I know I write about our experience as a two mom family, but here’s the thing: My son has a dad. And he has been sleeping on my couch on and off for the last four months. Yes, you’re reading this correctly. My ex boyfriend has been living with me and my partner and my kid for the last four months. It has been a truly eye-opening experience that has forced me to examine how we co-parent.
My son’s father has always been inconsistent in his parenting, but I didn’t truly understand how much until he was under my roof and I could see it all the time. One day not too long ago, while my son got ready for bed, his dad turned to me and asked, “do you think we should send him to speech therapy?wp_poststo which I asked why. “Well, he stutters sometimes and can’t talk,wp_postshe said. There’s nothing “wrong” with his speech; his brain thinks faster than his mouth can talk, which I explained. If you tell him to slow down and take a minute, it’s easier for him to talk.
He has never come to doctor or dentist appointments and has no real interest or investment in his son’s education. He would show up for the first day of school or a parent teacher conference but wouldn’t ask about what he was learning or help with schoolwork. This hasn’t changed since he’s been staying with us. But over the years, he’s suggested that my son needed to be “testedwp_postsbecause he was sensitive to loud noises and maybe a little emotionally immature. Or he gives me a hard time because I don’t force him to eat foods he doesn’t like. The boy is now almost ten years old and damn near five feet tall. The way my son’s dad showed up is never consistent and has never made sense to me, which has become more apparent in the last four months.
But how did we get here? Allow me to tell you the story.
His dad and I started dating when we were 23. He was my first (and only) boyfriend, and we were together for six and a half years. I got pregnant when I was 26, and it was a complete accident. By the time I found out I was pregnant, it was too late to terminate the pregnancy, but if I’m being totally honest, I only would have because he wasn’t ready to be a dad, not because I wanted to. Would it be difficult? Of course, but we would figure it out together; we were a team. Or so I thought.
Our relationship started to change while I was pregnant, and when my son was two months old, my boyfriend put us on a plane and sent us to live with my parents in NYC. This decision was made behind my back and without my consent. I was unemployed, and didn’t have much of a leg to stand on, so I had no choice but to go. Despite my best efforts to end the relationship, he gaslit me into staying in a long-distance relationship for two and a half years before I finally ended things. We could parent our son even if we weren’t together; I was always committed to co-parenting however was most beneficial to our son. My dad has strained relationships with my half-siblings, and I didn’t want that for my son.
Long-distance co-parenting isn’t really co-parenting, especially when you’re dealing with a toddler. I was the primary parent; I made any and all financial and medical decisions. I was the disciplinarian. I called myself a single parent, because all his dad did was video chat with him a couple times a month and buy diapers. We saw each other as many times as we could before my son was two, because he could fly for free. But I was always the one doing the traveling; his dad didn’t come visit us in New York until his third birthday, and even then, we only saw him for a couple of hours.
When my son was three and a half years old, I was finally able to move us back to LA. I was excited to finally have a co-parent — mainly someone who could pick up the slack when I was too burnt out. Before I even got on the plane, I tried to stress to my ex the importance of communicating. I told him I needed him to step up. He immediately got mad at me and tried to make things my fault. It was then I learned my most important lesson about co-parenting with him: He was never willing to rearrange his life for his son. For example, he offered to take him to preschool everyday. Then it turned into picking him up. Five days a week went down to three, and eventually two. He would only keep him for a couple hours at a time; if I wanted time to myself, I had to ask and hope he’d say yes. There was never any spontaneous “I’ll take him overnight so you can get a good night’s sleepwp_postsor so they could spend some real time together. One night, I called him crying, begging him to take him more because I was so burnt out.
And then the pandemic happened, and it only made things worse. My partner and I were emotionally spent from having my kid home all the time. We played games and watched TV and did virtual school without any sort of a break. My ex told me his girlfriend (who he lived with) was giving him a hard time about my son being around, which affected how much he could see him.
In March of 2021, my ex had to move back to Missouri to live with his parents after his girlfriend broke up with him. The relationship needed to end; she had caused enough tension between me and my ex over the years. But losing my co-parent as a result wasn’t ideal. My son loves his dad and was devastated they wouldn’t be able to see each other. My heart hurt for him. (I would be lying if I didn’t say the karmic retribution of him having to live with his parents didn’t tickle me a little bit. I’m only human.) They set up weekly Zooms, but it wasn’t the same. At the end of 2022, my ex told me he was gearing up for a move back to LA. I know how hard it is to find a place, so I told him he could crash with us while he looked. I had no idea he would still be on my couch months later.
Him being in our home hasn’t changed any of the co-parenting issues we have. I still have to beg him to spend time with his son. During spring break, he didn’t once offer to have some one-on-one time on his day off. I gave him advance notice of our son’s performances so he could possibly switch work days, but he didn’t even try to come. He has told my partner and I to go have a date night without us asking, but then he let my son stay up late on a school night. Summer break just started, and I know I will have to beg him to spend some quality time with his son. But then, if my kid acts like a typical kid and gets mouthy with me, his dad will scold him and try to be a disciplinarian. I have to pick and choose my battles, because I don’t want to cause tension my son could pick up on. He constantly thinks I hate his dad because he might hear me and my partner talking, and I don’t want him to feel caught in the middle.
I stupidly thought that time away would change the way my son’s father would show up for him, but I’m beginning to realize I was probably wrong. In the three years my partner and I have been together, she has been the parent I was always hoping my ex would be. Having him in our home strengthens our relationship and how she parents my son. Every day, she shows up for that little boy, and I know his dad is taking notice. I only hope my ex sees what a real parent is supposed to be and steps up to the plate. Maybe it’s my fault for not saying anything sooner, but there is no manual for co-parenting. All I know is that my son now has an example of two loving parents, and however his relationship with his dad develops in the future is out of my hands.
Is anyone out there a co-parent? How do you navigate co-parenting?
Queer Mom Chronicles is a monthly column where I examine all of the many facets of queer parenthood through my tired mom eyes.