Shared Parenting

Shared Parenting.

Does that term freak you out just a little?  To share our parenting with someone else was a bewildering thought to me at one point, too.  Let me give you a little backstory.

I grew up in a loving family of four kids and two parents in a small town.  We were a six-person unit, and my parents did not rely on others to help them parent their kids.  I think a large part of that dynamic is generation-specific.  Maybe I am part of the first generation better adapted and a little more comfortable with asking for help.  But, back then, it was not something we did, and I would have felt very uncomfortable as a kid going to someone else with my deepest passions and hurts.  Even now, as an adult, I find it difficult to share those experiences with people outside my closest family and maybe my very best friend.

I met a woman and her family in church a few years back, and we started hanging out a lot.  Fast forward four years or so—our kids are best friends, and I really love her and her family.  When we first started going over to her house, I heard her teenage son refer lovingly to another lady in the church as “mom”.  He wasn’t saying it like he had decided to replace his own mom (my friend) with a new person…but just like, ‘this lady is someone I trust and love like a mother.’  I thought that must be painful to his real mom, but she was fully on board.  In fact, she shared that she appreciated the help and the support of the other woman; and they often met and parented him through difficult times together. 

This was a foreign idea to me, but I was interested enough to ask questions, watch their relationships, and listen to their family live life together raising good kids.  We ended up becoming great friends with Charissa who helped parent my friend’s son.  In fact, she is one of our favorite people on the planet.  Phil and I saw how she valued teens and made them feel seen and important.  And she is funny as hell, irreverent, full of love, and beautiful- all the things that make someone a joy to be around. 

Niamh began to ask me if she could get together with Charissa.  Meet at Starbucks.  Talk.  Basically be mentored by her- which was code language for “can she be my second mom?”  Niamh loves it.  Like, she will make space for that meeting even in the busiest week.  And sometimes after I’m done talking to Niamh about an important topic for two hours, she says, “I want to talk to Charissa about this, too.” 

A couple months ago, Phil and I were struggling parenting Niamh through something.  I asked Charissa to meet me at Starbucks.  I told her I felt guilty for being exhausted by the inability to get to a solution.  As an extremely introverted and very motivated person, I often feel like: HERE’S THE SOLUTION, CHILD; YOUR PROBLEM IS SOLVED.  But, kids and especially teenagers, don’t work that way…so I was feeling helpless and like Phil and I were not really getting Niamh to the ‘problem solved’ place. 

We sat and talked for quite sometime, and she kindly gave me permission to NOT BE EVERYTHING MY CHILD NEEDS.  I had never even considered that was a thing.  She said it is important to put people in our children’s lives who serve specific roles, especially in the areas we, as parents, might fall short or not be equipped to handle best.  We can ask for help from a trusted friend.  And that is the very best thing we can choose for our kids sometimes.  We can be the best in areas 1-5…but maybe we need some help, support, or contingency plans for areas 6-8, you know?

I felt all the guilt and heaviness leave.  I had always just assumed Phil and I needed to be everything Niamh and Philly needed.  Good at it all.  And honestly, that is tiring and unrealistic.  I have come to appreciate Mom #2 so much, because she fills the gap where my inner self just cannot go in parenting.  Surprisingly, that is not painful to admit, and I don’t feel anxious or jealous of her and Niamh’s relationship.  I kind of want her to be my Starbucks date all the time, too, honestly!

I am thankful for families who teach us to do things differently.  It is so important to spend time around people who operate in ways we’d never consider, because it opens us up to new possibilities and is often a real and wonderful gift. 

I felt very loved, seen, and heard as a child…but I don’t know how my parents did that with four kids!  I CANNOT IMAGINE.  All four of us felt important and cared for– and that takes a lot of patience and availability on the part of the parents.  I feel relieved to share the privilege of parenting because, while I am good at being available to them, I do not have the patience bandwidth that my mom surely had.  It is a helpless feeling as a parent to not be able to move the needle.  That’s when we rely on another to take the baton and keep up the good fight!  Oftentimes, Charissa will say something to Niamh that I’ve already said to her, but Niamh finally hears it and thinks it’s gold.  Sometimes our kids need to hear our words from another person, and it suddenly hits home…simply because it isn’t their parent saying it!  Niamh will come home and say those words to me like she found a treasure on her coffee date, and in my mind I’m like, “Girl, I said that to you 5 times last week.”  But Mom #2 delivered it, and I’m thankful for her gentle kindness that gets the message into the teenage ears. 

If you’ve never considered giving yourself the freedom or space to rely on help— and I’m not talking about babysitting or help with a ride— but like, help that knows your family inside and out and you can trust with your children’s lives…maybe it would end up feeling like a relief.  And it might just free you up inside to be extra stellar at the things you are good at with your kiddos.  Identify the places you rock at, and pour your time and energy into those actions, words, and systems as a parent.  And the places that you have always struggled or just feel already beaten by, grab a mentor (another “mom” or “dad”) and invite them into your life to not only benefit your child, but to be a rare and much needed gift to yourself. 

None of us can be everything to someone.  Let others shine.  Be humble.  Thank them for the help.

She’s our kiddo’s fave.  And she’s good at hugs, too. ☺️

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