Co-Parenting and Mrs. Brady

by mssinglemama on January 11, 2010

John and Benjamin had a bit of a falling out over our Christmas vacation. And if you think a three-year-old and a thirty-year-old can’t be at odds, than I’m about to enlighten you.

In October, I gave John permission to take Benjamin into time outs when he witnessed bad behavior, or when John found himself on the receiving end of the bad behavior. For example, if Benjamin took a swing at John while yelling something like “you butt picker” John had my blessing to take him into his bedroom for a chat and a time out. Then, in November, John took his discipline approach up a notch and started intervening when Benjamin was throwing a fit directed toward me, his one and only precious mama.

Soon our plan back fired and Benjamin started acting out toward John – not only on occasion, but very often. He began saying things to John like “don’t talk to me” and started crying at the idea of John watching him. It wasn’t pretty.

After a particularly bad night over the holidays we all sat down and then I channeled Mrs. Brady and started off our first “family” discussion with, “John can you tell Benjamin why you are upset.”

“Benjamin, tonight when you told me not to talk to you at dinner – you hurt my feelings.”

“Now, it’s your turn Benjamin. What do you say? Can you say I’m sorry?”

“No! Because John Bear hurt my feelings, too.”

“Why Benjamin? How did John Bear hurt your feelings?” I asked.

Because. He did.”

“Well, John Bear can you say ‘I’m sorry for hurting Benjamin’s feelings?’” John looked at me like I was crazy because technically, he hadn’t hurt Benjamin’s feelings and I was talking like a way too chipper psycho mom. But I kept pushing and after they both apologized to each other everyone went to bed, for better or worse.

The next day John and I re-assessed our discipline strategy.

“It’s just not working, or I’m not ready for you to discipline him, or Benjamin isn’t ready. Whatever the reason – you have to stop now and just enjoy him. Get in with him first. Earn his love and then you’ll have the respect you need to carry out any kind of fatherly discipline.”

John was silent, just listening and taking it all in or, my paranoid relationship saboteur-self thought, deciding he had had enough of me and us.

“You’re not his father yet. You’re still my boyfriend. And we shouldn’t rush this part of the equation. And when you’re over at my place, you can’t pay so much attention to me – you have to be completely focused on Benjamin because in his world, everyone is there to see him, to be with him. He shouldn’t have to fight for attention.”

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll do it. I’ll try my best.”

“And I’m not worried about how you’ll be as a father, John. You are going to be magnificent. It’s just too much for us all to take on. For you, for me and for Benjamin. Let’s just relax. And besides, I have three years of practice on you.”

I must have gone on for 10 minutes straight. Just talking openly and honestly about all of these things and realizing that I wasn’t ready, quite yet, to co-parent.

The next time they hung out John immersed himself in having fun with Benjamin. [Remember the scrambled eggs? Same thing.]

Single Mom Boyfriend

And just like that, some kind of light bulb went off and Benjamin decided he was madly in love with John Bear.

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Over the past few weeks John has had very little reason to discipline Benjamin because there hasn’t been a reason. And for me, as a single mom, this kind of scene is the stuff dreams are made of… this is my fairy tale.

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And may I always retain my ability to channel Mrs. Brady when necessary.

Related posts:

  1. Man things (and a video)
  2. Scrambled Eggs and AP Lit
  3. Pillow Talk
  4. My Boyfriend
  5. Hindsight

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

maureen January 11, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Ohhhhhhhh I love this post! It really would not be easy to co-parent after doing it on your own for so long luckily you have great men in your life to help you through the transition! Good job MSM

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notasoccermom January 11, 2010 at 10:16 pm

This is something I have lived and feared to live again. However, we each had multiple children and many emotions and many differing opinions on child-rearing.
Blending is the hardest part. You are the one who fell in love, Benjamin did not. Not that he wont, but he definitely needs to have some time.
However, Bear also needs respect. As do all adults in your childs life.
Good luck, glad this episode ended well

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Gershtown January 11, 2010 at 10:33 pm

I really like that you mentioned Benjamin’s expectations of attention (by virtue of him being three). Wisdom.

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souldose January 12, 2010 at 2:55 am

You write beautifully first of all, the kind of posts you enjoy reading no matter how long they are…

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C January 12, 2010 at 6:38 am

I just had a discussion with my boyfriend about my kids. He goes a little crazy watching me attempt- and fail- at keeping my kids in libe sometimes. I told him, “That’s because it’s not supposed to be a one-person job. Feel free to pitch in when I need help.” He seemed a little surprised for a minute until I explained that if e are going to stay together, I’ll expect him to become a co-parent at some point. No, he’ll never be their “dad” since their father is in the picture; but he will be a ‘parent’ to them (they are only four and 20 months). And as soon as he did take some initiative, Bean tested him by throwing a fit. I calmly told her: “When [Mr K] is with us and he helps me with you kids, I expect you to listen to him and follow directions.” I would not tell her that she always has to do what he says, but when he is with me, I do expect that she will listen to him. She shaped up, and later when he left to go home she told him, “I will miss you.” I think it can be scary at first to have another authority figure in the house, but I think it’s comforting, too, to know that the grownups are there to take care of you, even when it involves setting limits.
I also think it’s a healthy sign when a kid feels comfortable enough with an adult in his life to express anger. Kids usually only do that when they trust that adult not to reject them and they know they will keep loving them.

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won January 12, 2010 at 7:03 am

Will you please, please, please bring your Mrs. Brady butt over to my house?

I sure could use one right about now.

One more thing…might want to show up in armor. Just sayin’……

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Katherine SOLO dot MOM January 12, 2010 at 8:53 am

Yes Great post. I think it’s just goes to show as a reminder to us single moms out here ‘dating’ that there is NO REASON to be rushing all the variables that are involved when you have those lovely kiddos in the mix.

Thanks for sharing.

And great pics btw!

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Stac January 12, 2010 at 9:01 am

This struck home. I told my son’s father (who I’m trying to work things out with) the other day to please be patient with me because I know how to be a single mom, but I don’t know how to co-parent. He understood. All three of us are testing each other at the moment, so it’s kinda like my house is a looney bin sometimes. But it’s good for me to step back and allow him to parent, and it’s good for him to take some responsibility and it’s good for our son to see his father taking control of some situations. Of course…this also means the boy has learned that if mommy says no, maybe he should try daddy…and vise versa…on the sly of course.

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Kris January 12, 2010 at 9:13 am

Thank you for this post! Because my hubby and I split when our daughter was born, I have NEVER co-parented with anyone and the thought of it terrifies me. You handled this so well and I will definitely remember your words if/when I’m ready for someone to step into our world.

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Queen Pam January 12, 2010 at 9:47 am

WOW! Thanks so much for this one. It is such a dicey area where stepping lightly is mandatory. Can I ask some questions? Does it make a difference, you allowing John Bear to discipline because Little Ben lives with you full time? Or do you feel the same is acceptable if while he is visiting his dad, his dad’s gf or wife were to discipline him? Keeping in mind the very limited time he is with his dad. And in that respect, what about joint parents who split time 50/50? What is permissible in that situation? This is such an interesting topic for single parents and I have my own feelings and opinions and I am EXTREMELY curious to hear where everyone else stands!!! Like I said, thanks for staring this discussion because it is such a huge topic that affects us all!!!

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noringsattached January 12, 2010 at 10:21 am

What a great post! You handled this situation so well. Love your pictures of them!

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MommaSunshine January 12, 2010 at 11:40 am

Great post. Such an important thing for us single moms who are finding ourselves in new relationships…trying to figure out the role that this new man will have in the lives of our children.

Fortunately for me, I am lucky in that my girls have a very loving and involved father, so my “new man” doesn’t have to be anything but a friend to my girls. I have made that very clear to him, what I want/need his role to be right now, and so far it’s working out magnificently. My girls think he’s awesome – which of course, HE IS!! :-)

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Dawn January 12, 2010 at 6:25 pm

It makes a world of difference if men are parents already … also, it makes a world of difference if significant others are open hearted.

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Susan January 12, 2010 at 11:50 am

We have a similar issue at our house from time to time. My husband is a commercial airline pilot. He is gone about 60% of the month – so the bulk of the discipline falls to me. It took me a long time to be OK with having to be the favorite parent – when children are sick, needy, tired, cranky and to be the parent enforcing the rules and my hubby gets to be the “fun guy.”

But you are right – sometimes in the Mrs. Brady acceptance mode – one can embrace the fact that – peace prevails in acceptance. It just does ;)

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mommybella January 12, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I worry about that all the time….. Good luck, before I had my son, I dated a guy with a child. His son would not listen to me and even after 3 years. he would lie to his father and say anything he could to not get in trouble. It was sooo hard. And now as a single mother I think about that experience and I worry about my dating future!

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T January 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm

WOW.

And yes, my girls’ father is still very much involved with them so my bf doesn’t have to step into a disciplinarian role. Still, my bf is a single dad and knows how to lay down some rules. My girls treat him with so much respect.

Baby steps, eh?

Thanks for the reminder.

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kristen January 12, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Interesting. It’s almost like Benjamin was testing your authority over him through John Bear, if that makes any sense. You handled it well and came out as the alpha mom!

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Erin January 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm

FABULOUS! What an interesting perspective. I had never thought about what it would feel like to have to co-parent with someone else once I finally found a special someone good enough to keep around. John Bear is such a keeper – to listen to your heart and respect what you said…. BRAVO.

I have to admit, though… I’m still laughing at “butt picker”. I might have to use that myself sometime.

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Kate January 12, 2010 at 7:36 pm

You are right on about this. John is not Benjamin’s parent and therefore should not be disciplining him. As a child of divorce (speaking from experience) it is hard to accept your mom’s new boyfriend in a parental role, even at three years old, apparently. I personally think the new boyfriend should do just what John is doing, being a friend to the child.

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mssinglemama January 12, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I love you guys. I truly have the best, most inspiring group of readers EVER. Just wanted to say that. Thank you all for these awesome comments.

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Laura January 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm

what a great post. I wondered how you guys handled that. I’m not in the situation, I’m married to my kid’s dad, so we obviously have it worked out (huh?). I think relationships like yours are tricky and it takes people with some insight to make them work. i’ve watched my friend really struggle with her 2 kids, her boyfriend and his 2 kids. At times it’s painful to watch. I’m not an expert, but I work in a social worky field so I have some experience with it. Anyway, I’m glad you wrote about it. Sounds like you’re all doing so well.

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mama-pasta January 13, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Interesting! It totally makes sense your son would react like that – so glad you were able to get something positive flowing! 3 years olds, as lovable as they are, are still self-centered egotistical little beings :) I enjoy reading, your a little of ahead of me in your single mommy journey – so I LOVE getting a peak at what may be in store for me!

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Speedgirl January 15, 2010 at 9:36 pm

It is hard to admit that you just aren’t ready for – or comfortable with – another person jumping into the parenting game. (It seems many of us unconsciously believe what society whispers all around us: single moms are just waiting for someone to come and help them, so we should be happy to hand over part of the job.) AND on top of admitting your own feelings, you were able to stick up for those that Benjamin cannot express. I am really proud of you for allowing all three of you to step back and reassess the way things were going. Kudos!

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Nikki January 25, 2010 at 8:42 am

Awesome post! I’m in the midst of a 30 y/o man-4 y/o boy battle right now. Maybe it’s time to sit down and have the family discussion.

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