How To Co-Parent When You've Left Your Man... For Another Woman

two women with young boy in rowboat
Family

Raising children after a divorce or separation can be complicated enough. But how do the dynamics change if you've left your husband for a woman? Candace Walsh and Laura André, the editors of Dear John, I Love Jane—a collection of essays by women who have left men for other woman—know a thing or two about the complexity of such a co-parenting arrangement.

Candace had left her husband of seven years and started dating women when Laura met her on Match.com. While Laura never expected to have children of her own, Candace had two of them. How does co-parenting work for them? Surprisingly, it's not as complicated as you'd think.

Candace: It's so funny that I'm writing about co-parenting right now, since my ex-husband is on a two-month trip through Asia. Currently, we are not co-parenting at all. Laura, my partner, and I are omni-parenting. We're it: that place where the buck stops.

When Peter is here in Santa Fe, we co-parent 50/50. In many ways, it's the best of both worlds: the kids have lots of time with both of us, and the parents get some time off. I want the children to have a strong relationship with their dad, and he has always been a hands-on parent, so it made sense to divvy up the custody that way.

On the other hand, there's something lovely about having the kids all the time. It's kind of mellow not to have to send emails, texts and messages reminding their dad about mittens, permission slips, and that our daughter needs to assemble a bundle that weighs exactly 7.5 lbs, her birth weight, because her third grade class is learning about weights and measures. And I definitely love sending my kids to school without saying "Don't leave that (fill in the blank) at your dad's, because you're not going to see him for five days." 

So far, we've held down the fort for three weeks. It's not like I'm patting myself on the back—most parents don't have half of every week to enjoy the silence. And many single parents don't co-parent, which combines the stressful effect of being the only parent with the lack of downtime.

Laura: Before I met Candace, I thought I had chosen a life without children, and I was content with that. Falling in love with Candace meant having to confront not only my fear of children; it also meant letting go of my life as I thought it would look like. So while I never left a man for a woman, I did have to switch my identity to someone who goes to children's music recitals and ice skating lessons, and that made me more receptive to the "Oh my God, I can't believe this is happening to me" emotion that so many of our writers express.

But as a result, my definition of family has expanded and I'm getting to experience what it means to love and be loved by two amazing children. Many of the essays in this book express a similar salient joy to having it all work out (including new partners who take the kid thing on with a ton of grace and enthusiasm), despite what seem like insurmountable challenges. How I Learned To Discipline My Stepson

It also meant having a third adult figure—the kids' dad—in the "family." I must say, it is sometimes strange to be hanging out with her ex-husband. But then again, that's very lesbian of us, to be friends with our exes. There are quite a few essayists in the book who have managed to preserve good relationships with their ex-husbands or former male partners. After the crisis and fallout, it seems that it's worth it for many women who've left men for women to hang onto the parts of those relationships that they can salvage. In fact, a few of the writers are still married to their husbands, still trying to re-work their concept of marriage to absorb their newfound identities.

Candace: When my ex is not traveling, he and I are active co-parents to our two children. As a result, we probably talk more than we did when we were married—because instead of floating along on autopilot, we're negotiating who's picking up the kids from school Thursday, where the snow pants are and how we're going to swing music lessons. I'm glad that we have an open and honest dialogue. We're so much more honest with each other now that we aren't invested in preserving something that was so fragile. It's meaningful to have continuity with a person I've known for a decade. And our children benefit from sensing warmth between the two adults who brought them into this world.

I don't know how my ex would have reacted if I decided to pursue a relationship with a man after our divorce—but he thinks Laura is the bomb. I appreciate the fact that she runs interference for me when Peter and I are having the inevitable conflicts and thorny moments that come with being ex-spouses who still have to communicate on a regular basis. 3 Tips For Dealing With Your Kids' New Stepmom

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It so happened that I decided to make a go of dating women. I had always been attracted to both men and women, but nothing ever really came together for me with women, relationship-wise, when I was in my 20s. Men sought me out, asked me on dates and kissed me spontaneously in bars, not women. And I was too insecure to be more pro-active when it came to pursuing women—back then.

Being in my 30s conferred a bravery in me that sort of settled on me like a superhero cape. Single again after assuming that my dating days were over, I went for it—attended women's events, went on match.com "seeking women"—even though I was nervous, and felt awkward and had a butterfly convention in my stomach. It was quite a wild ride, but it felt right. After dating a few women, I met Laura and fell head over comfortable shoes.

Our third anniversary is coming up in a few weeks. It's been such a pleasure to watch our love grow, and an added pleasure to watch the relationship grow between Laura and my children. My 6-year-old son wakes up and, half asleep, wanders over to her and climbs into her lap. My daughter practices her penmanship by writing her love notes.

"I'm so glad you decided to try dating women," she told me recently, "because I love Laura so much." 

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