In an excellent example of “conscious uncoupling,” this dad’s super amicable relationship with his ex means she’ll often babysit their eight-month-old when he and his wife need a hand.
It was a Sunday, which was great, except I had to work, which was not great. Plus, my wife, Chantel, also had some work to do. Usually when we’re doing the computer typing thing, the two older kids (Myron, age 8, and Penny, age 6) can play with their baby brother, with us checking in anytime the tears get too loud.
Except the older kids were going with their mom to an old friends’ house in Whitby. They’d be gone the whole of the afternoon. That left Chantel and I with Fitzy, our eight-month-old baby, who would be hard to amuse while the two of us frowned at our computer displays.
“Hey,” I said to my ex-wife, Natalie, and her boyfriend, Mikey, when they came over to pick up the two older kids. “How do you guys feel about taking Fitzy with you out to Whitby?”
They said yes. They’re nice—I knew they would say yes. Pretty much anytime Chantel and I ask them to care for our baby, they say yes.
There are people in my circle of friends who think it’s weird that one of our primary babysitters for our little baby is my ex-wife and her boyfriend. But actually, it makes sense on about fourteen different levels.
The extra time that baby Fitz shares with his older siblings helps to create strong bonds among my three kids. It saves us the $50 or so we’d otherwise spend on paying a sitter. It gives Chantel and I time to ourselves. And the kids’ mom and her boyfriend both are excellent caregivers. They’re kind, and they love kids. What more could one ask for?
Head into the future a few years and Chantel and I may be providing the same sort of babysitting services to Natalie and Mikey—I mean, if they have children together.
All this blending prompts some questions for the kids. “You know how Chantel is our stepmom?” the kids asked one evening at dinner before Fitz was born. “Will our mom be Fitzy’s stepmom?”
Chantel and I looked at one another.
“Huh—yeah, I can see how you guys might think that,” I said. “But no, she’ll be—“ And for a second I was at a loss. I actually didn’t know what she’ll be. She’ll be around a lot. Sometimes she’ll babysit. She’ll be affectionate and hopefully she’ll love Fitzy. I said, “She’ll be more like an aunt.”
That seemed to satisfy the kids. But you know what? I wonder about this drive to define our roles by forcing them into the family categories of previous generations. The three kids, and the two sets of parents that watch over them—I’d prefer if we all ignored the preconceptions that come with “aunt” or “stepdad” or whatever role you like. It’s going to take years for us to work out exactly what we all are to one another. We may not know what we had until we look back on it, decades from now, once the kids are grown up. Until that time I guess we’ll just concentrate on trying to be there for one another. And that’s good enough for all of us.
Photo left to right: Mikey, Myron, Natalie, Penelope, Fitzwilliam, Chantel and Chris.
This is #1000families post number 49. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.