I am fascinated by the term “co-parenting” and its infinite subtleties; humans are so complicated and divorce brings out the worst in most of us. We’ve all had parenting moments we’d like to take back– and this is often magnified when the small humans are watching the fully grown humans (ungracefully) work through figuring out how to parent while apart.
While I can’t sit here and tell you that there are absolutes on what’s right or wrong when it comes to sharing your children with an ex-spouse, I can tell you with certainty that there are a few small steps you can adhere to, to make everything run just that much more smoothly, from Mom’s perspective.
1. Remember that you promised to love her.
The best piece of advice I got when I shared the news that we were separating was “you got up in front of all of your family and friends and promised to love him forever. That doesn’t mean you agree with him, can’t be mad at him, or have to stay with him, but you do have to try to come from a place of love.” My friend is so wise and those words have really stuck with me and help frame my decisions when I want to lash out. Dad, are you coming from a place of love, or at least respect when you speak with her? Make decisions together? Figure stuff out, especially in front of the kids? Even if you have to dig deep, try.
2. Compliment their Mother to them.
She never, ever has to know you said something nice about her. But their mama is their world, especially when they’re small and it’ll do a ton for their own feelings around having to choose “sides”, or when looking for a relationship example as they start to date, or simply affirm something awesome in themselves if they take after her. You chose her to be the mother of your children, so it’s wise to give her some credit for that.
3. Follow through on your agreements.
Whatever that legal document around visits, custody, payments, etc. says, just do it. Even if you think it’s unfair, imbalanced or just frankly are tired one weekend. These babies are 50% yours and you need to step up and make sure you fulfill any responsibility toward them. This will save many future arguments and bring the animosity-meter WAY down between the two of you; this is win-win all around. (Note: she needs to do this too. It took two to, ahem, tango.)
4. Create structure and if you can, do the same routine as the other home.
It’s ok to not be “Fun Dad” all the time. One of the biggest challenges single Moms face, especially when they have the majority of the time with the kids during the week, is that Dad becomes the fun parent and Mom has to deal with all the mundane stuff like homework, doctor visits, discipline and clean rooms. Not only is it just really not cool, it’s doing a disservice to your kids; they need discipline, routine and order to feel comfortable and safe. Creating boundaries and saying “no” to them makes them feel loved. So love on those babies and put them to bed even if they don’t wanna!
5. Show up.
Go to games, performances, and school conferences just as you would have before. First, the parent who goes to all the conferences and doctor appointments ends up being the parent making the really big decisions most of the time; you should want and have a voice in those conversations. Not to mention that trust me, your child is looking for you when she takes that stage or goes up to bat; she wants ALL her people there for her big moment.
6. Remember Mother’s Day.
Being a single mom on mother’s day is one of the emptiest and alone-feeling moments she’ll have, particularly if the kids are too little to really do anything on their own for her. Take them to get a card or have them draw a picture. Also, in reference to point #1 up there, it’d be even cooler if you also shot her a text message to say HMD and thanks for making you a Dad. It’s hard but come from a place of love. Be that guy.
7. Go to the door.
Pet peeve alert! Walk your children to the door when you do the kid exchange. Greet her. Make a teeny amount of small talk. Hug and kiss those kiddos and then head off. This huge, huge, huge. You are teaching them manners, respect and demonstrating that you are indeed still a unit. Not the one you were before, but a unit nonetheless. Even if you are really not a fan of hers or she of yours, showing that you can be civil will bring your kids’ stress levels down immensely. Are you sensing a theme here? The kids come first, in all things. You got this Dad!