Kevin Wagstaff is a single dad and owner of a clothing line named after his daughter, Kiera. His mission is to design clothing with messages for strong, confident, active girls and women. You can read more about Kevin and Kiera at his blog, Dad.Daughter.Denver.
Divorce, separation, and children born out of wedlock are common in today’s world, yet the fractional attention and media coverage given to those involved does not reflect their numbers. Kevin Wagstaff is part of a co-parenting team to a six year old girl to whom he and his ex are constantly trying to give tools to succeed in life.
I have never been married or divorced, but have had to go through the not so fun process of working out custody. We had a rough year or so, just like many do, but I’m proud to say we work together as friends now for the benefit of all of us. This advice applies to mothers or fathers but this is just my perspective, being a single dad who has arrived at a place where the topic is not a source of stress. It doesn’t get discussed enough. My humble advice…
1) Ask questions. I know, you are convinced that she/he is not going to ask them back or ever care what you think, but do it. Even if it hurts to show that you are being considerate to his/her needs. The kindness and consideration will wear on them, and they will eventually ask your preferences and why you feel the way you do. It is instinctive to be drawn to good listeners. If you have it in you, (or have to fake it till you really do care) ask about things other than the kid(s). You may not admit it, but there was something in this person at some point that you liked, loved, and cared about. Remember that when asking. This will usually make anyone more comfortable and open to compromise when they feel like their concerns and needs are being heard.
2) Give an extra day or make a concession every now and then. This is an especially tough one that I did not do at first. It took counseling from my brother and father to be able to take myself and my ego out of the decision and give a little. Once you do, (and even more so when it is unsolicited) it can really take down walls and egos and open the door to healthy dialogue.
3) Seems obvious, but withhold all of your wonderful negative opinions about your ex from your kid(s). It may not seem to matter when you’re in the kitchen whining to your mom about him/her, but you know as well as I do that these little perceptive beings pick up far more than we ever give them credit for. Just simply by limiting your talk around your kid to the positive aspects of them getting to live in two places, you are minimizing any stigma that is associated with having parents in different houses.
4) This is mostly for men for obvious reasons. COMMUNICATE. With your kid(s) and their mother. When your kids are with her, check in. Facetime, Skype, call to ask about the spelling test or the winter musical. If you feel like you’re bothering her, get over it. Everyone likes engaged, involved fathers. And be persistent. If she forgets to have your son/daughter call back, that’s ok. Think about when you’re busy engaging with your child, how hard it is to stop and make a phone call. The more you seek to understand where your ex is coming from, how she thinks and perceives, the more you will handle unexpected situations with poise. This also seems obvious but the more I talk to male friends, the more I realize it needs to be said. PLAN AHEAD. Get a calendar. Force yourself to do this, it will minimize surprises that get our blood boiling when it was a date that should have been communicated well ahead of time. The more you communicate, the more you are both aware of everything that is happening, such as times when you compromised or times she compromised, and you can start a positive chain of scratching each others backs!
5) Let go. Realize that much of what we stress about is not in our control. Can you change how your ex talks to your kid(s) about certain issues? You can certainly voice your concern in a calm, positive manner to your co-parent and possibly try to instill confidence in him/her that he/she will do xyz. Beyond that, learn to channel your energy and what you choose to stress about. Getting shorted one day here and there is rarely worth how much we stew and argue over it. Simply remember the steps above and communicate how you feel, maybe jot down the times you feel you both compromise for reference, and bring a positive vibe to every interaction.
Listen, I know these situations are very emotionally charged and can leave you wanting to win the “battle”. Much like your investments, these are long term strategies. These are simply things I learned along the way to having a healthy, noncompetitive co-parenting relationship with my daughter’s mother. After all, there are too many wonderful things in life to be enjoying and focusing on. Control what you can control.
photo credit: Kevin Wagstaff