As a divorced single mum, I make a bee-line for any blogs or vlogs out there that talk about single parenting and divorce from a mums perspective. Recently one of Mayim Bialik's vlogs has been doing the rounds. It's a piece about divorce, and how she co-parents with her ex. Now, I think it's great when co-parenting works, and it sounds like Mayim and her ex are doing an incredible job of managing what, we all know, is a highly complex relationship. As a divorced single mum, though, I have some issues with her words; those she speaks and those that hang between the lines.
Mayim begins by posing the question what does it mean, "to create the the healthiest possible environment for children in the context of divorce?" She continues to answer this question, from her perspective. "Number one, we do things together." Mayim talks about how being together for significant events is, "literally what's most important." Only I would argue that isn't what is most important in a child's life. It is only the most important thing once you have the basics sorted. If one parent is not stable, or they are unable to take responsibility for their child, then any contact, let alone prolonged contact, can be the worst thing for them.
Then comes the part in her vlog that makes people like me cringe. Her words make me feel like somewhere between those lines is an insinuation that if you don't succeed in creating a functioning co-parenting relationship, you didn't try hard enough. Mayim raises the rhetorical question, "Is it always perfect and exactly what I want? Of course not." I am not trying to belittle what Mayim and her partner have achieved. I have no doubt that Mayim (and her ex) have had to go through many, many moments of selflessness (like all parents do) to ensure their co-parenting works. However, whilst on one level it might not be what she wants, on another level it is entirely what Mayim (and her ex) want; Mayim wants her children to be given the best possible childhood and she believes that spending time as a family provides that. I am sure, in many, many contexts that is indeed the best thing for children.
Whilst many couples nurture positive co-parenting relationships after divorce, there are also many other divorce-contexts out there. Contexts where hanging out as a family is not the best solution. All of us want our children to have the best possible childhood we can give them. Most of us would, ideally, like a positive co-parenting relationship (or even just a bearable one) but it's not that simple. It makes me shudder to think that people may take from Mayim's message the notion that those of us who aren't able to "do things together" are selfish, that we have given up because it's not exactly what we want. Or we have thrown in the towel because our ex "annoys" us. Like you Mayim, we "have to put them [the children] first", only sometimes that means the exact opposite of what it means in another family. Many of us are trying to create, "the healthiest possible environment for children in the context of divorce" without the support and involvement of our ex. Or, and this may possibly be even harder still, we are trying to do it with the intermittent, even inconsistent and often challenging input from our ex. In such situations spending family holidays together would be beyond traumatic for all involved.
Mayim ends by talking about being "tremendously grateful" for her ex. She is tremendously grateful because essentially, he has acted like a responsible father, putting their children to bed each night, reading them stories, tucking them up. I don't, in principle, have an issue with one parent being grateful that the other one is pulling their weight, however it somehow comes across as another example of the patronising double standards we hold for men when it comes to raising their children (whether they are in a relationship with the mother of their children, or not). I mean, someone has to put them to bed right? Should we only be tremendously grateful when it's the dad doing it, not the mother? Or is it only single dads that get this accolade? Do divorced 'working dads' feel incredibly grateful for their ex-wife putting their kids to bed every night? I'm pretty sure they should be incredibly grateful, some might even say it out loud (and good on them), but it's not something single mums get much public praise for. Perhaps if Mayim had acknowledged the millions of women around the globe who also do the daily bedtimes, this would have helped to soften the blow for us single-mums who feel, at best, a little under-appreciated and, at worst, completely misunderstood.
If you are one of those mums, or indeed dads, who is solo-parenting and who has found, that despite trying beyond all else to create a positive co-parenting relationship with your ex, it's just not possible, then remember these wise words. Sometimes less is more; the love and consistency of one parent is more important than having a highly involved, yet damaging second parent. Everything stems from that love. That is, literally the most important thing.