I found Martha at momsoap after reading her article on Brain, Child magazine. I liked her writing so much I chased her down and made friends with her. We decided to switch blogs for a day, and I hope you will hop over to momsoap and read her insights into parenting a biracial child, co-parenting as two very involved single parents, racism, feminism, and whatever else comes to her mind. You won't be disappointed.
Accidental Co-Parents: Baby Daddy Just Doesn't Cut It
For five years now, I've had this strange conundrum that I figure I will probably never really solve. But it comes up now and again, this first world problem that I have. What to call the father of my child?
We were never married. Didn't even live together, well, actually, we did, but not in that way. It's complicated.
The short version is, we dated; we stopped dating; stayed friends and kept screwing; and eventually we had a baby together.
Over and over again, I have to tell people, "He's not my husband. He's not my ex-husband."
It's not exactly complicated, but for a private introvert/extrovert (I'm pretty friendly, but don't go asking me personal questions) it is a continual source of mild distress because I hate to explain things to people I barely know. I wish there could be a convenient name we can give people in this situation, if only for my own convenience and comfort level. Because, since we are living now a few generations into the sexual revolution, I think that it's highly likely we are not the only people in this country with this problem.
In a casual sexual relationship, without a child, it's easy. Boyfriend/girlfriend, Ex-boyfriend/girlfriend. Lovers. Ex-lovers. Friends. Friends-with-benefits. There are a number of easy ways to define the relationship until you throw a child into the mix. And all of those definitions fit the bill for us at one time or another, until our daughter was born.
Now, it's not so easy.
I generally refer to him as my ex, which is true. We were once in a relationship and we spawned a baby.
Because we have a child together, saying, "my ex" leads people to refer back to him as my ex-husband, which he is not. And even though I correct people over and over, I find that mentioning to them that were never married suddenly changes him in the eyes of some people. I've had people say, "Well, you're soooooo lucky that he's such a great dad (read: wow! He knocked you up and he's still involved????)!"
And I wonder, why? Why am I so lucky? Is it because only married men can be good dads? Is it because only men who love the mothers of their children can be good dads? Can't a dad just be a good dad because he's a good person and he loves his child? Does his accessibility as a parent need to be tied to our relationship with each other?
As casual as our relationship became, his relationship with our daughter has always been serious and dedicated. Any of the definers, other than ex-husband, come with connotations that don't fit them.
And they don't fit us either. In truth, we do have something meaningful. Although, I'm not going to try to express it here because it is complicated and sometimes confusing even to me. But suffice it to say, we are friends and we care about each other.
So, calling him my daughter's father doesn't signify what he is to me, which is my friend and parenting partner. He wasn't my husband, but there are characteristics about our relationship that are similar. There just simply are no terms that are easy to use and yet conjure up what we all are to each other.
It's not a heavy societal issue, even though it stems from living in a historically puritanical society. Really, it's just a pain in the ass. It's inconvenient.
Our culture's language doesn't make room for two parents who once were in love and conceived a child, without the benefit of marriage, but jumped into parenthood with the stability of two responsible adults.
We function more like a mildly dysfunctional family. He is not just a weekend dad. He is a constant in her life, involved in school and friendships, well, not as much as I am, but probably as much as many dads who live in the home. And no, I'm not trying to be stereotypical of the traditional dad-role. I'm basing this on current statistics and real-life observations. Statistically, and anecdotally, moms just do more than dads.
How We Function
Even though we aren't a traditional family, we still feel like a family as much as two single parents can feel like a family. We are financially separate. And we are physically separate, living in individual homes, but only three doors down from each other.
Our daughter gets the benefits of a two-parent home in many ways, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of two single-parent homes. We take turns taking her to school and picking her up. We both help with homework (well, I do that more). He puts her to bed sometimes. She has two bedrooms and doubles of many toys. But she also has to split her weekends between the two of us.
Out in public, we can function similarly to a married couple and we still like each other well enough. We get along well, and we even do things together as a family occasionally.
We have traveled together regularly since she was born, as his family lives out of state, but neither she, nor I, wanted her to travel without me as an infant or toddler. After that, it just started to feel okay. Although, I suspect that the older she gets, that will taper off.
There Are No Words for What We Are
So, we aren't just exes. We are co-parents. But that nicer-sounding, progressive term, co-parent, just doesn't flow off the tongue easily. And besides, nobody knows what you mean when you say that and they don't parrot it back. They just say ex-husband. I tried it out when my daughter was a baby and still got questions or assumptions. I was still either a divorcee or a few times, a lesbian, I think. I was never really sure about that one. And while I was flattered to be seen as such a progressive, lesbian chic, with a biracial baby, it just wasn't true.
So when calling him my co-parent didn't work, I tried on calling him my baby daddy. It didn't last long. That one was fraught with racism, and a tinge of bigotry. My ex is black and I am white, so it wasn't very funny to him and he hates it/hated it when I said it, plus, I laughed every time I said it, partly out of nervousness because of the stereotypes it conjured up, neither of which fit us.
I have used the term, ex-partner, but people still hear husband/wife in that combo.
So, in the end, I just explain and explain again.
Yes, we have a child together. No we are not, nor were we ever married. "I just got knocked up," cue my solitary laughter as other later-in-life parents stare at me as if they can't believe I was too stupid to figure out birth control. Or perhaps they are battling their own assumptions while I stand there telling them I'm a single mom because that doesn't fit me either.
As an infant I still enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom and now, I'm self-employed, allowing for one morning a week of volunteer work at my daughter's school and I pick her up at 2:45, rather than sending her to after-school care.
Single Parent Stereotyping is No Fun
I think that's the biggest problem. People can't see it. The stereotypes of single parents simply don't allow for non-married, friendly, not-young, people to be parenting a child together without some sort of explanation other than poorly functioning birth control methods.
So there you go. We actually fit the stereotype of well-to-do middle class suburbanites and with that goes the assumption that we must have been married to each other at some point. And I guess that I fit a stereotype of a middle class-ish suburban wife/mom isn't exactly the worst thing in the world. But it just isn’t true.