Mental health and co-parenting as a Black single mother

When I became a mother to my daughter I never imagined that my co-parents would be my little sister and her husband. However, our unique co-parenting arrangement has not only made me a better mother, but it has mended my relationship with my sister, and helped me deal with my Bipolar 2 Disorder and depression. Co Parenting has improved my mental health.

Co – Parenting Becoming an Option 

As someone that lives with Bipolar 2 Disorder and depression a toxic work environment can be harmful to my overall health. Additionally, my daughter and I were living with my parents at the time, which was great financially. However, we also lived with my three teenage brothers who did not appreciate our presence very much, or at all. My plan was to find a different job and stay home at least one more year but I was unable to secure another job and was becoming increasingly frustrated. That was when my mother (or God, as she would say) had an idea:

“Why don’t you move in with your sister and her family? You all could help each other with finances and with the kids.”
Sounds good, mom, but did you even ask my sister before suggesting this? Or her husband?
“They’ll be fine with it!” she replied.

And they were.

Our Unique Co – Parenting Arrangement 

As of August 2018, my eight-year-old daughter and I live with my sister, brother-in-law, four-month-old nephew,and my neph-pooch. Yes, he’s a dog and a bona fide family member. #JudgeUsBro

The Sibs, as we call ourselves, work together pretty well. We have similar interests, quirks, senses of humor, and parenting styles, so deciding to parent consciously and without the use of physical discipline was a unanimous decision. Which was easy to implement, until my daughter started displaying the signs of the emotional rollercoaster that is puberty. My sister would try to step in, but I was reluctant to let her. I thought that since I was her mother, I should be the one to discipline her.

Handling Tough Situations as a Family 

One morning, my daughter and I had an intense fight, which included me forcibly removing her from the house kicking and screaming as my sister and her husband looked on in shocked silence. My daughter and I spent the drive to her school crying and talking with one another. As I drove off, eyes still glistening with tears, I began to question whether or not our new living arrangements were truly the best for all of us.

While waiting in the line for coffee I kept thinking about the looks on my sister and my brother in law’s faces during the earlier incident. Those looks “told” me that they “obviously” could not handle those kinds of meltdowns. I sent a solemn text stating that maybe us living together was not the best idea after all. She immediately called me but  I declined the call because I was too distraught to have the “breaking up” conversation I thought she was calling me to have.

When I called her back, she proved me an idiot. “Lauren,” she said, “the only thing you did wrong was not asking us for help.” Her words brought me to ugly tears right in the middle of the Starbucks line. She went on to comfort me and remind me that the entire point of our family merge was to help each other in all ways, including parenting. I agreed while tears of relief spilled into my coffee. After the talk with my sister, I went to work and was physically present, but my mind was focused on going home to my daughter to make sure I hadn’t permanently scarred her.

Blending our families into one 

My daughter was fine, and even now, she still apologizes profusely for her behavior that day; that is how much my meltdown impacted her. More importantly, my sister’s words of comfort have stayed with me. I now look at this arrangement in a completely different light.

We Sibs consider ourselves true co-parents now. It is easier (sort of) with my nephew, seeing as he is still an infant. I can snuggle and play with him while the other two cook or run errands or take a nap – whatever they need to do. In turn, when my temper starts getting the best of me during one of my daughter’s meltdowns, my sister will send me out of the room and calmly reason with her in the way that only she, as the beloved Auntie, can. What is amazing about my brother is that he pulls the “Daddy” tone on my daughter anytime she is not moving quickly enough (like every morning) or listening to instructions. Sure, I am her mom, but honestly, he is way better at “motivating” her that way.

Single parenting isn’t for me and that’s okay too 

Over the past eight years, I have come to recognize that I absolutely cannot do this parenting thing alone. I have done the whole “independent single mom” thing, and let’s just say it didn’t go very well for me, especially considering my mental health. Having co-parents in the way that I need has been extremely helpful for my daughter and me.

There is nothing like having co-parents that trust and love unconditionally and understand and support each others parenting styles. I’m lucky, that is what I have in both my sister and brother-in-law. Because of our arrangement, I never have to say that I am doing this alone. The bonds that we are building with each other and our children are forever. My daughter sees my nephew as more of a little brother. I am in awe watching my “little sister” be an incredible wife and mother, and I have immense respect for my brother-in-law as a hard-working man providing for his family.

And you know what? I’m pretty proud of myself too. I don’t often give myself credit for how I mother – because 90% of the time I am certain that I am doing it all wrong – but I have grown and learned so much just in these past two months of co-parenting with The Sibs. I am a better mother for having them to support me. My interactions with my daughter are less volatile. And I am no longer “ashamed” or “embarrassed” to have  The Sibs step in when I am overwhelmed. 

This is the beauty of our co-parenting thing.

None of us have to feel alone. We are all on each other’s teams. The Sibs are working together to build the family we need and desire.

Lauren D. Wilson is an educator who blogs about mental wellness as it relates to being a young black woman, mother, and professional. Lauren lives with depression and bipolar II disorder. She believes that discussions about mental health are under-utilized and ultra-necessary to strengthening and supporting black women and their communities.