My daughter turned 5 years old in February this year. Celebrating her birthday reminded me that I have been co-parenting with the father of my kids for 5 years now. And yes, I call him the father of my kids instead of saying “baby daddy” and that is one of the lessons I have learnt in this parenting journey.
First of all, when I became a mother at the age of 21 years, I was engaged and in my mind, I never expected that I would end up single and in a co-parenting relationship with the man I thought was the man of my dreams. But life happened and here I am, 7 years out of the relationship and 5 years of fully co-parenting and it has been an eye-opening experience that has forced me to grow emotionally mature in a way that I can never explain but was necessary for the well-being of my kids.
The relationship, as mentioned before, ended 7 years ago, but because I could not let go fully I continued to go back and forth to him until I conceived my second baby. This second baby was an awakening call for me to realise that the relationship was dead and doomed and that it was time to move on for the sake of my kids. Right through my pregnancy I was teaching myself to learn to deal with this man, as much as I hated him with everything that I had, I had to learn to tolerate him for the sake of my kids. And that has been lesson number one, and the biggest lesson of them all:
My kids’ happiness comes first: Due to the way that the relationship ended, I hated my ex-fiancé so much. I hated him so much that he had a strange stench that I could not tolerate. Whenever I had to be in the same room with him, my blood would literally boil and I could not wait to get out of the room. This happened to a point that I cut his time with the kids short. Most times, this would lead to my son throwing tantrums because he still wanted to be with his dad more. Seeing this, and how it made my son so unhappy, I had to learn to put my emotions and feelings aside and learn to accept that he is their father. It has been the toughest thing to do and at times until now I tend to have to remind myself of this statement. I firstly had to learn to forgive him, trust me it is not easy forgiving someone who never asked for forgiveness, it is a tough emotional battle, but through the help of prayer and therapy I forgave him for the sake of my kids. I had to change my mentality and put myself last and their emotional needs first and realise that they needed their dad as much as they needed me in their lives. I wanted happy and wholesome kids, I sacrificed for them, no one else but for them. It is still a continuous sacrifice every time a decision needs to be taken, I need to put myself last and put them first and make a decision that is best for them and their happiness.
Boundaries: Being in a relationship that was messed up and without boundaries it was very difficult to set up boundaries for the new relationship we were now forming. It has been tough but it has been necessary because the father of my kids overstepped too many times in a way at times that made me uncomfortable. At times the lines would be blurred and we would mistake the good relationship of being parents and think it meant we can go into a relationship again (that meant finding myself in bed with him a couple of times). That led to too much emotional baggage and it was very necessary to lay strict boundaries not just for myself but also for the partner that would come into my life because the father of my kids had a tendency of thinking he owned me and I could not openly date, it went to a point where he threatened a few guys I dated. Laying boundaries was very necessary and it has helped me to learn to respect myself a little bit more, but as well to respect him as the father of my kids. Something as small as letting him know he could not just pitch at my place whenever it suited him, he had to call first. Those boundaries seemed small but were necessary for my kids to accept and get used the nature of the relationship between their mother and father, as young as they were.
Communication: This has been very difficult but very necessary and it goes hand in hand with the boundaries. Yes one might find it funny that I communicate with the father of my kids strictly by email and it has been years now doing that and I do not plan on changing it. Even though he has my number and uses it to call and communicate with the kids but he knows everything that needs to be planned or communicated about the kids is done via email. Yes I laugh sometimes at how formal these emails are, but they are very necessary. They not only act as proof of communication between us in case one day we might need it but also it makes things easier to write down because when writing down one tends to clearly process the words, re-read and edit before sending so that there are no mistakes in getting the message across.
Do not badmouth your co-parent in front of your kids: This one has been very difficult for both of us and it has been something that I had to continuously emphasise to him and both our families. As said, the relationship did not end well and I hated the guy and that meant I had every bad word to say about him, I easily called him anything that came into my mind, sometimes at the presence of my kids until my son once repeated what I said about his dad to others. This has happened about me as well, some bad things were said about me in the presence of my kids and they found their way back to me, we had to address the issue. It was difficult because I was not his favourite person and vice-versa and we disagreed on many things. But I have learned to bite my tongue in many instances whenever he would upset me so much that I wanted to utter some bad words about him. It has also helped to learn to see him through the eyes of my kids and not mine. To see how much of a good father he is to them and stick that image into my head instead of always trying to see the worst about him. Heck, this isn’t easy, I have struggled a lot and until today I sometimes do, but as I said this is still a journey and I’m learning every day.
Have the same end goal: Let me just say, the only thing that the father of my kids and I agree on is the fact that we want the best for our kids, no matter the circumstances and this has been our saving grace through the worst scenarios. Yes, we have many differences in how we get things done because he is too laid back and he is a procrastinator and I am a planner. I hate not planning things and executing them on time and very strict on routine. These things have brought up many quarrels between us, but every time the only thing that brings us back to earth is the fact that all we both want is the best for our kids and that is our common goal. Having that common goal is what is keeping us consistent and accountable, even financially. Simple things as us wanting only the best education for our kids, it has taught us to be accountable. Though we would argue about money etc., but coming to paying fees etc., he is accountable because he knows the common goal. So this may stretch over even in big decisions that need to be made, like when I had to relocate with the kids. It was a bitter pill to swallow for him and he could have fought that but because he knew the common goal and knew the kids were better off with me than him, he had to accept the decision and learn to make things work.
5 years ago I would have laughed at anyone who would say to me that we would be at this point now, it seemed like something utterly impossible. But now, as I look back I’m in awe of the work that I have put in to make this co-parenting relationship work, not for my sake but for the sake of my kids. I’m still learning because my kids are still growing and I believe there are bigger challenges that will come our way but I believe there is nothing impossible for the people you love. For my kids, I will do anything, even forgive a man who never asked for forgiveness and share a table with him for my kids’ birthdays, school concerts and anything else. Because that is what being a parent is: Putting yourself last and your kids first!