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Mom Talk: The Challenges Of Co-Parenting

Written by Jamie Smith

Photography by Rachel Kaye, photographed by Maria Del Rio

We’re back with our new “Mom Talk” column, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. In this week’s essay, Jamie Smith discusses raising her daughter through divorce and learning how to co-parent. -JKM

Of all the parts of my impending divorce that I dreaded, telling my daughter was the part I dreaded most. I was keenly aware that telling her would not be a one time sit-down, but a slow unraveling—a peeling back of layers as the years marched on. As she gets older, there are new questions—different questions. Just as divorce was a shedding of an old life for me, it was the birth of a new reality for my daughter and that has not come without its challenges.

I vividly remember packing her tiny Frozen backpack for that first overnight. I sobbed in my car for an hour after they pulled away, trying to squash visions of her sleeping in a strange new bed. I still get choked up when I think of the nights I haven’t been able to tuck her into the bed or the boo-boos I haven’t kissed and bandaged. Co-parenting is the furthest thing from what anyone envisions when they decide to have a child. It’s one of the few times in life where you have to resolve yourself to go against your natural instincts—for years.

Still, as the years have passed, I have found it to be easy to be candid (albeit, age appropriate) with her. Recently, when she asked me if we were still a family even though we didn’t have the same last name, we made a list of all of our relatives and their last names—still family, always family. When she asks me why Mommy and Daddy can’t be together, it’s trickier, but we don’t side-step those conversations. We talk about the things that make us unique and special and how important it is to honor those parts of ourselves. I remind her that it’s okay to choose the friends who make us feel the best about ourselves. I want her to learn from my mistakes.

In the years since we started co-parenting, my ex and I have experienced some definite growing pains. I found the division of assets and time with our daughter to be the easiest part. We settled our own custody arrangement using a template we bought online—we checked off a series of boxes, I typed it up, we took it to the courthouse, and that was that. It wasn’t until we started living out that agreement that I realized you cannot put every parenting qualm into a contract.

My ex doesn’t see the value of dance class. He often keeps her up too late. He usually buys her a toy on his weekends and has created an expectation for material things I really can’t stand. There is a constant, unfiltered influence in my daughter’s life that cannot control—it’s not easy. However, I decided early, and remind myself often, that my daughter and I would not be victims of this experience. I want my daughter to look back on her childhood and value the decisions we made—that they meant less fighting, more people to love her, more fulfilled and happy parents. I think the only way to make this happen is to choose my battles.

I think I stayed married for years longer than I would have because somewhere along the line I subscribed to the narrative that a failed marriage reflected on me as a person, and a parent. Since my divorce, I have purchased my own home, excelled in my career, and met the man of my dreams. I have placed a premium on my well-being and I make sure my daughter sees that. I know that I have shown her that there is life after big mistakes. I hope that by listening to her concerns and giving her the answers she deserves, I am empowering her to be the kind of woman who can walk away from what doesn’t work and fully embrace whatever comes her way.

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