Parenting

Published on March 24th, 2014 | by Erin Wilkins

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ERIN WILKINS on the Beauty and Sadness of Co-Parenting

When my kid was a baby and I went to work while she was at daycare I clearly remember feeling like I missed her in the same way a person might miss someone they were newly in love with. Driving to pick her up I would think about her and how it would feel to have her in my arms and get a visceral rush of emotions – like butterflies in my stomach that – put a smile on my face. I couldn’t wait to see her and be near her.

She was born when me and her other mom were both about 31. None of our friends had kids yet. Certainly none of our queer friends, and we didn’t really hang around with many straight people. We were kind of a queer poster family because young-ish parents are uncommon in our community. Eventually, through being pregnant and having a new baby we found other queer parents to spend time with and some of the few straight people we knew had babies too. So I had community in lots of places on the parenting spectrum – queers with no kids, straights with kids, queers with kids, and lots of stuff in between. We broke up when our kid turned 2 and the short story is that we have been splitting time with her equally ever since then.

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On my days as a single parent I get tired. We wake up at 6:30 a.m. like clockwork. The mornings are the best time. On most days I wake up with her in my bed. She stumbles into my room during the middle of the night and climbs in to be my bedmate. She likes to have a lot of body contact while we sleep. She slings her legs over me or rests her hand on my face. I can hear her breath and I like it. As a baby she woke up 4 or 5 times a night to nurse and it still feels like a miracle that she can sleep through an entire night at all. From a seemingly deep sleep she opens her eyes fast and sits up straight in bed when morning comes. She smiles big and says “Mama, it’s time to get up.” This kid has energy. She likes to move her body and she likes to talk. She has imagination. I think she’s really smart. Our intention each weekday is to get ready for school and work, brush our teeth and hair, get dressed in clean clothes, eat something, put socks and shoes on, get ourselves out the door on time. Some days we are lucky if we actually accomplish all of these things. Sometimes the less important tasks are forgotten.

During my time with my daughter I often move between feeling a deep need to be fully present with her and a deep need to mentally retreat into the internet or a magazine or an art project. The mental and physical stress of taking care of a 3 year old without help is intense. Her extroversion and energy sometimes push the boundaries of my introversion and need for quiet. Still, to even say out loud that part-time single parenting is hard and overwhelming feels dramatic and indulgent. I am amazed – AMAZED – by the single parents who do this every day. Sometimes at the end of a 3 or 4 day stretch of solo parenting I feel like I’m going to fall apart at any second.

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When her other mom and me were still together and we all lived in the same house I felt like a good mom every day. A fucking great mom, actually. I grew this strong, awesome baby in my body. I made milk and fed her for two whole years. I didn’t sleep more than 4 hours in a row for over a year! Now, on most days, I feel like just a pretty okay mom. Sometimes I feel like a bad mom.  And nothing’s really changed in the way I parent my daughter other than that I’m only with her half the time now. The distance between us somehow makes me feel like I’m not doing enough or being enough.

She is safe. She is loved. She is happy and she has fun. These are all of the things I want and hope for her, but still, I’m not there to see all of it.

When we are apart we use technology to keep in touch. Send me a picture, I miss her. How’s my baby? Did she have a good day at school today? Did she sleep through the night last night? Luckily, we only live ten blocks from each other.

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The flip side of the grief and struggle of being apart from my kid is intense and a little beautiful.

During the time that my daughter is with her other mom I have the type of freedom that only other parents can truly appreciate. When I’m on my own I get to clean my apartment. I take showers by myself for as long as I want and I can pee on my own without a kid sitting on my lap. I go on dates! I can stay up late if I want. I spend time with friends and by myself. I work on art projects and read books. To people without kids these seem like fairly ordinary activities, I know. But to people with young kids these things are luxuries. These things are rare. They are special. And so I feel lucky. I say sometimes that I have the best of both worlds, which feels really true for me.

I’m slowly getting used to the juxtaposition of my days but it’s not always simple or easy to make sense of. The way I spend my time and walk through the world varies widely depending on whether I am parenting or not. I have learned how much I value the people in my life who see and know the multiple sides of me. Mother/person. It’s easy for me to feel fractured these days, and while it often feels uneasy I also appreciate the unique opportunity I have to realize the different parts of myself. I am a mother and I am a person. I get to do these things simultaneously in a way that many of my parent friends don’t.

The reality of our situation is that we don’t get to be together as a family all the time. I try not to feel bad about this. Ideally I would want to be with her always. Every day. No question. But that’s not how it worked out and so I appreciate the silver linings very much. It is not perfect and it does not always feel great, but I think we are doing good.

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About the Author

Erin Wilkins

Erin Wilkins grew up in Kansas City, MO and currently resides in Minneapolis. She is a queer single mama of a 2 1/2 year old. She likes to write about reproductive justice and parenting, and she works at a community sexual health clinic called Family Tree Clinic.



13 Responses to ERIN WILKINS on the Beauty and Sadness of Co-Parenting

  1. Victoria says:

    I loved this, and I can very much relate in regards to when you are around your daughter versus not around her. It’s odd when they aren’t around despite getting the freedom. I always feel like a piece of me is missing, but I do the same and make the best of it. Paint, books, movies, write, etc.

    • erin erin says:

      victoria, thanks for the message! i try to enjoy the time off as much as i can, but it’s hard to do sometimes when you miss your kid so much. glad you could relate 🙂

  2. lacy j davis says:

    Erin wilkins, You are a champion mom, I just know it. I always think about when we had coffee and you said “I feel like I was meant to be a mother.” How can someone with such passion be anything but excellent?

    <3

    • erin erin says:

      Thank you lacy davis! i don’t remember that particular coffee date but it’s really awesome to hear that i felt that way even before leo came along. i totally appreciate you!

  3. Ethan says:

    What a great article! Thank you for sharing your story. It’s so helpful to hear how other people are doing it and surviving.

  4. Nina Nina says:

    Thank you! A lovely meditation on the peculiar pain/freedom of co-parenting. I really related to all of it. Taking care of kids alone is grueling, and yet having time to yourself is sometimes completely exhilarating and sometimes cold comfort. I’ve been doing it a while and still find it difficult to parent so hard for a stretch of days and then find myself in silence. Nice to know others get it. I loved reading this. Thanks, Erin.

  5. Heather says:

    Words cannot express how much I needed to read this right now! We are slowly transitioning into a split week between the two households now that my son has finished nursing. This is a great reminder of these now “quiet-empty lap” days when I feel suddenly alone and sometimes clueless on what to do next.

    – heather

  6. Anthony Castellano says:

    There are some strong truths here. We have a 1 year old so I can overall relate to your story and feel your challenges while reading this. thank you for sharing and writing this.

  7. Shani says:

    Hi, Erin,

    Thank you for your beautiful article.
    I have two kids, now ages 17 and 10, whom I have split-parented and co-parented since they were toddlers. Two different “other” parents mean two very different experiences, for sure. It is de-isolating to hear you plainly describe your experience, and it seems so similar to mine- especially my co-parent situation. Even in that relatively more functional situation, my kid always misses one parent while with the other, and I sometimes get discouraged about the grief I feel when the schedule shifts, or when I calculate (on really bad days) how much time I miss with the kids. Oddly enough, even though we live in a big city and a fairly family-oriented part of the that city (for queer and other parents), it still seems like finding another single parent is a stealth operation that is a lucky, under-the-radar co-incidence. Do you feel like you are hiding out? I do.

  8. Amber says:

    Thank you for this post! I am in a coparenting situation as well and can very much relate to what you wrote! Especially the 4th paragraph. When my son (4 year old) is gone I can do so much but also feel guilty for enjoying my time with out him and miss him so much. I feel so lonely with out him. Then when I have him it is so taxing I just feel like I want a moment of peace. When he leaves to go off with his dad then I feel so bad for all the times saying “stop! give me a minute” and for putting him on hold so much and wish he was there saying “mommy watch this!” I have this idea like we are going do do quality things like art projects and end up using the TV so I can cook in peace. Caring for him is very invigorating and draining at the same time.

  9. Aislynne says:

    I needed to hear this as I can relate. I just dropped my son off at his dads and I feel this emptiness, shame and guilt. I think as if I could had done better and different in our time together but I did my best. Thank you for sharing this.

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