As I sit here this morning working from home because I have a sick 23-month-old that cannot attend daycare, I find myself reflecting a lot about this experience that is being a working mom. It is most definitely nothing like what I could have possibly imagined two years ago when my husband and I were patiently awaiting the arrival of our first child. But as the cliché goes, right on his due date he made his appearance (he gets his punctuality from his father) and everything changed.
I knew being a working mom would be hard, but I also imagined having it mostly together – continue my career, breastfeed exclusively until my child turned one, take him to activities like My Gym, baby music classes and Mommy & Me swim to get him engaged early, read him a different story every day, make healthy meals and exercise, and have everything together for the next day before going to bed each night. Arrogant, I know, but hadn’t my mom and my grandmothers done it? Hadn’t they taken care of all the childcare stuff while still working because that is what we are supposed to do? And everywhere I looked it seemed there were working moms who had it all together. I wanted to handle it the way I thought they were handling this working mom thing. If you are a working mom or just a woman in general, you probably know what I am talking about. Women tend to imagine the women around them are doing everything right, while we are barely keeping it together. We tend to romanticize the women in our lives that we have looked up to and idealized.
When I think about it now, I usually find myself smiling, sometimes even laughing at these crazy ideas I had. And sometimes, I am still hard on myself and think that if I tried a little harder I could have it more together the way I thought I would. My days mostly fall somewhere on the scale of organized chaos to outright chaos. I have learned that most of the things I thought would be easy are actually really hard. I have learned that many of the women that seemed to have it all together are going through the same experience as me. So too I have come to realize that we almost never do it alone. Despite what I remembered, my mom and my grandmothers did not do it alone (it was, after all, my father who drove me to the skating rink at 6:00 in the morning and built pinewood derby cars with my brothers). I can still very vividly recall a female Judge telling me not long after I had my son, to make sure I let my husband help – you will succeed, he will succeed, and your children will succeed if you work together. Her point – parenting is a team sport. This is true no matter the status of your relationship. Parenting is a team sport whether you are married, divorced, living together or separated.
Before I had a child, I often would advise my clients on the importance of co-parenting. I would tell them their children were going to experience a lot of changes and the best thing they could do for them is make sure they know that their parents are still their parents and that this will not change. I would remind them that they and their spouse or significant other have been doing this parenting thing together up till now – pickups and drop-offs from activities, especially when there are multiple activities that overlap, doctor’s and dentist appointments, sc
hool projects – and the divorce or separation will only be made harder if they decide they are no longer going to work together on these things. While I knew what I was telling them was true, I had no idea how true it actually was until I experienced parenting first hand and realized that sharing the responsibilities would in fact give my child his best chance at succeeding and having the things I wanted for him.
Co-parenting can be difficult for sure. The notion of breaking up with someone you once had a relationship with yet remaining connected and working together as a unit is almost certainly contrary to some of our most basic instincts. And there are unquestionably instances where it is not a possibility. Generally, though, most parents agree that their children are the most important thing to them – the one thing they are most grateful for. With that in mind, the best gift you can give your children during a separation, the best chance you can give them for a healthy and happy adjustment, is to put their needs first and continue to co-parent. There will undoubtedly be changes and kinks that will need to be worked out along the way. In the long run, however, co-parenting is almost always better for the health and stability of the children and the parents too.