Unplanned Pregnancy: Co-Parenting With a Stranger?

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Your period is late. Your friend-with-benefits or special handshake relationship wound up staying a night or two, as Todd Rundgren sang in his classic 1970s hook-up song, “Hello It’s Me.” So unless the pregnancy test is a false positive, chances are you’re pregnant.

Your first instinct might be to say to heck with what’s-his-face, the sperm-of-the-moment donor. It’s scary to face the fact that you’re signing up for a life of co-parenting with someone who is virtually a stranger. You are doing one of the most intimate acts, being parents together, with someone with whom you have very little shared history.  You are signing up for an extremely challenging endeavor under the best of circumstances.

First, remember that you’re not alone. There are more new moms like you co-parenting in this context out there. While the stigma of single mother parenting is abating, except for the highest earners and most privileged among you, the challenge to make ends meet has never been greater.  This alone will require that you interact with your baby’s father.  Even if your extended family is available to help, it’s likely that you will need the father’s financial and care-taking support.  Don’t kid yourself about this.

The “I-can-do-it-alone” attitude might last part or all of the pregnancy, through moments both high and low, when you-against-the-world is up for the challenge.  Other times you wobble in your resolve to go it alone.  Putting the financial and care-taking support on the back burner for a moment, the impulse to reach out to share your news and the experience of parenting is part of what it means to be human.  You can’t avoid it. Even if you move away and cut all ties, chances are (with the Internet, it’s nearly impossible to hide) that eventually the baby’s father will enter your child’s life.

Once you promise to protect this new sentient being, even from you, resolve to make room for the “other” or back-up parent with the caveat that you calibrate your expectations to the fact that he will always be a disappointment on some level.  Get used to holding your nose metaphorically speaking because of the required taste it takes to going along to get along with someone you can hardly call your ex because you weren’t exactly ever “on.”

Be careful not to demonize your co-parent.  Remember you two didn’t just collide.  On some level you chose each other, not as carefully as you might have liked. But unless there was a gun held to your head or your arm was twisted, you were likely engaged in a consensual if not particularly conscious relationship. 

Forgive yourself.  Fight-to-the-end attitudes only hold your child hostage, keeping them trapped in the middle and in the long run, might likely snap-back and work against you in the end.  Remember forbidden fruit can be powerfully motivating to a child who doesn’t have a clear path to an absent parent.  Learn instead to yield to this phase in your evolution, healing old wounds along your path.

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