My daughter and I were best friends... until I had to co-parent her kids
As I write this, I'm sipping on an iced mint matcha with my closest friend. We have been besties since the first time I laid eyes on her. She is my right arm, my personal stylist and my voice of encouragement. She is the Rory Gilmore to my Lorelai. She is my daughter.
Two years ago when she walked away from a lousy marriage, she walked back into my house full-time, accompanied by her two baby girls (1 and 3 years old). We rearranged the house to accommodate all their belongings and make it feel like home during the uber-stressful transition. Out of necessity, we began to parent together, and that's when, without even realizing it, our friendship got put on hold.
It wasn't intentional. Neither of us was angry with the other — at least no more than any mother-daughter duo who share a single bathroom. It just sort of happened, the way you gain six pounds or wear out the hem of your favorite jeans.
Co-parenting, however, was something we weren't willing to just let happen. I knew I couldn't just be a "fun Emmy" while we lived together — spoiling them wasn't going to help anyone. We sat down and talked out what we wanted for the girls — a safe, happy, worry-free home — what we needed for ourselves and what we each were willing to sacrifice and commit to in order to make this new arrangement work.
Then we posted our plan on the fridge like a big ol' piece of preschool artwork.
She promised not to take advantage of me as a free babysitter. I promised to remember that she was their mom. She vowed not to take over my house with clutter. I vowed to adhere to her disciplinary style. She made waffles for Saturday brunch. I took care of shopping and everyday lunch. She whisked the kids away one night a week for my sanity. I gladly read stories and tucked them in the other six. She pitched in on the bills, and I took over the bulk of the housework.
We adhered to the chart through our happy little days of sunshine and rainbows — while trying not to scream. Cheese and crackers, people, this was hard! Much harder than we anticipated. She and I are close — we genuinely like each other — but this living together with small, needy children during the stress of her divorce was taking its toll on our relationship.
I had agreed to do the housework, but a few months into this arrangement, I found myself constantly washing dishes left from late-night snacks in the bedroom, discovering half-eaten granola bars under the couch, fishing toys out of the bathtub every time I wanted to shower and constantly kicking the stupid toddler step-stool out of the way. I was becoming Donna Reed — without the syrupy smile and string of pearls. It seemed my daughter had forgotten that I had literally put my life on hold for her. I was getting no appreciation and no respect.
She, in turn, was perpetually irritated with me for overstepping my boundaries with the girls: doing things with them she wanted to do, not always sticking to their nap schedule, interjecting my opinion into her parenting scenarios and generally driving her nuts. It didn't help that the little ones often accidentally called me "Mom."
Our quirky, wonderful Gilmore Girl relationship was morphing into one that more resembled Lorelai and Emily. She got snarky. I got holier-than-thou.
We chalked it up to not having any fun together, so we took a Girls' Nights Out — and glared across the table at each other like an old married couple. We had nothing to say, as we were already sharing every stinking minute of our lives together.
So we started using our GNOs as therapy sessions: talking out frustrations, trying to laugh at shortcomings, discussing what was working and what was not. She agreed to keep the toddler in the kitchen with her granola bars. I agreed to keep my uninvited opinions to myself. She tried to say "thank you" more often. I tried to run my plans by her before taking big steps with the girls.
We continued to work hard at making it work well.
Mostly, it did. Life got better and better. We got better and better. Still, despite our best efforts at intentionality, communication and humor, living together was never the SuperHappyFunTime we imagined it could be. A year and a half later, when the divorce was final, my daughter got her house and her independence back. I got my life and my best friend back. And I got to go back to being a "fun Emmy" — even though the kids still forget sometimes and call me "Mom."
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