Jackson is a pretty lucky kid. He has two houses, four parents, thirteen grandparents and great-grandparents, and two younger siblings with another one on the way. He gets to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, and his birthday festivities usually carry on for the entire month of February just to make sure everyone gets their chance to see him. Jackson is a result of co-parenting and we are lucky enough to be his mom and stepmom. We are so excited to share our story, long and convoluted as it may be, during this series of columns, Adventures in Co-Parenting.
We’re not huge fans of statistics, but the truth remains that the divorce rate in the US has been hovering around 50% for a number of years now. Chances are, you know someone who is raising children after a divorce, break-up, or less-than-perfect situation, or you are doing so yourself. Whatever it is that happened to the relationship between mother and father, and we realize that sometimes it can get extremely ugly, adjusting your parenting afterwards can be one of the trickiest and most stressful aspects of the situation. It is our hope that sharing our experiences from both sides of the situation will help parents, co-parents, and step-parents alike navigate the waters of raising children together, separately.
Julie: I am an evil stepmother. Well, not really. But I am a stepmother and at some point in history, it was declared that we are supposed to be evil. I have been doing my very best to refute this ugly rumor since becoming a stepmom three years ago. When I agreed to marry my wonderful husband, JT, I was well aware that I would be getting two guys out of the deal. We were moving from Manhattan to Saratoga to be closer to Jackson, whom JT had been travelling to see every weekend for five years. What I should have suspected, yet failed to see due to my impending bride-hood and newlywed gloriousness, was that I was also marrying Katie.
Sure, we got along fine. She was pleasant and cordial. I was pleasant and cordial. We moved around the block from Katie and her husband, so we saw each other…a lot. Some female acquaintances of mine would attempt to goad me into saying negative things about her. So what’s she like? Is she pretty? Is she terrible? I was confused and disturbed. Is that how I was supposed to feel about this woman? Well, yes she’s pretty and she’s kind of perfect. Katie is perfect in that whole impeccably dressed/house is always spotless/makes her own whole-grain pizza dough kind of way. I quickly realized that she was a lot of things that I was not. On top of all this, she had had a baby with my husband.
Arguably, the most intimate experience two people can share is having a child. It was intimidating to me that Katie had, in a sense, beaten me to the finish line before I had even started the race. After a while of attempting to wrap my brain around this and being insecure about where my place would be in the parenting schematic, I realized that I had to get over it. I had to get over myself. It wasn’t my insecurities that mattered; the only person that mattered here was Jackson. I can hear the stories about Jackson as a baby and browse through his baby album, but never can I be a part of those first five years of his life. It doesn’t matter though, because I am a part of his life now. Present tense.
Katie: Jackson’s father, JT, and I did try to make it work, but it didn’t take us long to realize that we just weren’t meant to be together. We were meant to have Jackson; we just weren’t compatible when it came to a relationship. Considering where we both stand now, it has become very clear that everything worked out as it should have.
There was a time, after we had broken up, that we were having a very civil conversation about starting to date again. While the mood was very light and we were mostly joking, I couldn’t understand why I was starting to feel so angry. For days it bothered me. I was puzzled. I knew I wanted both of us to move on and be happy, so why was I so upset?
Then I thought about what another woman in JT’s life really meant. It meant another woman in my Jackson’s life- and essentially another woman in my life. I hated the very thought of even considering another woman around Jackson. I am Jackson’s mom. That’s it. I feared the day JT brought a woman near him more than almost anything else. I was the lioness, and Jackson was my cub. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop my mind from jumping to the very worst image of a woman who wouldn’t speak to him nicely and didn’t know the right way to cut his sandwich or put him to bed at night. Even the idea of this hypothetical woman sharing my son was terrifying. I can only imagine JT felt the same way about other men being around Jackson. But finally, I realized in order for everyone to move on, we had to let go of the jealousy and trust that we would choose good people to be around our child. And letting go of those insecurities meant letting others in. Shortly after, I let Josh into my life and JT let Julie into his.
Our Conclusion: As most of you already know, to be a good parent, step-parent, or co-parent you need to take this first step: get over yourself. There is a certain level of egotism and self-centeredness that goes out the window as soon as you become a parent, and kids seem to know just how to keep it in check when it creeps back in. To do this, they will do things including, but not limited to: throw up on the first new outfit you’ve treated yourself to in six months, talk back to you in public in front of that woman who will give you “judgy” eyes, and inform you that your efforts at potty training have been for naught because they have, in fact, just pooped on the floor.
There are lots of feelings flying around when a relationship doesn’t work out, especially if the wound is still fresh. Sometimes the only thing to do is let go of your own ego, jealousies, insecurities and intimidations. These are only concepts, fleeting and detrimental. So remember this mantra if you find yourself drifting into the land of petty worries and concerns: get over yourself. And for goodness’ sake, go clean the poop up off the floor.
Julie Cox lives in Saratoga and is a high school English teacher. She loves being a mom to Jackson (10), Declan (2), and is looking forward to welcoming a new baby this fall.
Katie Nemer is a life-long Saratogian who recently left pharmaceutical sales and made the switch to being a full-time stay at home mom to Jackson (10) and Zoe (2).