The Value of Step-Parenting Collaboration
On joining teams and paving a new way with my partner’s ex.
When my relationship came to an end and I entered the dating world as a single parent, it was a steep learning curve. What really opened my eyes though was when, years later, I entered into my first relationship with another single parent and experienced a whole new side of blended family dynamics.
I’m in a fortunate position where my partner and his ex are on good terms, so my experience was starting on fairly solid ground. Still, as a new adult in the life of his child I was able to take responsibility for helping the dynamic stay that way. My challenging experiences trying to parent after the end of my own relationship helped me to understand how valuable it would be for everyone involved if the adult dynamics were healthy. I made a conscious decision that I would keep the most important lens firmly in place: what’s best for the child?
After talking about it with my partner, I reached out to the mother of his child. To my delight we ended up having a meaningful mother-to-mother conversation where I felt able to express a few important things, she was able to openly hear them, and we could create a path forward.
I was starting to spend regular time with her daughter.
It may seem obvious that if I’m dating someone with a child, at some point I would start spending time with that child. But as a mother, I realised how much I would have appreciated the gesture of someone with that location in my own children’s lives reaching out to me. The thought of someone new spending time with your child can be loaded with emotions, and I’m a firm believer that opening lines of communication is almost always the best course of action.
The most important thing would continue to be her daughter’s best interests.
So many things fall under this category. This means that I will always respect that my partner is a parent first, and my partner second. This means that I will support the decisions they make as parents, and I will never undermine or disparage the child’s mother in any way. That is a sacred relationship and it’s one that must be protected. It means if I choose to be part of this child’s life, I am joining her team and I will do my best to always be a good team player.
The door would remain open if she ever needed to reach out.
While I don’t share a home with my partner and his daughter, my children and I do have a regular presence in their lives. We spend plenty of family time together and the bonds are close-knit. I wanted this other mama orbiting around my world to know that if she ever had any concerns, questions or conversation that she wanted to have around things happening in her daughter’s life I would be happy to talk. I wanted her to know that I would never see it as an imposition to “my life with my partner”.
She and I have had a few conversations over the last couple of years and I regularly consider my gratitude for the fact that we have this non-toxic, communication-based foundation. This means that the little girl at the centre of it all can have birthdays where all of her loved ones can be present without invasive tensions. I have been able to help plan mother’s day and christmas gifts for her mama and feel joyful scheming rather than the discomfort I know can be present in these complex relationships.
This dialogue isn’t available to everyone. The key here is that all the people involved, while having differences in the adult world, were able to carry a sense of collaboration and respect into their co-parenting relationship. In dynamics of deeper dysfunction or abuse, such a conversation can be out of reach.
I don’t have the story I’ve seen some people share, with co-parents and new partners becoming a close friend group heavily involved in each other’s lives. I would describe this more as a silent partnership, though who knows what the future holds. But this supportive silent partnership was a deliberate co-creation of two women holding a unique role in each other’s lives. We are connected through a child, and I’m thankful that she has chosen to welcome me as part of that particular team.