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Challenge: Finding Your Voice as a Parent

Team Parenting (sucks)

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My husband is already cringing from the title alone.

Remember, honey, writing does serve as therapy at times. Writing serves as my mental workshop, you could say. Remember, this has been thoroughly edited, imagine what could have been! And remember, the only one being forced to read this is, well, you, my love.

Can I get an “amen?”

Sorry, wrong order.

Parenting is challenging on a regular, run-of-the-mill day. Parenting in the torrential rain that is other people’s opinions, well…Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’s very good friend and I’d love eight ounces of communion wine, stat.

Can I get an “amen?”

Co-parenting, team-parenting, blended family-ing - whatever you want to call it - really isn’t as fun as it seems. Sure, there are opportunities to blow off unpopular decisions onto the “entire parenting team” rather than take sole responsibility for the rolled eyes or firmly shut doors. Sure, there can be an abundance of free weekends (well, until the kids are old enough to decide to stay home with a surprise announcement just before you begin your date night). Sure, if you’re lucky, there might even be a whole second household helping to fund those shared children.

But often, there are also moments of banging heads against a wall (our heads, not the little buggers’).

It is hard to be the parents in a child’s primary home when those who do not share your roof question your decisions or choices or daily mode of operation. It is harder when “questioning” blurs straight into “undermining.” Even today, a decade past my group-parenting hazing, there are moments when I just want to scream, “we got this!”

For my husband, it’s easier. He’s used to it. His mother voted herself onto the parenting team the second sperm and egg united (No, really. She may have been peeking in the window). He’s dealt with an extra player on the field for twenty years. He has reached a zen level of letting unwelcome words roll in one ear and out the other. No, he did not expect to do a wife swap midway through the raising of the children, but by then he had fully mastered the art of glazed eyes pretending to listen. Bless his heart.

We have reached the parental period of high fives in our home as we have successfully grown two (terrific, if I do say so myself) baby adults. In the many moments when we felt like we were not nailing our rearing roles, our end-of-day benchmark was “okay, but did anybody die?” No. Nothing we did, right or wrong, ended in real tragedy. Both children are thriving and making their own paths in this world. No, they may not be the paths we picked but hey, we did raise them to be independent thinkers.

You would think, by now, those high fives could now be shared by the entire parenting team. You would think, by now, we could get one tiny “nice work!” from the peripheral members. Or maybe just a snippet of a break from the rehashing of things we have done wrong, are doing wrong, or will probably do wrong tomorrow.

My poor husband. When I feel flustered by this cluster, I talk myself off the ledge by focusing on what he has to deal with. A mother, a biological mother, and a stepmother. Every decision made involves a whiteboard tracking predicted responses from each of three maternal figures and an abacus to weigh that decision’s worth. Every sniffle or scraped knee must be reported, to those outside our home, with a dissertation on how it could have been avoided, how it was treated, and what we have learned.

Yes, his home is his castle and his castle is surrounded by a moat of quicksand.

I am the most involved of those three maternal figures in the lives of our children. This is something I’m very proud of. This is something I’ve worked very hard to earn and be confident with. Still, the pushback on my thoughts, when it comes to the children, is sky-high. This means that my husband’s thoughts are endangered as well (surely, he only follows my path with no thoughts of his very own, right?). I suppose some would argue the fairness of my parental input, what with that pesky “step” in front of my title. None of us, inside of our home, see it that way - kids included.

Recent infractions? Feeding our children unique foods, not buying our college kid her very own car, insisting both children work during the summer, chores, invasion of privacy…well, you get it. Our retractions? No, we have never served as line cooks for our children (they now have amazing palettes and, also, we did not/do not strap them down and/or forcibly shove the food in). College kid does not need a car as there is nowhere to park it, plenty of walking-distance opportunities, and bus service (also, her primary need for a car is to travel to out-of-town concerts - which she has prioritized on her own dime without a provided car). Summer jobs are as old as the human race (and the benefits are being reaped, hello, sense of pride!). Chores exist, do I even have to explain this one? (okay, we want our children to have onus in their surroundings, and said chores have never been out of line with their age). Invasion of privacy? No more than every other responsible parent (still not sure how we flip-flopped from “your kids should not have to do their own laundry” to “doing your kids’ laundry ( on occasion) is an invasion of privacy.”).

Admittedly, we are no smarter than the average parent. We know that the decisions we make today will shape who our baby adults are tomorrow. We are very respectful of that notion which means sometimes we have to take the more difficult path in order to create a better path for our children. Everything we do/say/implement has loads of thought behind it. We do not take this parenting thing lightly, you see. Though, yes, we do nod and smile a lot.

We often tag back to our favorite Anna Quindlen excerpt, written about a disagreement she’d had with her son and daughter-in-law. The miff related to her new grandchild and not letting Nana Anna have agency in all of the child-raising things. When Quindlen relayed this terrible development to a friend, the friend shocked her by not jumping on her angry bandwagon. What the actual what??? Instead, Quindlen was presented with a simple response: “Well, did they ask?”

As in, Nana Anna, did your son (or daughter-in-law) ASK for your help?

We typically do not ask. We stopped asking our inner circle years ago. We do fine without it, relying more on input from close friends or less invasive family. It is easier. There are more rewards.

And, we get the occasional high-five.

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