occasionally making small talk and laughing. I met Lucy a little later in the night. She had also won her boxing match. I introduced myself, congratulated her and she smiled at me shyly. I practically shoved the gift bag into her hands (please like me!).

So Corey and I began our relationship like any other adult couple: with a lifetime of baggage. I learned my loud-as-hell, tough boyfriend was actually a big ball of mush, doling out as much affection as he craved. It was clear our values were the same – he was the one people called when they needed someone, or something. And he never let them down. Corey carefully reintroduced me to Lucy and I carefully figured out the best way to interact with a precocious 9-year-old girl. Watching Corey in dad mode, wearing Lucy’s pink flowery headband while she laughed hysterically in his tattooed arms, only fueled my love for them both. As time wore on, we all became closer. Including me and Robin.

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

In late July, Corey left for his cross-country trip with Robin and Lucy, a trip that had been planned long before I entered his life. Corey would be meeting Lucy and Robin in Arizona, to stay with his daughter and ex for two weeks in a tent while backpacking across mountainous terrain. ‘Val, do you want to come?’ ‘Nope.’ Backpacking without a bathroom and shower isn’t my thing. Actually, backpacking at all isn’t my thing.

My friends were horrified, asking me, ‘Your boyfriend and his ex are traveling together and you are okay with this?’ The truth is, I was. I had been around just long enough to understand Corey and Robin’s 10-year relationship (they broke up a year after Lucy was born). They fought like brother and sister, but when push came to shove, they would do anything for each other. I liked that. I trust Corey, and though I didn’t know Robin well at this point, I trusted her too. She was a lot like me – honest, authentic, wearing her emotions on her sleeve. I laughed to myself, thinking about Corey driving Robin nuts the entire trip.

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

Over time, I’ve learned a lot about the dynamics of two adults raising a child in separate homes. I realized my fun, loving boyfriend was the ‘good cop,’ always giving Lucy what she wanted. And Robin, the ‘bad cop,’ had to step in often, enforcing rules and structure. I observed from afar, never having been a mom myself. But something stuck with me – there’s a ‘good cop’ and a ‘bad cop.’ And nine times out of ten, the guy gets to be the good cop. I voiced what I saw and how it wasn’t fair. I think Robin felt relieved; she finally had someone on her side that understood. I love Corey to death, but right is right. When he’s screwing up and Robin gets painted as the bad cop, I say so.

Not that Robin is perfect (Corey, now my fiancé, and I are certainly not!). But I think since I’ve stepped in as a neutral party and a voice of reason, the dynamic between Robin and Corey has been smoother. Both Corey and Robin vent to me and I search for the middle ground. And they’re both open with me, too, kindly letting me know when I should have gone left after taking a right in the parenting game. Hey, I’m learning.

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

I AM getting the hang of this step mom thing, though. Lucy, my funny, moody, sassy, talented, kind little eleven-year-old (going on 25) has given me a run for my money. There’s some days where I’m so frustrated with her, I just want to cry. But we always find our way back to each other. Our bond is real. When I cry, she’s the first one to hug me and rub my back and tell me it will be okay. And vice versa. She teaches me dances she learns online and we stay up late some nights laughing, swaying our hips while she rolls her eyes at 39-year-old me trying to be cool. And I rub her head while she lies in bed before I kiss her good night and tell her she’s the most amazing thing to ever happen to me.

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

I’ve gained a sort of patience I’ve never possessed before. I have Lucy to thank for it. She’s loud, outspoken and reactive like her parents; a mini spitfire, dramatizing everything (God forbid, we can’t find a pair of socks for her to wear that day). But I’ve learned if I’m calm, she’s calm. And in the end, this too shall pass.

Lucy has a mom. A really, really good one. Robin loves Lucy fiercely, and makes sure she has everything she needs to be happy and healthy – she moved to a town with a great school for Lucy, they whip up delicious dinners together every night, snuggle up on the couch to watch their favorite TV shows and have literally traveled the world side by side. Lucy has more stamps on her passport than any adult I know. She’s worldly, ridiculously intelligent and creative like her momma. They don’t always get along (the mother-daughter relationship is complicated) but they love each other a lot.

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

So I don’t have to be mom. That’s not my role, though I certainly take on a nurturing, motherly position often.  The cool thing is, I’m finding it comes naturally. Maybe I’m built for this whole thing after all?! Lucy affectionately refers to me as Smom (short for step mom). I get to still be me, but a better version of me because of the role I fill in Lucy’s world. Some days I’m her confidante, some days her big sister, some days her disciplinarian, and every day her Smom. Some days I catch Corey watching us together and I can see the love, the actual tears, in his eyes. I need it, sometimes. Just to know I’m doing a good job.

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

In September, Corey, Robin, Lucy and I all took the trip to Alaska! Robin planned the adventure of a lifetime – a cruise through Resurrection Bay, a hike to the Harding Ice Field, a coveted ride through Denali National forest (we won a lottery for this opportunity). Robin lent me her warm wool socks and a windbreaker (things I definitely do not own) and I felt like a kid while she patiently helped me pick out a suitable outfit each day based upon on the adventure ahead. We hiked 4 thousand miles on Kenali Peninsula up to the Harding Ice Field, with Robin leading the way.

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

I’d like to note our Lucy was the ONLY kid on the mountain and we all toasted her that night at dinner, in awe of this 11-year-old’s strength when she puts her mind to something. The next morning Corey, Lucy and I were so sore we could barely move. The Sicilian spit fire? She was doing a HIIT workout in the kitchen of our Airbnb at 5 a.m. I’d hate her if I didn’t love her, if you know what I mean.

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

Is it all roses? Nope. Not even close. Having another woman in my and Corey’s life can be a challenge (as I imagine me being in Robin’s life is a challenge for her some days, too). I mean, relationships are hard enough without another adult, another ‘say’ to take into consideration. We carefully work around each other’s plans, schedules and parenting techniques.

But I never take for granted how lucky we are – this crazy, unorthodox relationship Corey, Robin and I have. And I know it’s rare. Corey actually has a son, a beautiful little boy named Tyson whom I love and adore, with another woman. Though this is a story for another time, I can say she and I have a polite, cordial relationship at the moment.  It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but perhaps we are a work in progress.

I think the key to my and Robin’s relationship is mutual respect and communication. Robin has always looked me in the eye, made me feel ‘part of’ and I’ve always looked up to her; her story (also a story for another time) combined with her dedication to Lucy, has more than earned my respect. I think too, sometimes as a step parent or partner of someone who has children with someone else, it’s easy to take our partner’s word. But there really are two sides to every story. I’ve learned if I take the time to get to know how Robin feels and her version of events, I find the whole story. And because of this, a true friendship, one I hope lasts a lifetime, can form. Robin and I are proof of that.”

Courtesy of Valerie Cogswell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Valerie Cogswell from Weymouth, MA. You can follow Valerie’s journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her website and Robin’s journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about co-parenting here:

‘Oh! Is this your sister?’ We have learned to answer, ‘We are friends’ because it’s true! We are friends, family, and co-parents.’: Mom navigates co-parenting with bonus parents during holidays, ‘We work together for a common goal’

‘I invited my husband’s ex-wife to my wedding. In our family, we’re not ‘half’ or ‘step.’ We’re just family.’: Mom and stepmom come together to peacefully co-parent after feud, ‘women should always support each other’

‘He’ll never be a dead-beat dad who got remarried and started a new life. And I refuse to be the evil stepmom.’: Bonus mom successfully co-parents with husband’s ex, ‘We all make the effort. We all show up. We are all present’

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