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Co-Parenting: What I Want Vs. Reality by Niki Billingslea

Although my son’s father and I decided not to be a traditional nuclear family, I wanted us to get along. It was not long before I realized that what I want and what he wanted were two entirely different perceptions of reality. Despite the clashes in our outlooks, I held onto the vision of adults committed to providing the best examples of what it means to be human in the world.

In the unchallenged idea of myself, I thought I was a cool enough to maintain an amicable, if not friendly, relationship with my child’s father. No one was happier than I when he found the woman he wanted to commit to and with whom he wanted to share his life.  I hoped that his having a stable relationship would improve the quality of our interactions. It did, and my son and I benefited directly from his loving relationship.

It was so beautiful, I pictured co-parenting as a wonderful Alice Walker type chapter in my life where all the adults are so in love with life and so in tune with their spiritual selves that the only thing we could do was what is best for our child.

I had visions of holidays with all of our families melded together: mine, his, his wife’s, my partner’s. I did not see why our not being compatible had to stop us from being supportive of each other, loving each other, and sharing our lives with our son and our partners.  This vision supported my personal philosophy to be in a constant state of bliss.

I pictured co-parenting as a wonderful Alice Walker type chapter in my life where all the adults are so in love with life and so in tune with their spiritual selves that the only thing we could do was what is best for our child.

In my universe, the commitment to come together presents more opportunities to love, more opportunities to grow, and more opportunities to present our son with ways of being a well-adjusted person in this world. Do not be mistaken, all of my fantasies of a melded family were not of us smiling and skipping hand-in-hand. I truly believed that the best of situations would also present us with challenges, personality clashes, and misunderstandings that could be resolved by keeping in mind that we are family and there is nothing that we cannot work through and work out.

The harsh reality was that, on more than one occasion, he felt compelled to tell me that he hated me. He hated me for having his child. He hated me for pursuing child support. He hated me for not being the kind of woman he could control. I have since gotten over the shock of that negative perception of me, but I often wonder to this day, how could anyone hate me?

I have had to reconcile what I want and the reality of this family. Despite the dissonance and lack of alignment with our perceptions, I am not giving up on what I want because I feel like it is a pretty good standard to aspire. I show my son’s father love, I am supportive in the ways that he allows me, and I stay in a forgiving emotional space so that my son can experience his parents interacting together peacefully and cooperatively.

I pray that one day we can all get along, learn how to better articulate our needs and see past our individual sets of issues so that we can relate to each other constructively. In the meantime, it is essential that I dig down deep and do the work of being the love I want to see in our soon-to-be melded family. My practice has deepened and I have witnessed profound growth in his father.

We can actually have conversations without his getting angry with me. I understand that I do not have to protect myself because he cannot hurt me, and I do not have to be afraid of the next disappointment. There will be plenty of disappointments to come, but I have decided they will not define me. I refuse to be held prisoner by sadness or the circumstances which do not unfold according to my plan.

I am deriving great pleasure from learning to observe life as it happens, accepting my loved ones for who they are and hold a space of love and forgiveness as we correct our paths and move forward toward peace.  I am not perfect and sometimes I want to be the little me, not the Great Me, but I think about the person I am trying to be and the example I am trying to set for my son then I immediately get some “act right” in my life.


NIKI BILLINGSLEA has been an adjunct assistant professor of English at Los Angeles Southwest College since 1997. She has an M.F.A. in creative writing from Brooklyn College, where she studied with beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Her journalistic contributions include hip hop magazines and community news sources. Her poetry and fiction have been published in anthologies, academic journals and poetry publications, including a self-published chapbook.

She has performed as a singer with The Voice of U.G.M.A.A., a jazz choir founded by Horace Tapscott, directed by Dwight Trible and danced with Abalaye African Dance Ensemble.