“If my son brings up his dad in conversation I make a point of saying, ‘you are lucky to have a great dad’…I want him to feel safe loving his father right in front of me, without fear of hurting my feelings or being concerned about allegiance to either parent.”
Fathers & Families supporter Maggie is a mother who shares parenting. Below, she tells her story.
Co-parenting benefits us as parents, but ultimately it is our children who are the winners
When my husband and I divorced in 2004 our families were heartbroken. Our son was three years old. Our parents were becoming friends, enjoyed spending holidays together and everyone was looking forward to a long happy life as one unit. We shattered a lot of dreams with our decision, but we knew it was the right one.
In the midst of this turmoil we both did a lot of things that we regret (mostly me) and had to work very hard to practice forgiveness (mostly him). However, we made a pact early on that we would protect our son and show him how loved he was. We knew that he would feel the rippling effects of our actions and agreed that our decisions would be made solely for what was best for him – not what felt good or what seemed “fair’ to us.
That meant that during his younger years (age 3-10) he would likely spend more time with me. His father works fulltime and leaves before dawn many days a week. We knew he would benefit from having a stable home as much as possible; it just made sense. To compensate for the imbalance in the timeshare I committed to making our home and lives accessible to dad whenever he had extra time – sharing a meal, an unplanned trip to the arcade, or even just popping in throughout the week for a hug. We learned to be flexible. It has been tested many, many times with new schedules, new partners and decisions over discipline. We found a balance that works for us.
A couple weeks ago I had a big birthday party planned. Dad called to ask if our son could go to Disneyland the same weekend. His girlfriend needed to fly to Los Angeles for business and they decided to turn the trip into a vacation. Saying yes meant rescheduling the birthday party until weeks later and that I would miss his first time at Disneyland. I was disappointed for maybe 15 minutes before I agreed wholeheartedly and made the opportunity work for everyone involved. We took our egos out of the parenting and solely focused on what would best serve our child.
Because our son doesn”t see his father daily I try to keep him present in our lives. We have photos of him on the wall. If he brings up his dad in conversation I make a point of saying, “you are lucky to have a great dad’ or “your daddy loves you very much.’ When he says he misses him I always offer the chance to call him. I want him to feel safe loving his father right in front of me, without fear of hurting my feelings or being concerned about allegiance to either parent. One has nothing to do with the other.
As a result of our timeshare his dad has had to sacrifice the sometimes sweet and sometimes stressful moments of raising a child. I have had to do much of the parenting on my own…for now. Today we are sharing time with an eight-going-on-18 year old. Suddenly dad is the coolest thing since the invention of video games. Where he once wanted me, he is now looking to his dad for mentoring and to model how to be a guy in the world. I am coming to terms with the fact that he will likely spend his teen years primarily living with his father and that is ok – it”s what is best for him. We”re watching him and letting him guide us by his age-appropriate needs whenever possible.
At times it has been challenging to form new romantic relationships. People seem confused by our parenting style. Sadly it would be customary if we argued and disparaged one another; people would think it were normal. But no one expects ex-spouses to call each other for advice or share Christmas dinner. It takes special, healthy individuals to recognize that our bond is rooted in mutual respect as parents and that we”ve been able to forge a lasting friendship because we treat each other as equals, not rivals.
Now years later I once again find myself in a relationship that is dissolving and my co-parenting abilities will be tested. I am grateful that I”ve had to hone my belief and practices around the importance of shared parenting. There is a place of transcendence one can reach when facing difficult co-parenting moments. It is freeing to look at a problem and find a solution that is solely based on a child”s needs and not the parents” desires. It simplifies what could be painful moments. It is like looking at an equation and having the other variables fall away. Yes, the cooperation benefits us as parents, but ultimately it is our children who are the winners.