“How Embracing the Untraditional Family Helped Me Become a Better Co-Parent” originally appeared on Medium and The Fatherly Forum, and was reprinted with permission.
After publishing my previous two posts on dating and traveling, I received multiple requests to share my thoughts on co-parenting. Up until this point, I resisted. I resisted because my expertise is not in this area. I’m not sure we are a good model to follow but we’ve found some things that work so I wanted to share in case they’re helpful tips for others.
I will say that my ex and I are committed to figuring out this co-parenting life together. Our daughter is 4 and our son is about to turn 6. Next month, I will have been out on my own for three years. I think we are heading down a good path so that is why I decided to write this post.
Let me start by saying it doesn’t matter why you got divorced. Hell, you and your ex may not even agree as to why you got divorced. What does matter is how you work together to raise your kids.
You Are the Adult, Don’t Act Like a Kid
In my eyes, this is the most important rule. In theory, it is a simple rule to follow. Unfortunately, emotions can get the best of people. Venting, complaining, and talking shit about the other person can happen very easily. You need to be aware that kids are always listening. You may not even be talking to them but don’t think they aren’t hearing what you are saying.
You probably have set days with your kids but life is not linear. Sometimes you have to drop everything and help out even on days when the kids are not supposed to be with you. It becomes even more challenging when both parents are working parents. Saying that it is not my day or not my time with the kids is childish. You may not be married but you are raising your children together and that means still supporting one another.
Open Communication Is Key
You don’t need to talk every day or even every week. You may go weeks without “talking” but important updates need to happen on the regular. I find that text message is perfect for these regular updates. Sending updates like the kids took showers last night or the kids have not been sleeping well is a good way to open communication.
We also defined an unwritten set of rules that works well. I’ve fallen into the role of the dentist guy. I take the kids every six months for their cleanings and then communicate back to my ex if we need to floss better, buy ACT, or if all is good.
My ex is in charge of yearly doctor visits. We have never discussed these roles and responsibilities. They have unfolded naturally. The key is communicating after the visits so you are on the same page. This usually requires more than just a text message.
Our son started kindergarten this year and, clearly, school is one of the areas where we know it is important to communicate. Since this is new to us, I will share our approach so far. We went to parent-teacher night together so we could both hear the same feedback from the teacher. We stick to the same routines in terms of when our child does their homework. For example, we both do it right after dinner and that way the kids stay in the similar routine at each house.
The last example in this bucket is what I will call discussing the abnormalities. These can start as a text but may be better as a conversation. For example, has Eli stopped eating vegetables at your house? Or does Audrey keep getting out of bed even after you read her books, sing her songs, say goodnight, and close her door? Abnormalities pop up all the time as your child is constantly evolving. Communicating and staying on the same page is key as changes continually unfold.
Embrace the Modern Family … Sometimes
I’m a big believer that a birthday is all about the person celebrating. Put your differences aside, show up for some cake, and make the day about your child, not yourself. Once during the past three years, I decided to skip “the family” birthday celebration for my daughter. I did take her to a special birthday brunch that morning. Looking back on it, I wish I went for the cupcakes that evening. She was only turning 2 but just because she won’t remember it didn’t make me feel any better.
I suggest picking one holiday to celebrate together. Halloween is when we get together as a modern family. We decorate Halloween cookies and walk around as a modern family trick or treating. This is a perfect holiday to share because you are not sitting around all day at a family member’s house like you do during Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah.
Another example of being a modern family can happen on the fly. Every Friday at my house is movie night. By 5 PM I’m on the couch with the kids and we cuddle while watching Home Alone, Secret Life of Pets, etc. … Not long ago, the kids welcomed a little sister into the world. They really wanted their Mom and Baby Ryan to join us. After they made the request, Baby Ryan and my ex joined us for a movie night. Seeing the happiness on my daughter’s face while she held her new sister for movie night was priceless.
This has been my formula for success so far: Act like an adult, be flexible, keep an open line of communication, and embrace the modern family … sometimes. This has allowed us to raise healthy, vibrant kids that are surrounded by love.
More from Fatherly:
- Why you should praise less, sleep more, and tell one key lie to raise well-adjusted kids
- To the new father who wonders what his wife does at home all day
- How to interact with your surprisingly social newborn