What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Meagan Haltiwanger Saia and blogs over at Life of Owen. 

I listened to his dad read the book over Facetime with tears streaming down my face. My son was three, and I had only heard his dad read him a handful of stories over the last three years. My heart was aching for the family I had imagined when our son was first born. I remember when he was a few days old, we were still married, and blissfully falling in love with this new life we had created. We were all snuggled on the bed reading I’ll Love You Forever, I’ll Like You For Always, both completely smitten with our adorable baby boy laying between us. Life felt complete. Yet, our family of three didn’t last nearly as long as I expected it to. My divorce happened when my son was 11 months old. The majority of my parenting journey has been done while working to navigate the paperwork, finances and life changes of divorce, and learning how to co-parent with a man I originally planned on growing old with. 

My own parents divorced when I was 12. Unfortunately, I am no stranger to divorce, although I often wish with all my heart that I was. You see, I wanted nothing more than to give my child a home where he didn’t have to go back and forth between houses. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and trusting. I didn’t want him to have to worry about anything other than being a kid. I think the majority of parents want that for their children, the opportunity to give their kids something they didn’t get as a child. I dated my husband for 6 years before we got married. I was convinced I did it right and my future children would have a story different than my own. But in my thirty-two years of life, I have learned by experience that life takes its own turns and navigates down roads we may not have chosen for ourselves. 

So here I am at thirty-two, a single mom learning how to co-parent with my college sweetheart. It is one of the hardest things I have done, and also one of the most rewarding. I cry often from loneliness, from feeling like I failed, from wishing things could have been different. But I also celebrate often too, like when we still have family dinners, even if they look a little different now with my son’s dad and his girlfriend and her daughter.
My little boy has seen me cry and often asks what’s wrong. I believe in letting him see me work through my emotions. Humans were given emotions for a reason, and I do not believe we were meant to hide them. When he asks why I am crying, I tell him I am sad. But I also tell him that it is okay to be sad, and that I won’t always be sad. I tell him this with a smile through my tears, because I know it to be true. We get to choose how we interpret and recover from our emotions. 

I don’t do it perfectly. I sometimes get overly frustrated with his dad as we work through schedules and lose clothing items at the different houses. When a new pizza place opened up in our neighborhood and my son went with his dad and his new family and I was left alone at the house, I ached for a life that could have been. But I also work to show my sweet little boy how to communicate well. He sees his dad and I talk almost every day. He calls him to say goodnight when he’s at my house. We make him Valentine’s Day cards and Christmas presents. I also vent to my friends and therapist about how hard this all is and how much pain I still feel from the divorce. All of this is okay. All of this is normal. 

So much of life is us as humans wanting to know that we aren’t alone, that it wont always be this way and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The thing about co-parenting is that the light we are craving isn’t always at the end of the tunnel we thought we would be traveling through. In the beginning of learning to co-parent with my ex, I wanted it to be pain-free. Now I have learned that the pain may still be there from time to time, but it doesn’t last forever. I have learned that sometimes all I can do is crawl through that tunnel to get to the other side. But once I am there, I am stronger and my son is often better off for it. 

Co-parenting is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it feels as if I have felt more emotions in the last three years of this journey than I have in my three plus decades of life. And while those emotions may be draining at times, they have also made me more resilient, compassionate and forgiving. You can’t experience joy without pain at some point, no matter what the circumstances. It’s just the way life works. Co-parenting is the same way. But my little boy makes every tear, every smile, every sigh worth it all. Because with him, I stopped searching for the light at the end of the tunnel and realized it was right in front of me all along.