When my ex told me he wanted his new girlfriend to help raise our son, I felt like strangling him. I didn’t realize that tri-parenting would save my sanity
Looking back, it’s clear to me now that Wes and I had all the makings of a terrible marriage. Though we were both struggling actors when we met, he was 28 and I was 36. He was from Toronto; I was from L.A. He had a history of cheating in relationships, and I had a history of avoiding them. Yet we ignored all the warning signs: after a three-week courtship, we got married and moved to Toronto to start a new life. A few months later, I was pregnant with our son, Jack.
It didn’t take long for the honeymoon period to fizzle—I found myself married, pregnant and living with a stranger in a strange city. Wes and I disagreed on everything. I see-sawed between shutting down and blowing up. And, as our relationship continued to disintegrate, Wes started cheating on me.
After a three-year cycle of fighting, splitting and reuniting, Wes and I broke up for good in August 2007. It was a messy process: he lived in the basement for four months after we separated. Even when he moved out, we spent a great deal of time together—Jack was very little, and I didn’t have family in Toronto. I needed Wes. A lot of the time, we acted like a couple without the sex: we ate together, visited his family in Niagara, took Jack to the park. As a result, the terms of our relationship were ill-defined; I got hurt when I found out he was dating. One night, when I was dropping Wes off after dinner, I saw a container of soup that a girlfriend had left at his place. I lost it—maybe because no one was making soup for me.
We continued that way, trapped in the space between lovers, exes and friends, for about two years. Then, in 2009, Wes started seeing Sarah, a young, pretty ex-ballerina he’d met at an audition for a pickle commercial. They got serious fast—and Wes was determined to make Sarah a part of Jack’s life. “If I die, I want her to co-parent Jack,” he told me, just weeks after they had met. My thoughtful response: “Are you fucking kidding me?”
After my initial freak-out, I agreed to give Sarah a chance. Under our co-parenting arrangement, Jack slept half the time at their place and half the time at mine. The four of us started spending time together as a group: we even included Sarah on the walk to Jack’s first day of kindergarten. Knowing Wes’s track record, I was sure the relationship would implode sooner or later. But Wes and Sarah turned out to be a great fit—and the more I got to know my ex’s new partner, the more I liked her. She was organized. She helped out with Jack. With Sarah around, I didn’t have to juggle so much—she was happy to help keep track of which day Jack had swimming or make a lunch when he had a field trip. Little by little, I saw the benefits of having her in my son’s life.
Of course, I felt threatened at times, especially at the beginning. For Mother’s Day, Jack made us each a gift at daycare. Sarah’s was a beautiful flower painting with “I love you” written on it; mine was a papier-mâché candlestick. I had clearly received the B-gift.
In 2011, Sarah had a daughter, Audrey, and Jack called me from the birthing room. “Mommy, I have a sister!” he said, his voice full of wonder and joy. I hung up the phone and wept for the loss of something I couldn’t quite pinpoint.
With time, I realized I needed to feel like part of a family—and that’s what the five of us became. That summer, I decided we should rent a cottage together, so we packed up the car and drove up to Muskoka. It was a wonderful week—Jack was so happy to have us all there. We barbecued and played with the baby. We swam and built bonfires. Wes and I argued once, but for the most part, it felt peaceful and natural.
Wes and I have now been apart for twice as long as we were together—and to our great surprise, we’ve become terrific friends. We help each other with auditions and act in each other’s projects. He and Sarah are my confidants, my support network, my partners. We’ve settled into a comfortable routine of hanging out on weekends and holidays—last Christmas, the five of us spent a couple of days with my family in Vancouver and a few with Sarah’s in Victoria. I also take care of Audrey when Sarah and Wes have to work. I love her like she’s my own—and she’s a girl! I buy her dresses and dance with her to “Let It Go.” Our arrangement isn’t always perfect, but it’s much more rewarding than cordoning off our lives.
There are times when I’m around Wes and Sarah that I feel like a sister-wife or some eccentric spinster aunt. My parents even thought we were a throuple, which horrified and amused me at the same time. A few weeks ago, Jack and I met up with Wes and Sarah to watch Audrey’s first soccer practice. Each time she kicked the ball into the goal, we’d cheer and clap, and she’d take a bow. It was adorable. The other parents didn’t know what to make of it. They kept eyeing me in that curious way, asking a question I’d been asking myself for years: “How does she fit into the equation?” I looked around at my family—at Wes, at Sarah, at our kids—and realized I finally knew the answer.
Precious Chong is an actor and writer living in Toronto. She blogs at sexandthesingleparent.com.
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