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Sunday
Dec012013

"Co-Parenting Doesn't Have To Be A Battle": A Mom Introduces Her New Partner to Her Ex

Friend of Co-Parenting 101 and co-parenting mom Chanie shares a story about two very special people in her daughter's life meeting for the first time.

Most co-parents have nightmare stories to share like I do...but not this time. Crazy, right? I know I am just as shocked. It happens even when you think it is impossible because of all the co-parenting battles you have fought.

Last month, I picked up my daughter from her father’s house where she spent the weekend. As I have done many times before with her father’s knowledge, I arrived with the man I am currently dating. He respectfully waits in the car while I enter the house to pick up my daughter. My daughter has a great bond with both men, who after all these years had never met each other. Unprompted by anything specific, I randomly decided to introduce them to each other in my daughter’s presence.

It went well, amazingly well. So well that her father could not help himself and made me the butt of a joke. After I introduced the two, he said, Oh, I heard great things about you from her.” He pointed to our daughter then whispered,Not from her,” and pointed to me.

They both laughed and so did my daughter as I stood there with my mouth open from utter shock. This was a good shock and a measure of our progress as co-parents. Later, I reflected on the introduction and learned that my primary intent was to honor my daughter. It was simply time for the key adults in her life to interact in her presence. It is healthy for her to see that the people she spends time with regularly and loves dearly interact positively. Also, her father deserved to be honored as well as a co-parent. It is important for him to meet the person with whom his daughter has a close relationship. They are close to the point that they not only spend time together in and outside of our home, but also call and text each other regularly.

There is also the matter of honoring the person I am currently dating, who for years has cared for and loved my daughter as if his own child. He, too, deserved the honor of knowing my daughter’s father. I could not be happier and prouder of that unplanned moment. Everyone came together for my daughter. It was a great example for me to see that despite challenges, co-parenting does not have to be a battle.


Friday
Nov222013

Co-Parenting Through Tough Times With Art and Love

 

photo courtesy of Thomas WarmWhen co-parenting dad Kaleb Hill found out his son wasn't doing well in school, he knew immediate action was required. Below, he shares his story with us.

This post is dedicated to my son. I published this on your birthday as a reminder to myself that you’re steady growing into a Black man. Let no one, but you, establish your definition of success for you. I love you.

Nothing is more alarming than a drastic change in your child’s behavior at school when he or she previously enjoyed learning.

My son is currently at the age where most young Black men lose interest in school. When I learned that my son was receiving poor grades, I was more concerned about his emotional well-being than the letter grade. As a student, I experienced the same disinterest in school at the same grade level. I was a straight "A" student eager to learn until social stress took a toll on me. I was diagnosed with a learning disability, but this was not before I was labeled “lazy.” When I heard him described this way for losing interest in school, it cut deep.

Instead of using negative words to describe my son, I took a more compassionate approach. I asked my son if he was still interested in attending college.  He replied “yes.” This wasn’t a time to berate or belittle him. This was my time to listen to him express himself. We have always had an open line of communication. I learned from our conversation that he is still passionate about science and math, but he wasn’t as enthusiastic about reading or writing. His tone of voice showed signs of depression. Although he didn’t say it, I knew it. I also knew his mother wouldn’t take him to a therapist, if I suggested it. Art and music has worked wonders for me managing my own depression, so I decided to send him some art supplies for his birthday. I know from our time together that he likes to draw. I worked out my schedule in a manner that made time to video chat with him every night and do different art assignments to help him express himself. During this time, I also make sure he does the work his teacher assigns him too.

I’ve learned to bypass all scripted forms of parenting a long time ago. I’m not here to micromanage his life. Everything I do for him is rooted in love. I think back to the days when he was an infant who cried out for me when he felt insecure. The tears have dried but his failing grades are definitely a cry for help. Parenting is a teaching and learning experience for both parties involved. I had to watch the cues my son gave me and adjust my behavior in a way that benefited him.

He knows his mother and I have high expectations, and we stress the importance of formal and self-education. He wishes to attend college, but he hasn’t connected the importance of discipline as a 5th grade student to what he will need once he reaches higher education.

Too many Black male voices are muted by stereotypes and statistics. If you’re raising one, now is not the time to throw caution to the wind.

What does success look like for a young Black male navigating a world ruled by systematic oppression?

 

Monday
Nov112013

Co-Parenting Through The Holidays: "The Kids Can Only Eat One Turkey!"

 

photo courtesy of Horton Web Design

The holiday season is the time of year when the reality of children living between two households can be the most challenging.  So Deesha reached out to our friend, psychologist and single parenting expert Dr. Leah Klungness, to talk about how we can co-parent through the holidays with our kids as our priority...and with our sanity in tact.


Deesha: I love what you said once about how the kids can only eat one turkey for Thanksgiving. It exemplifies the need for co-parents to be more flexible and creative.

Dr. Leah: The best way -- especially for co-parents -- is to remember that the holidays are a season. There are many opportunities to enjoy time with your kids. Of course, Thanksgiving is the great exception ... there is only one turkey.

Trying to have two Thanksgivings is madness. Divorce attorneys hate the days ... and, frankly, psychologists [my hand is raised] do too.  These are ttrying times as Thanksgiving approaches and unresolved issues emerge. One woman told me that her ex's mother cooked and served a Thanksgiving dinner at 10:00 AM -- the whole extended family gathered-- and consumed that mountain of food when the rest of us are just looking for coffee. When Dad picked up the kids for his scheduled Thanksgiving, the kids were already stuffed and in the predictable turkey coma.

 Creativity and flexibility ... those are key. For example: I am a solo mom, no-parenting partner, but during one particularly stressful Thanksgiving week, I told my kids that we were going to have a Mexican Fiesta Thanksgiving.  I made a fast dash to the supermarket and bought the makings for fajitas and tacos. Yellow rice ... you get the picture. My kids still talk about that Thanksgiving with the laughter that only great memories provides.

Other co-parents have told me that they celebrate Thanksgiving with their kids by serving breakfast that starts with dessert, or a campfire cook-out.  The key is that you're together making special memories.

Is that what you would have suggested to that Dad whose kids were more stuffed than the turkey when he went to pick them up?

Certainly, insisting that the kids eat twice or even sit at the table twice is unreasonable. So I would suggest to that dad that he let the kids sleep off the turkey coma, and that their Thanksgiving feast with him that year was leftovers later that night (which is what he did).  Or they could enjoy the leftovers later that weekend with him when they were actually hungry.  

That’s a very child-centered solution, not focused on the adult disconnect, assuming the 10 AM Thanksgiving dinner wasn't intentional to thwart Dad’s plans.  But even if it was intentional, the response was child-centered. And I think that's key.  Sometimes you have to let the disagreeable co-parent "win" in order for your kids to be okay.

Of course, focus on what the kids need. The adult disconnect -- in this case entirely intentional -- should not penalize the kids. The "disagreeable" parent chalked up a win -- or so she thought - but the real winners were the kids given Dad's thoughtful and appropriate reaction.

Can you talk a bit more about why divorce attorneys and psychologists dread the holidays when it comes to co-parenting?

High conflict divorce is one of my practice specialties. As in all divorce agreements, when children are involved, parenting time -- including a holiday schedule -- is negotiated as part of the agreement. At the time, alternating Thanksgiving on a yearly basis -- is nearly always readily agreed upon. But after the agreement is finalized, and the holiday approaches, the reality that one parent will NOT eat that one and only turkey with the kids hits hard.

Not sharing that turkey dinner becomes a symbol -- a representation of what has been lost as a result of the divorce. It's what's now seen as lost which brings up a firestorm of feelings --- sadness, tears, anger, recrimination ... and sometimes crazy stunts like serving Thanksgiving at 10:00 AM.

I try to help people anticipate this experience and make sensible plans which help them cope with that loss AND have emotionally healthy holiday fun with their kids.

I definitely get the sense that generally kids handle not being with one parent or the other better than the parent does.  What advice do you have for co-parents who are sad about splitting time over the holidays?  And we should definitely talk about loneliness because that's a factor too.

Plan. And plan some more. If you'll not be spending the holiday with your children, use this free time not as a time to wallow in self-pity and loneliness, but to do some things that sometimes are not possible when you're juggling kids and career. Plan an indulgent day of binge watching a TV series you've missed. Have food in the house that you love to eat.

Alternatively, seek out others who may also be alone for the day. Have the courage to share with others that without your kids, it's a lonely day. You'll find that many others share that feeling during the holidays.

And when we do this kind of self-care at the holidays, it's easier to give our kids permission to enjoy their time with their other parent. And some kids need that permission.

Well said. Some kids -- especially as they get older -- need that permission. Let your kids know that you have plans, things to which you are looking forward. Share those plans in as much detail as is age appropriate.

Let's talk about gifts...Helping kids make or choose a gift for their other parent is really a gift to the kids. But some co-parents are reluctant or unwilling.

Absolutely. Some parents are unwilling because their own unresolved feelings get in the way of doing what's right for the kids. The gift can be something as simple as a picture of their kids in a homemade frame. Or a letter. Or some "treasure" picked out at the Dollar Store. It's not about the money spent; it's about giving your child the gift of knowing that it's OK to love you both -- in fact, it's one of the best ways to send that critical emotional message.

I want to wrap up by going back to something you mentioned earlier...Memories. If we think about the memories we're making with our kids, during the holidays--and every day--that should encourage us to act in ways that are memorable...for the right reasons!

My own "babies" are grown-up. That gives me the privileged perspective to know -- with absolute certainty -- that experiences we create for our kids done with pure intentions matter. This is what our kids will remember. That we tried. Sometimes we did not succeed, but we always did our best.

Thank you, Dr. Leah!

~

What special memories are you making with your kids this holiday season?  What plans do you have for yourself when the kids are with your co-parent? Share your holiday plans with us in the comments section!