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Love Lesson: Co-Parenting After the Love is Lost

Every day I am blessed to connect with you through your mail and messages seeking advice and support. Lately, I have been getting an increase in letters complaining about issues surrounding “baby mama drama.” This makes sense as current statistics say that 72 percent of African-American children are being raised in single parent households. “72%” is also the name of a new documentary from our Moguldum Studios on the challenging topic.

Yesterday I received this email:

“Dear Abiola, I see celeb baby mamas like Jada Pinkett-Smith, Ciara, and Diddy’s baby mamas creating one big a happy family. I want the same for my 3 kids. Their father, my ex husband, has 4 other baby mothers and I’m the only one who wants us to get along. Can you write some sort of Baby Mama Etiquette Guide that I can give to these chicks?”

Here’s my answer, sis.

Congrats on trying to create a strong family unit for your children. Parenting becomes more challenging in a multi-parent family. You are not a generic label or category such as “baby mama.” When you have a child with someone, you are bonded for life. If they have children with others, they are bonded for life with those women as well. By proxy, so are you.

Living in a situation where the father of your children has children by other women can be seen as either stressful or a gift, depending on the situation. This blog is a safe space for mothers, so I will leave it for someone else to speak to the fathers. There are enough people out there who are demonizing both single mothers and single fathers. I am not a mother and cannot presume to imagine the kind of pressure that women are under who must head up a household with a part-time father.

Here are 8 ways to be of highest support in a multi-family dynamic:

1) Don’t use the children as a pawn.

This refers to your children and everyone else’s. Our precious little ones didn’t ask to be born. They only ask to be loved and are never responsible for the circumstances that they are born into. Power plays such as withholding visitation never punishes a parent; it only punishes the child.

2) Be clear about your relationship status.

Are you in the relationship and monogamous or is your ex with someone else? Are you in an open relationship? If you’re not clear about what is going on, your children won’t be either.

If you’re out of the relationship, where your ex-partner places his head at night is no longer your business. Your business is only the mental, emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual safety of your children.

3) Encourage bonding between siblings and even step-siblings.

Your children will take your cues from you. If they feel that bonding with other siblings in a multi-family dynamic is somehow disloyal to you, they will have a challenging family relationship. This can lead to resentment, bullying, perceptions of favoritism and all sorts of issues. Arrange play dates and joint family holidays for the healthy emotional welfare of your children. This can be beyond tough to navigate but your children will thank you for it in the future.

4) No ‘bad mouthing.’

Handle adult business privately. If dad is late with his child support payments or sleeping his way down the block, it is not necessary to include children in these conversations. Your kids only get to be young once. Their father is half of who they are. Believing that their father is deficient can foster feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. This can lead to unexpressed rage.

5) Be honest.

At the same time, you want to have honest, age-appropriate conversations with your children about what is going on. Kids are extremely perceptive and always know much more than we think they know. Ask them often how they feel about the current situation. Let them know that they can come with you at any time to express their emotions about a situation that may be confusing. Express your love with words and affection often.

6) Have mutual respect for yourselves and each other.

This applies to former partners and co-mothers. Try your best to remember that the situation may be trying for all parties. Treat others with the same compassion and respect that you seek. Adults fighting in front of kids is not only immature, but it creates an emotionally unsafe environment.

7) Don’t direct anger at the children, ever.

Whenever dealing with an ex or current partner’s children, always come from a place of love, decency, and honor. Remember that children don’t always have the words to express the difficult emotions they feel. This is challenging but if you are not willing to think of the children first, do not enter into such a situation.

8) Love yourself.

Remember that you loving yourself is the greatest gift you can give your children. This means trying to better yourself in every aspect of life. Treat yourself and your children well. Take good emotional care of yourself. Find a practice such as yoga or meditation that can help you deal with the stresses of live. Make sure you have a good support system. None of us were meant to go it alone.

You are worthy of being love, honored, and cherished — and so are your beautiful children. The single mothers out there are working hard. Keep up the great work. We’re rooting for you!

Catch up on Abiola’s Love Class

Passionate Living Coach Abiola Abrams is the author of “The Sacred Bombshell Handbook of Self-Love,” nominated for an African American Literary Award in self-help. She gives extraordinary women inspiring advice on healthy relationships, self-esteem and getting the love we deserve. You’ve seen her love interventions in magazines from Essence to Ebony and on shows from MTV’s “Made” to the CW Network’s “Bill Cunningham Show.” Abiola is also the creator of the African Goddess Affirmation Cards. Tweet @abiolaTV.

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