RAISING LOUISIANA


Annie is a single mama and the founder of Muditā Yoga and Therapy in the Marigny, where she works as a trauma therapist and yoga teacher.


THE PERKS OF BEING A CO-PARENT

The song that marked the worst break-up of my life, “Ether & Wood” by Alela Diane, starts with, “Fell asleep on the hardwood floor / 3 o’clock in the afternoon.” I listened to this on repeat while I laid on the hardwood floor of the yoga studio where I teach. I had always wanted to be a mother and I was terrified to be a single one with a six-month-old. The idea of co-parenting felt completely foreign and impossible. I’m a pretty strong and independent person, but this was not a situation I foresaw for myself.

Heartache and longing have created my absolute favorite music. We grieve, we dance, and we move forward—sometimes better than others, but lovers and exes alike get their chapters in our lives. The children conceived, adopted, or fostered in some of these scenarios, on the other hand, get an entire life’s book. As a society we’ve creatively maneuvered and perhaps angrily danced our way into the concept of “co-parenting.”

Relationships splinter for many reasons. It’s been shown that marital satisfaction goes down for the first two years after a child is born. We are sleep-deprived and for many it feels impossible to create a “new normal” while society expects us to return to “normal” so soon after a baby arrives. There are many extraordinarily sweet moments in those early days: the first smile, finding toes, tiny baby giggles. Even so, the first six months are basic survival for all involved—not just the baby.

Beautiful moments and new life requirements make the shift into parenthood startling for many. The change in roles and experiences for couples can be overwhelming, joyful, irritating, groggy, loving, confusing, and many other things—all of them existing simultaneously. It was at this point that my relationship with my child’s father became very strained, and our break-up began.


It’s Trifficult

The dynamics of parenting on a good day can be trifficult (a word I thought my six-year-old invented, but I recently learned came from Bluey). We try our best and sometimes we have no idea what’s happening. As parents, we must learn how to meet our children’s needs, our needs, and our partner’s needs—an ever-changing pursuit. On top of this, the birthing parent’s brain literally changes. I remember bringing my daughter home from the hospital and quickly noticing how sharp all the knives were in my kitchen. My peace-loving, non-violent soul was ready to do anything to keep that fresh baby safe and sound.

Many new parents experience postpartum depression. What I find more common in my line of work is postpartum anxiety and the harsh impact of social isolation new parents experience, especially mothers. It’s only natural that these experiences change us and sometimes create distance between partners. Sometimes outside influences disrupt our relationships. The need for co-parenting in our modern world arises for a variety of reasons.

The language of “co-parenting” is somewhat functional. A heterosexual friend of mine offered sage advice that her doctor provided when she was pregnant—the male doctor told her and her husband not to keep score, that the mom always does more work. “Co” implies equality or a mutual relationship. That’s lovely, and if we lived in a utopian society I’d be totally into this idea, but whether a child has one primary parent or four, there’s typically not an equal share of responsibilities. The healthiest “co-parents” acknowledge this and express gratitude. Acceptance allows everyone to work within the dynamic and provide for the child or children in the best ways possible. We all have strengths—how can we share those with our children?

Bob Dylan wrote “Idiot Wind” in 1974, the year he separated from his wife Sara. He ends the song with the line, “It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.” It’s amazing that so many people decide to part ways—for a litany of great reasons—and yet still work together to give their littles good night kisses or hand their teenagers cash.

Most couples looking for therapy identify that their primary issue is “communication.” Sure, communication is problematic—especially when two people have different needs and are speaking different languages. But as co-parents we receive a new kind of freedom as a by-product of the break-up. People that co-parent might have days every other week or weekend where we don’t quite know what to do with ourselves, because we also get to have a full-blown adult life.


Play Time

I went back to school six weeks after my daughter was born. It was a surreal time and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity in my first semester at Loyola to be in a play therapy class. Many of us are not taught how to be parents. Many of us know we want to do better than our parents, but we might not exactly know how to get there. Most break-ups create instability in some capacity. How do we instill stability in children in such moments?

I think co-parenting during COVID helped many of us stumble through explaining—we get hip to changes because we have to, for survival. On a more evolved level, years before COVID, my play therapy class taught me that fear-based decisions aren’t a great way to lead your life. This has greatly impacted my co-parenting dynamic. Sometimes partners worry that something they make a decision about will annoy or frustrate their co-parent, creating yet another problem. Communication and acceptance are very important here. Talking about a potentially sensitive subject is best when both parents are calm, and that requires planning.

When it comes to how we communicate with our kids in a co-parenting situation, I learned a valuable truth in my play therapy training: Children use a different part of the brain when answering questions than they do during play (play being more natural for them). From an early point, it’s great for children to take pride in themselves, so the communication from both parents should reinforce that. For example, children will ask caregivers, “Do you like my drawing?” Most of the time we say great job! or something along those lines. In a play therapy setting, we say, “You’re very proud of your artwork,” and typically the kiddo is like “Yeah, I am!” Outside validation is great, but planting seeds of internal validation from time to time is also quite beneficial for a child’s confidence and can help reinforce stability in a time where kids are navigating new homes and a new dynamic between their parents.


Let’s Work Together

The invisible work of what folks do “seamlessly” is what makes the blood of many co-parents boil. We might resent the other parent (or parents) for not noticing the school schedule change or for forgetting the baseball game or curse them while we’re searching for the beloved stuffy when it’s already 10 minutes past bedtime. So, how exactly do we manage being fully a parent and fully an independent adult while navigating a sustainable relationship with the ex, their new partner, and other friends and family impacted by the break-up or divorce?

I think the key difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting is that co-parents are working both together and alongside each other (with likely different weight-bearing) and parallel parents are like independent contractors working on similar projects with very different approaches. As much as I disagree with my co-parent from time to time, I ultimately know that we both love our child dearly and hold some of the same values.

Perhaps the family values for one group are adventure, intuition, education, and openness. Another family might have efficiency, health, personal fulfillment, and serenity. I commonly ask people to pick 10 values and narrow it down. If co-parents can have a shared understanding of what is prioritized for the child or children, it gives them a stable foundation and the co-parents a sense of relief. It does not necessarily have to be explained to the kids (especially depending on where they are developmentally), but such values inform how we show up as people and parents.

Co-parenting needs both trust and respect in order to succeed. We don’t necessarily need to trust our co-parent in the same way we did throughout the situationship or marriage. We don’t need to trust them to parent just like us. We do need to establish parameters that allow the parents to trust that the kids will receive the care they need. This might look like clear expectations around scheduling or establishing pick-up and drop-off points. This also might mean important information is texted, emailed, or shared on an app like Our Family Wizard. We might have conversations about reliable emergency contacts and a hurricane plan. We can make requests, communicate clear boundaries, and manage to the best of our abilities.

It is extremely important that children do not bear the brunt of the strain in the relationship. Commonly, children become messengers between feuding adults. This parentifies them, giving them adult responsibilities at an inappropriate age. Some co-parents manage to communicate directly and it goes pretty well. Others use a mediator. Sometimes friends and family are helpful here. Trust and respect start with the adults, so the kiddos know how to embody it too.

Ultimately, functional co-parenting involves flexibility, compassion, and boundaries. Co-parents have some access to each other’s lives, but not the full picture—purposefully. We learn to appreciate and respect the distance while both loving our children. These days, I listen to “Ether & Wood” and it brings me joy. I am so incredibly grateful for the life I get to live as a result of that break-up. My relationship with my daughter was strengthened the most with that decision. The very thing I thought would be so hard for her has actually opened up more possibilities than I imagined. The most difficult years tend to be the most beautiful in retrospect.


New Orleans metro area parents! Want to share your experience with ANTIGRAVITY readers? We’re always looking for a wide variety of parenting voices and circumstances to explore each month. If you’re interested, please get in touch with Erin Hall or head to our About page to fill out a contributor form. 


illustration by Victoria Allen

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