We were not technically together when my daughter was born. When my co-parent got pregnant, I started paying support right away - even while she was pregnant. I took responsibility and made my intentions clear. I wanted to be a dad.
But trying to sort out a parenting arrangement was confusing; it's hard not to be afraid someone is trying to take your child away. I try to think to myself: if I have extra money, should I spend it taking my kid's mom to court? Or, should I spend that doing something cool with my kid? We have only gone to court once. The judge just told us that the time would be shared equally and then sent us away to figure out the rest between us.
I had previously done a research paper on attachment, so I knew the appropriate amount of time for me to be with my daughter and for her to be with her mom depending on her age and stage of development. I found out what the professionals said about healthy attachment and what I needed to do. It was a time game. I didn't get goofy – it's a marathon, not a sprint. Certainly, there were hurt feelings and different values; there's a reason we broke up in the first place.
As kids grow up, you lose control. You grieve that loss, and when you're separated, you have to grieve that loss of control a lot sooner. Our reality was that every six months, I was asking for more time with my daughter, right from when she was born.
Our daughter is six now. One thing we've done a great job of is not fighting in front of her. We never fight in front of her. I'm also really aware of supporting her relationships with other family members. When I pick my daughter up, I always make sure to remind her, "say goodbye to your mom, tell her you love her, hug your step-dad." I want her to know it's ok to love all of us. I always encourage her and let her know it's ok to love all of her family. If there are ever behaviour problems, we have family conversations. I'll tell my daughter, "you know you've got to respect your mom."
My co-parent's mom was heavily involved, and we still get along today. It all comes into play. People don't always think about those in the background, the parents, partners or grandparents who aren't at the table.
Naming our daughter was tricky. We decided to hyphenate her last name so that if either of us were travelling with her or signing her up for things, it would be easier. She would also be connected to both of us in that way.
My co-parent and I are like siblings. We still bicker. We both have new partners, and she has more kids with her husband. He and I get along; we're alright. I've noticed my co-parent, and I don't make decisions just between us anymore. It's always, "I'll check with my husband and get back to you" or me saying I'll check with my partner and see. For us, that's really about respecting our separate families and how they're connected. Relationship management is enormously crucial in a blended family.
It's a hard gig, always having to consider what will be best for my co-parent, her husband, and their kids, as well as my family. I tell myself this time matters, but it's not the only time. It's just one piece. This is a long game, and it's a moving target. Parenting time is always going to be a different beast. I try to focus on the big picture. I am hoping that my daughter and I will also have a relationship when she's an adult. You spend more time as an adult than you do being a child, so I want my daughter to have good support going into early adulthood. You can't only be there for your kids when they're six. You need to also be there for them when they're twenty. They need their parents all the way along. My goal is to be someone my kid looks up to. I want to inspire her and be someone she can confide in. Thinking about my life, does it bother me that my dad wasn't there when I was 6? No, it bothers me that he wasn't around when I was 20. That's what I remember. Other times are just as important. I want to be there for my daughter's whole life.
If I had to advise someone else working out a co-parenting arrangement, I would say: do what you say you're going to do. Show up 5 minutes early, or even 10 minutes early. Show your co-parent that they can depend on you. Be reliable, pay your support, don't mess around. Do what you're supposed to do. It isn't a game. It's people's lives. Do what you say you're going to do and call if you're going to be late. I was never late in the first year. Not once. Building trust was my sole mission that year. There's more flexibility now because she knows she can trust me. Make keeping your commitments a priority. This is your kid. Make them a priority and show up.
I would also say to be picky with your new partner. Don't be desperate. Partners make or break a co-parenting arrangement. Don't forget that a whole other family needs to be considered. Healthy co-parenting is not forgetting the other family involved. You can't be selfish when there's a blended family.
Being a parent is a tough job, but it's an important one. And it's worth it.