Co-Parenting: My Daughter’s Two Mom(s)

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These are Olivia’s moms. Plural. I’m on the right. Jess is on the left. She met my ex-husband two years after our divorce and now they have a little boy named Luke that my daughter loves more than me. She told me so and I adore her for it. Nothing makes me happier than to hear her voice become nurturing and sweet when she talks to her brother. As moms of siblings, Jess and I are nailing this co-parenting thing. Olivia has recently tried to order another brother or sister and Jess announced that it was my turn, “You’re up, Sister Wife.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.”

Jess has a killer sense of humor and we spend every Christmas morning together making our weird little family work.

She also loves my daughter which makes me love her. She sent me a text several months ago to let me know she was concerned about some of Olivia’s comments surrounding body image and beauty, “She said no one cares about smarts. Not ok.” She immediately changed messaging in their home and asked for advice, “Liv is gorgeous, but she’s also brilliant and hilarious. We need to talk about how smart, clever and funny she is and dad is on board. No more telling her how pretty she is…”

Jess was there for Liv’s school orientation, she’s there for school plays and once she was there dealing with a bully when I was on a business trip. She picked Liv up that day, handled the fallout and was ready to go toe to toe with the parents if needed. The best thing I could have ever hoped for was that my daughter would be surrounded and raised by strong women who want the absolute best for her in life.

This is unusual, I know. It shouldn’t be.

Mutual friends give each of us the heads up when we may run into one another, concerned for a scene or an awkward encounter and we both laugh. Sunday night we ended up in the same suite at TMobile Arena to see the wonder that is NKOTB. Jess immediately gave me a hug when we saw each other, “They warned me you were going to be here and I was like, ‘I like Jeanette! We’re cool!'” Other mutual friends have called me before big events to warn me I’ll run into her and my ex-husband and I immediately announce, “I love Jess.”

When people respond with confusion or say, “I couldn’t do that,” I argue that you can, but you have to get out of your own way. I often remember the advice I was given in the required parenting class I had to take when I filed for divorce, “You have to die to the relationship you had and create a new one. You are in the business of raising a child together. No more who did what.”

You have to forgive the past, shed the hurt and there is no room for jealousy. You also pray the woman on the other side is secure, mature and willing to recognize your role as a parent. She has to be willing to meet you in the same place. Before Jess there were girlfriends who were uncomfortable with my frequent conversations with my ex-husband, our Christmas morning tradition that was created both out of divorce and a joint promise to our child, the photos we would text one another as milestones or memories were achieved. Those who have never had kids don’t realize that the ex doesn’t want your man anymore. She doesn’t show up to insert herself in your relationship or remain on his mind. She just wants him to be a good dad to their child and it takes a secure woman to understand the difference.

There is also a hell of a lot of respect. Jessica makes it clear that I’m mom and what I say always goes. She will always defer to me. I also back her up when Liv is in trouble with her and we both recognize that we need breaks. We all know that we are healthier parents when we have vacations, time to work on our own relationships and interests. It brings us back to the most important person in the equation with a much stronger, healthier mindset.

I always prayed that the woman that would end up in Olivia’s life would love her (almost) as much as I do. It would be the best thing for all of us.

We lucked out.

And Liv lucked out. She has an(other) amazing woman in her life and a baby brother that looks at her as if she herself hangs the stars.

And, if I’m honest… another thing I didn’t expect, but which has been a pleasant surprise?

I love Olivia’s brother too.

Life can be beautiful in all it’s weirdness… as long as you let it.

Co-Parenting: Loving The Women Who Love Your Child

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I blogged anonymously as Little Ms. J for several years. Although I had a nice little following and over 250 articles I decided to take down the site a little over two years ago. It just didn’t feel right.

When  I wrote as Little Ms. J I was a married woman who was coming into her career and wanted very badly to have a baby. I wrote about my fun adventures with my hot husband and our parenting aspirations. I needed to get my time in as a dancing tartlet in high heels with a handsome man by my side before burp rags and cellulite made their appearance. I was sassy, snarky and bold. I was also very naive.

Then I had the baby, I came into my career and got divorced.

The storyline as I knew it ended and I had to figure out how to rewrite the me I knew. So, I dug into who that person was, came up for air and as I started LORE I thought, “Oh, I’ll just go back every now and then and grab an old post off Little Ms. J as a “Throwback,” something fun.

Every single time I’ve gone through the posts I’ve come up short.

I don’t know that girl anymore.

I wince a little in the memories. I smile at others. I look at the precious child I waxed and waned over, both the planning and the pregnancy, and the mom I’ve grown into shakes her head, I was such a baby trying to have a baby. I was such a girl-child trying to be a wife.

As I was looking through posts today I smiled at a few. My then-husband pulled me along to every sort of outdoor sporting event he possibly could while I looked adorable in my tennis skirts and twirled around, “Check out my legs. I look hot. Seriously, how do you hold this racket?”

He laughed at me. A lot. He said things like, “Oh, Little,” which was how “Little Ms. J” came about. I was little. He was big. It worked.

I golfed, I played tennis, I joined a volleyball team, I scaled indoor rock walls, I became SCUBA certified.

I kind of hated it.

Not all of it. Just most of it. I had the harnesses, rock climbing shoes, gear, clubs, fins, you name it, but I’m an introverted type of fit girl. I really don’t want to talk to anyone while I play my sports. I’ll go on a yoga retreat, I’ll listen to my “Damn, Girl” playlist while I do circuit training, gym rat style. I’ll play pickup on a golf range and be blissed out. I will absolutely go diving with you (if the water is warm), but the moment we have to keep a tab, score or compete I am thoroughly annoyed, this is not Zen!

But, I did it all because I was in love and I thought this is what you did. You put on the really adorable gear and showed up with your insanely muscular legs as you flexed them in various positions to annoy your mother in law, is this how you address the ball? I love this skirt. Wicking, huh? Flex. Flex.

I dropped Liv off at her dad’s house recently and took note of the His and Hers tennis rackets on the floor. Girlfriend was likely going to play with Ex’s mom, a former State tennis champion, when they visited her in Tucson that weekend. I laughed inside, his mom is thrilled. I remembered her exasperation, “You have no coordination. I can’t help you,” when she tried to lob a few balls at me years before. I honestly think she’d have rather lobbed rackets at me.

That’s when I’d turn and spin, “No, but seriously. Have you seen my legs?”

Ex laughed. Mom rolled her eyes, “She has no sport!”

He argued that I went to the gym a lot. She sighed and shook her head. At the time I thought these interactions were funny. I just wasn’t like them. I can look back now and see how mismatched I was for him and for them.

They liked to compete in wicking fabrics. I did not.

I text the girlfriend the other day to tell her I was going to be late dropping Liv to them. She was playing tennis.

Today she text back that she was at beach volleyball, but she’d let dad know whatever I was updating her about, thanks!

Yesterday we text back and forth about my daughter’s diet and the search for the perfect smoothie to hide vitamins and nutrients in since she’d rather live on gummy bears and macaroni and cheese.

I smiled, knowing inside that he very well may have found his soulmate. I told him as such. I am thrilled for him and for my daughter.

Me too, if I’m being honest.

They make far more sense than we ever did and for 7000 reasons. Not only is she sporty as hell, but they match up for reasons we never could. They have a similar sense of humor, she’s patient and most importantly, she loves my daughter. All those years I thought we were meant for each other? Well, maybe we were meant to have Liv, but past that? I realize that I was just one person in the way of someone better for him. I actually text him after meeting her, “I like her. Don’t eff it up.”

My daughter still lets me know that she’d discuss an arrangement where dad, girlfriend and I could all live together in a compound sort of environment where she’d also have a trampoline, two dogs and four fish. I just have to say the word. I remind her of how much she loves dad’s girlfriend and she agrees with a sing-song sigh, “Alright. Don’t worry mom. I’ll find someone else that loves you.”

I have to laugh at her sweet, manipulative and earnest little heart.

I ran into Girlfriend after a hot yoga class a few weeks ago. She wanted to make sure Liv was ok with her moving in to their house and I shared that she was, “She loves you.” Liv once told me that she wanted a mom at dad’s house and I told her the story explaining that she just loves being around feminine energy so it makes sense that she’s more settled with the living arrangements. Girlfriend very quickly sided with me, “You are always the mom!” I smiled, appreciative for the unnecessary gesture, “The best thing that could happen for Liv is to be surrounded by women who love her. She will be the most well-adjusted woman.”

Girlfriend looked a little surprised and, in response, I couldn’t help but think about Liv’s earlier offer.

I certainly do hope that when she makes good on her promise to find the guy who loves me he will also come with a really cool Ex.

Like me.

Flex flex.

#grownup

 

 

Co-Parenting: You Thought You Were A Grown Up

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All I ever wanted was my family – that cellular group that defined my role in life. I wanted the husband, the children and the ridiculous English Springer Spaniel that jumped in the tub with the kids after dinner. We would laugh while bubbles filled the air and my husband wrapped me up in his arms. Oddly enough I pictured this happening in a house somewhere in the Northeast with a Lexus in the driveway.

My idea of family was based on a scripted commercial and it smacked of Kay Jewelers and a luxury car brand.

I never thought the angelic being that finally came to me would look up at me with saucer-like blue eyes and ask, at three years old, if I liked her dad.

It was one question that sat atop a lot of other questions and worries that make my chest tight as she awaits my response:

Do you love my dad?

You and daddy keep getting new houses. I’m scared you are both going to get a new house and leave me in one of the old ones.

Do I have one dad? Will I always have one dad? Will I have two dads and two moms? How many parents am I going to get?

Like her mom, all my daughter has ever wanted was a family. Her father and I speak regularly so we can handle her questions and concerns as a united front and sometimes we deliver the message in the same room. It is important our daughter knows we are always here for her no matter the house.

I remember being in the same room with Liv’s father the moment our fertility doctor turned the screen to us and a little being full of light and energy and sparkles danced across the screen. Her dad said she looked like a seahorse. We talked about how our seahorse would be raised, the values we would instill, the lessons we would share, us both children of divorce. My husband and I talked fervently about raising a beautiful majestic little seahorse in a two-parent union where all we wanted was a family, which we very quickly got around to irrevocably imploding.

Our seahorse is now the only thread that holds us together.

The State of Nevada requires you to attend a three hour course prior to granting your divorce when children are involved. A social worker who came from a broken family stood before us and explained every little way you were breaking your child and how the damage wasn’t just a now thing, but a forever thing.

I cried for three straight hours.

I also realized the following year would be dedicated to making sure my daughter survived the damage in the healthiest way possible. There would be no relationships, no dates, no nothing. The State shared daunting statistics and it was clear that no relationships entered within the first year of divorce would remain intact after you got through the business of healing, vulnerability and grief. It was the first time I’ve ever been given permission to have what they referred to as Temporary Adult Relationships, I think the state just made booty calls sound like a bailout program.

We were told that you must die to the relationship you had and look at your new relationship as a business arrangement. No more squabbling over who did what, no more fighting, get over yourself. You are in the business of raising this child with this person and the State recommends joint custody, so figure it out.

The first time my daughter came home to tell me a woman I didn’t know painted her nails at daddy’s house it was extremely hard for me to die to the relationship and get over myself. Another woman was mothering my child with the man I had her with and I couldn’t help but feeling replaced. It took a full 24 hours to pull myself out of the emotion and recognize that my daughter would inevitably have other women in her life. The best thing I could do for her, my daughter, would be to forge good relationships with the women that become her village.

My daughter recently told me I was her old mom and she hopes to get a new mom at daddy’s house. We had to talk through her definitions and she finally explained, “You’ll always be my mom and you and daddy are my always family, but I’d like to have a mom at dad’s house too.”

I didn’t feel threatened this time. Rather than being hurt I recognized my child is a girl’s girl and she is drawn to the warmth and nurturing arms of women in her life. I couldn’t ask for a better end result than a well-adjusted woman surrounded by loving mother figures. She actually decided she wants to marry one of her little girlfriends the other day because, “I think a baby would like to have two moms.”

Of course she’d like to have a mom at dad’s house.

I hope she gets a great one.

I am shocked at how emotionally resilient we can be when we recognize our ability to make each situation better for our children, to think of their eventuality. It isn’t natural, but it is doable with intention. It requires that I leave behind ego, my own hurt and my pride. While some women might not be able to fathom such things I promise you that it gets easier over time and why fight something that is inevitable? Another woman will never take your place, but she can compliment the love your child feels from the collective of caregivers.

What I find astounding is that I truly believe it helped me grieve and heal in a very healthy way. I now have more of a detached friendship with her father because we’ve had to build it per her request. The way her eyes shine and how she hums and sings and laughs and loves when her mom and her dad are present with her as her family forgives the how or the why.

After all, we have a seahorse to raise.