Co-parenting through separation & divorce

voices of your village Jul 11, 2019



In this episode of Voices of Your Village, I got to sit down with the two people, Fran and Daryl, who raised my favorite human, my husband Zach, and chat with them about how they navigated co-parenting through divorce and separation. These two navigated this challenge beautifully, so there was no one I’d rather sit down and talk to about this than them. If you’re a parent going through a separation or divorce or navigating co-parenting yourself, you’re not alone - this has been a highly requested topic and is super relevant for our village. 

Zach was six or seven when his parents divorced, and according to Zach, he always felt that the decisions his parents made were with his best interests in mind. I asked them how they were able to live through this challenging time without putting themselves first, because for Zach to have not felt all the fire that goes along with something like this, I think is amazing. Fran shared an amazing analogy - when we get married, we begin a story, but as the chapters are being written, sometimes we realize the story isn’t going to end or even continue the way we imagined. When their story was taking a different turn than expected, she decided that they could write a different, yet just as loving story than they had initially started out writing. 

She added that she dislikes the term “broken family,” and needed to imagine an expanding circle, rather than something shrinking or broken. Making this intentional decision had a profound positive effect on seemingly negative circumstances.

Fran shared how the first couple of years of a separation are really tough - it’s a time of great loss, grief, anger, pain, and confusion, and it doesn’t just affect two people. This was a time in which they intentionally turned to their village. They also knew arguments and discussions needed to remain private between the adults. Daryl added that his journey felt a bit different than Fran described in the beginning of our conversation - he felt more alone and perhaps less positive. He even felt like he wanted to be vindictive, which I think is very relatable for a lot of folks in this situation. He admits he wasn’t quite in the space Fran was in and had to get through a lot of anger before getting there. He describes a specific moment that what truly defining for him - he realized he couldn’t have what he was feeling and stay in that space and also let Zach be in the space that he needed to be in - those two spaces couldn’t co-exist. He decided he couldn’t be in the anger he was in and also put Zach first at the same time. He had to move into a different space - the motivation for being there was their little guy who needed to have both of his parents. He also mentioned that no matter how angry he became at Fran, he never stopped having respect for her as a parent. Once this decision was made internally, things became a lot easier for him on this journey. 

An important point that Fran made is that for people who go through a separation to think that they are not going to need to have a relationship with the other parent is wrong - she describes that she and Daryl recommitted to a different kind of relationship - a co-parenting relationship - and they both became extremely committed to this. They talked every single day, and agree that they both acted in his common interest. 

I asked them what plan they came up with to tell Zach about their separation, and what supports they had in place in doing so, and for Zach after-the-fact. Fran admits this question made her “feel all the feels” in a negative way - it took her right back to that time. Fran’s advice for anyone going through this is this: process your emotions and cry your tears as much as possible prior to sitting down with your kiddo so that they don’t become the caretaker of your emotions in that moment. This is a very difficult conversation that no one ever wants to have with their child. Fran recollects how this went with Zach: they told him they needed to talk to him about something important. They said mommy and daddy are going to be living in two different homes and that he was going to have two different homes. They told him they were always going to be his mom and dad. Fran remembers Zach leaving the room to get a piece of paper and drawing (recently in school at the time, one of Zach’s classmates, whose mom was a child psychologist, did a little session on how to express emotions by drawing. How convenient!) Fran describes this moment as traumatic, and Daryl says he will never forget that awful moment as long as he lives. This is not easy. Daryl advises that this is a conversation that must happen and that both parents must be present for - he describes it as even critical  - even if one could rationalize that the child is too young to understand, or you don’t believe you can sit down with the other parent due to the emotional turmoil - you must set that aside. Center the conversation around the child rather than yourselves, and use language that is age-appropriate. Explain what is going to change and what is going to remain the same for the child, but don’t over-promise anything. Zach also had a foundation of coping strategies to turn to in order to cope with the emotions. They took the important initiative to reach out to teachers and guidance counselors to let them know the situation and made Zach aware of these outlets if he felt the need to talk to one of them about what was going on in his life. I believe it is wildly important for kiddos to have adults to turn to besides their parents. This is a situation in which our kiddos knowing that they can have hard emotions and we as parents can handle them is important. 

How did they navigate all the logistics, like who is picking him up for school, for example? Who is dropping him off? Where is he staying tonight? Fran shares that it evolved over the years. Fran was committed to as much consistency as possible for Zach, so when she had to find part-time work (she was a stay-at-home mom prior to the divorce), she informed them about her family situation and that she needed to be out in time to pick Zach up from school every day. In the beginning, for them, they shared Zach every other week at night. Ultimately they landed on every other week, full weeks at a time because it was more consistent, dependable, and there was a schedule in place. Zach always knew where he was going to be. Fran and Daryl talked all the time - communication is vital for successful co-parenting. This is also a situation in which visual aids can be helpful, especially for younger kiddos, so they can be made aware of what to expect at all times.

I asked what it was like having their kid full-time to having him every other week. This question made Fran extremely emotional so she asked Daryl to share first.  Daryl shared that it may sound strange, but this actually caused him to become a better parent. He felt like he really began to own fatherhood. Being a good dad was of utmost importance to him. Daryl admits that he enjoyed the week-on week-off schedule - when Zach was with him for the week he was all-in, and then he enjoyed doing his own thing when he’d go to Fran’s. The weeks off were rejuvenating, and then when it was time for his week, he couldn’t wait. He found great balance in this schedule. He didn’t feel the loss of the time intensely, which he says is hard to admit. I think it’s a fair thing to feel and completely acceptable. Some of us show up as better parents if we are not doing it full-time, and that’s okay. This transition was a bit more difficult for Fran, especially because she was a stay-at-home mom so she was previously used to being with Zach full-time. She ultimately adjusted to the decrease in time and just the change in general but admits it was very, very difficult. 

Fran mentioned another positive aspect of their co-parenting relationship was that there were no restrictions on visitation and they flowed with what the needs were at the moment - there was no “you can’t see dad today,” for example. She joked about how she doesn’t think people actually knew they were divorced for quite some time because they were always not only at Zach’s school events, but would often show up or sit together. 

Both of Zach’s parents remarried, so an important question was if they had any rules surrounding bringing these other people into the mix. They agreed that like all other aspects of co-parenting, they talked with each other a lot and kept each other informed. Daryl felt as if he was very careful personally in regards to introducing a new person into Zach’s life.  The other parent was always made aware of any other adult in the picture. Zach was always put first, like usual.

How did they navigate holidays? I’ve had folks tell me, “I never want to give up Christmas morning.” Of course not - nobody wants to, but when co-parenting, you will most likely need to from time-to-time. Fran describes the first Christmas Eve she spent without Zach as incredibly lonely. To her, creating a “Hallmark Christmas” and retaining that “Lifetime Movie” magic was something she absolutely didn’t want to give up - but she had to at times. However, Fran points out that they always tried to spend some of the holiday together - she would go to Daryl’s Christmas morning or vice versa, for example.

Negative criticism of the other parent to the child or using the child as a pawn to negotiate can be very common, especially in the early years when the hard emotions are still seething. Fran and Daryl both agree that they never did either of these things and stress the importance of avoiding this kind of behavior when co-parenting. As Daryl stated, it just wasn’t an option. If you made this commitment to your child or children to put them first in this entire situation and process, then that kind of behavior doesn’t have a place. He admits it is very easy to want to go there, but when the interests of the child are number one, then you practice self-control. He felt a tremendous amount of respect for not only Zach but for Fran as a parent as well. Zach was the only thing that mattered. Fran added that the greatest gift we can give our children under these circumstances is to love the other parent. Daryl warmly added that he has always had the highest regard for Fran as a mom, and that “there is nobody else on the planet that I would rather have be the mother of my child than Fran” (Cue all the tears).

Lastly, two profound comments by Daryl that I believe speak to their incredible success as co-parents: “We were together on this on day one, and we never did anything to compromise that commitment,” and “There can be no greater priority than your kid.” It’s so beneficial to have this type of mindset when navigating a co-parenting relationship.

Thank you, Fran and Daryl, for co-parenting so beautifully to raise my favorite human.


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