Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, I felt a moment of real gratitude for the people with whom I was sharing the meal. There was my son, my son's father (my ex-, James), James's girlfriend, her two children and brother. For several years since our divorce, I had worked (and prayed!) for the day we could all celebrate holidays, birthdays, and other occasions together as a family.
After our divorce, my greatest desire was that my ex-husband and I make our son the priority of our lives, and not our anger and disappointment with one another. After two years of fighting and desperate power struggles, I asked James "How much more time will we waste fighting?" I'm glad I did, because with that confrontation we both saw the errors of our ways and vowed to do things differently.
From that moment forward, we started spending time together with our son. It was important that our son experience a unified family, even though we lived separately. Co-parenting a child with special needs would be a whole lot easier if we could get along with one another. There are many occasions when we find ourselves together at appointments for our son. We began working together on scheduling our son's life, education, dietary needs, various therapies, and doctor's visits. We agreed to discuss everything from choosing basketball or swim lessons to vaccinations. We went out of our way to come together on things that impacted our son, and this included people we dated.
I was thrilled when my ex-husband mentioned that he had met a new woman and that he'd like me to meet her as well. Over the past few years, his happiness had become very important to me. I could see clearly how my son's father being happy and fulfilled impacted his parenting, and ultimately I wanted the best for our son. Moreover, I didn't want our son to be uncomfortable when it came to his love for our partners. I wanted my son to feel free to love, and be loved by them.
I also fell in love with the new girlfriend. I felt myself digging in deep when I had the thought that if something happened to me, I knew she would take good care of our son. I had gone off the deep end, breaking my own rule of waiting to see what happened between the actual couple. I bragged to friends about double dates at the theater and holiday carnivals. I beamed with happiness when she sent me a message via Facebook asking if it would be okay if she posted pictures she'd taken of our son. "She gets it," I’d thought. "She shares my vision for family and community."
Thanksgiving sealed the deal for me. She had invited me to her family's dinner, and I was thrilled to attend. When I arrived she was still cooking, the kids were playing, and my ex-husband was watching basketball. During dinner we laughed, talked, and enjoyed the meal like old friends. The holidays were wonderful, and I looked forward to our son's birthday with her because I saw her as a really fun mother. She loved doing kid things with her girls, and I admired that.
Who will be his mother and see that he's okay?
Several weeks before our son's birthday I texted her to ask if she had any ideas on how to celebrate. She responded, "How about a Spiderman themed party?" Great idea! Her following text shocked me, "This is awkward, but James and I are no longer seeing one another so the girls and I will not be attending the celebration."
I was stunned and saddened—so much so that I realized that I'd had sort of a crush of my own on her. A step-mommy crush. Upon digging a little deeper into what might really be fueling my sadness about my ex-husband's breakup, I realized that having a child with Downs had sprouted some irrational thinking. What if something happens to me, I wonder? Who will be his mother and see that he's okay?
Co-parenting and prioritizing the children is a great thing to do for the entire family. But I'm learning that one of the pitfalls of co-parenting a child with special needs is the psychological and emotional roller-coaster I've created; of trying to find a wife for my ex-husband, so my son will have a mother in case something happens to me. Something tells me, it might be time for me to seek out a support group for divorced mothers of children with special needs. Help!