Parenting is exceptionally hard, but co-parenting can (sometimes) be even harder. It’s defined by partnership, love, friendship, teamwork, trust, doubt, frustration, communication, compromise, trial, error, respect, togetherness, eye rolls, “I told you so” moments, learning, teaching, listening, hugging, fighting, laughing, self-betterment, self-reflection and self-awareness. It’s letting go but not giving up. It’s learning about yourself and about your partner in ways no amount of preparation can make you understand. And it’s raising humans that get to watch and learn from two parents navigating these difficult waters together – and that’s called a family. There are many sides to this co-parenting business that deserve their own attention, and some of these are well in the works for future posts. But in light of a recent experience, I must explore one side of this co-parenting life. To what extent are we, as both parents and co-parents, obligated to put our preferences on hold for the betterment of our family unit? How important is our individual positive attitude for the overall happiness of our partner and our children? And are positivity/happiness and frustration or irritation mutually exclusive? I’m not so sure – after all, can’t you feel ambivalence while still be willing to go with the flow and roll the punches? Now, at only 2 years in, I’m hardly an expert, and will gladly look to more seasoned professionals for their perspective. But here is just one of these learning moments…
As some of you may have seen, last weekend we went on a family trip to the beach. “Wow! How Fun!” you say? Well, if you’re speaking in adventure terms, yes, but I must admit (much to my husband’s chagrin) this was not my first choice of a Sunday afternoon. In fact, before this, I had actively avoided the beach with my toddler (then baby) because to me, the beach is often more work than it’s worth – especially when you’re not a twenty something on summer break in Cancun. The beach excursions of my present life are very different from that one. Sweltering heat, no shade, sand everywhere, the lugging of things, a guaranteed sunburn, and did I mention the sand everywhere? Sand that seems to find its way into every crack and crevice of your body, car, and even bedsheets for months. And now with a newborn in tow? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason you don’t see a lot of newborns hanging out on the seashore (see above list of all the things)…
The beach, however, has been on my husband’s to do list all summer. I didn’t want to miss out, but was not ready to take the littlest one on such an “extreme” outing (again, see above list of all the things), so I had been putting it off. Then after weeks of protest and heated debate, I, seemingly against my better judgement, put my hesitations on hold so we could all experience the beach together as a family. At this moment, the family experience was more important to me than my comfort. Was it a sacrifice? No. A compromise? Perhaps. Did it cause a brief rift because I wasn’t smiling the whole way? Yes it did. But you know what? While it was perhaps not the most relaxing trip to the beach I’ve ever had, I got to sit back with my sleeping infant, and watch my son play in the sand and waves with his dad, building memories we’ll talk about for weeks, and which he’ll hopefully remember for years. And for me that was 100% worth every frustrating moment because at the end of the day, there is no feeling quite like the warm waves of the Pacific crashing against your sun kissed skin on a California summer day. And I’m surely not going to deprive my (now) toddler from this experience. After all, he is from L.A.
Now, I do not consider myself to be a negative person. In fact, I much prefer a good time and good company. I love adventure and new experiences, and I’m always up for a good surprise. And when left to my own devices, I’m pretty good at going with the flow and welcoming the unexpected (save for a few hiccups here and there). Blame it on my Leo nature, being female, or just a personality ‘quirk’ (I blame it on motherhood, and trying to parent one (let alone 2) littles), but being a mother has brought out a slightly more rigid side of me that I didn’t know was there. One that admittedly prefers control over chaos, order over disarray, and some plan over no plan at all. I’d prefer to know everyone is happy, healthy and safe, and when managing a crazy toddler and a needy infant, maintaining a tight reign seems the best solution – at least right now. At the same time, I know my children need room to grow and move freely, expressing their independence and getting their hands a little dirty. As do I and my husband need the head space to relax and let them be kids. Because, as I’ve expressed in previous posts, as long as we’re there for them when they need us, and as long as we’re paving the way with confidence, everyone will turn out happy, healthy and safe. But this doesn’t always make this juggle easy.
My husband knew (without me having to spell it out again) that this was not my ideal weekend activity. So he was slightly surprised, and perhaps a bit wary, when I agreed to take on this oceanside adventure with him and the kids. He encouraged me to stay behind with the baby and relax, while I tried to reassure him that I was ready for the day. We got the kids dressed, stocked up on snacks, and he packed the car to the brim with all the tools and accessories essential for any successful day trip with little ones (which is at least double the amount of stuff any kid-free beach goer needs). We were finally off, and drove an hour up the coast in search of the less crowded, cleaner and overall more enjoyable beach experience – but on Labor Day weekend, that is one tall order. Once parked, we just started going through the co-parenting motions to move our pack (and all our things) from the car, across the lot, and to a decent spot on the sand. And once we had our tent and blankets ready to go, the two boys skipped off to water and the baby girl and I settled into our shady retreat. But to be fair, this all sounds much easier than it actually was, and that’s why this is such a juggle.
As a mother, when I embark on an excursion with either one of my kids or the whole family, I always try to plan accordingly for both the expected and the unexpected, so that when real life happens we’re at least a little bit ready. I think I’m pretty resourceful, and have become more so since stepping into this role. I would also say that I have a pretty good can-do attitude, even if it sometimes takes a little extra effort to get there. I knew what we were getting into for the day at the beach, and yet I agreed, for the love of my family, to participate. I had revved myself up to accept the curveballs and find enjoyment in the adventure, and I knew we’d be ok because we were in this together. And my honest desire to spend time with my family trumped any anxiety I felt about our destination – even if it meant burning feet, sandy diapers and irregular nap times. My husband, however, saw something else… he saw my misery and frustrations all day long. I’m probably not painting myself in a very good light, and perhaps I’m more of a “heart-on-my-sleeve” person, letting my vulnerabilities and discomforts shine through more than necessary. But while he and I have different views of how that day unfolded, and how we each played a part, I’m trying to see how exposing those emotions affects the overall enjoyment of a simple family day – or any other parenting task, at that. I suppose it’s part of our co-parenting juggle that we need to work out – and we will always have our moments.
In life with a co-parent, I see this person as someone I can vent to, who will understand all because we are equal parents to the same kids. It’s one of the privileges of having that teammate – no circus act required, right? But upon further reflection, as it’s important to my other half, I am working on putting on that happy face as my duty as both a mother and a parter. And this seems to be increasingly important in our partnership now that we have two kids.
So I leave you with this: half of co-parenting is having each other’s back, and half of having each other’s back is simply showing up for a good cheer and moral support. So, let’s end each day with a high five and a hug because we’re still here, we still love each other, and we’re still a family. Ok, good pep talk.