My co-parent and I had no idea when we started sharing joint custody with our son who turned 5 and our daughter 7 ½ that we were on the cusp of a major societal shift back then.
At the time, it was unusual for fathers to request and receive a 50-50 time split. The usual ‘Freeman Order,’ ironically named after a judge in Los Angeles who routinely gave fathers alternating Saturday overnight to Sunday afternoon and every Wednesday dinner, simply would not cut it.
Fully involved with feeding, changing diapers and clothing, putting the kids down to sleep, being there to play when they woke up and involved in homework and school activities from Day 1, why should that change with divorce?
A Quick Background:
Our separation was a long time coming.
We were able to mediate, but our communication wasn’t easy.
Good luck with the vow that the children not suffer because of the adult decision their parents made.I know our children were deeply affected.
Who knew we were on the forefront of a sea change as joint custody was evolving to an equitable timeshare plan so common today for involved and bonded parents?
Here are five co-parenting tips that seem relevant years later, and might help you today.
#1. Brush up on cooking skills.
- As a middle aged man who now enjoys preparing savory meals, I regret not being able to cook more with my young kids.
Exploring casual family style ethnic restaurants that are abundant in the Los Angeles area, the children acquired quite an international palate for trying new foods which endures today and is now passed onto their children.
#2 Rethink gender bias in parental competence.
Our son would innocently ask a friend to come over to our house for a play date.
- Invariably, the question would be asked, “Whose custody day is it?” Invariably the mother’s answer would be, “No thank you,” when the custody time was with me.
It still brings tears to my eyes recalling these occurrences for weekend sleepovers too. Our offspring were excluded from something everyone else in their class seemed to be doing on a regular basis.
- Those same children were welcomed to visit my co-parent’s home. Our daughter knew not to offer the invitation to her girlfriends knowing in advance the answer.
#3. Travel breeds camaraderie and closeness.
From weekend camping to two week jaunts to Cambodia, Ecuador or France, I made sure we had exciting adventures to look forward to as a break from the hard work of school and busy schedules including transitioning between two households.
- Instead of focusing on what we didn’t have we spent our time looking at maps and planning itineraries together, culled from many options was a joy and a valuable exercise in negotiating and making compromises.
#4. Know when to back down on what is right
After one verbal tussle with my co-parent, our 9-year-old daughter would not come with me for her custody overnight. It's wrong that she was caught in the middle and assumed a responsible position to support her mother.
I backed off and let her spend the night with my co-parent on my custody day.
- I cared more about our daughter's uncomfortable position than missing the time with her. Even when you're right, and I was, there are times when it's more important to ‘let it go.’
#5. Do not wing parenting time
It's pretty well documented that children thrive when they have structure and predictability in their daily lives, no matter which parent’s home they are living in.
- The terms “Disneyland Dads” and “Magic Mountain Moms” still make me cringe.
I do poorly without a schedule to rely on, why would our children do any better?
Besides, it’s the kids’ job to push against boundaries and our job to reinforce them. In their secret heart that is what youngsters truly want anyway. To know limits makes children feel safe and secure with you and in the world.
I admit I was guilty of intermittently being late for after school pick-ups.
- Homework, dinner, bath and a set bedtime complete with uber-bonding story time was always present.
Pre-planned activities for the weekends including time for school projects as well as downtime was a must. Make sure the children see their grandparents and other relatives. This way they will feel part of the legacy on your side of the family.
At the park with our grandchildren I look around and see so many younger dads who are stepping up involvement in their progeny’s lives.
My heart swells with pride that men’s roles have expanded.
Being a parent is and has been one of the most rewarding activities of my entire life.
Lewis Perkins is a Certified Financial Planner Professional since 1992. Chartered Life Underwriter and a graduate of San Francisco State University with a Master’s degree in Business Administration. For the last twenty-five years, in addition his kids dad, Lewis works in various aspects of financial services, insurance, and real estate. He is based in Manhattan Beach, CA and can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org - put it’s over easy in the subject line.