For this separated couple, a nimble co-parenting arrangement is the only way to go.
The back story is my former partner and I started dating about 15 years ago. I don’t know if it was formal dating—we played on the same softball team and started hanging out. After a few months his clothes were on the floor of my apartment and there was an extra toothbrush in the bathroom. And the next thing I knew we were signing the mortgage on an old, but new to us, house in a family-oriented neighbourhood in Victoria, BC. Feels like a lifetime ago.
Friends will say they remember when we got along and when we were happy. I usually squint my eyes at that point in the conversation, not because I don’t believe them, but mainly because I barely remember my life before parenthood.
What do I remember about those days? I remember we used to both travel a lot for our jobs. Our weekends off were made up of gardening and renovating; I was an avid gardener back then and he renovated our house room by room. Life was simple. We had a cleaning lady, went for long bike rides along the ocean and dined out when we didn’t feel like cooking. Much of the time one of us was travelling and the other was living quite happily alone in the house. We crossed paths on weekends and vacations.
In 2006 came the bouncing 10.5 pound, colicky baby boy. Life for me changed dramatically. I went from 60-hour work weeks, dinner with colleagues and travelling weekly as the Director of Distance Education in the B.C. government to 168-hour work weeks and maternity leave where my work plan involved breast feeding, cleaning, the baby, the laundry. Exotic travel was limited to the grocery store. My partner, raised in the 1960s by a stay-at-home mom had a different approach. Things stayed the same for him more or less. He worked, he travelled and he renovated.
In that first year, my son never slept well and I was extremely tired most of the time. I can still remember how tired I felt. In those early days I would go to the drive-through Starbucks, get a very strong coffee and drive Victoria’s scenic beach drive to get the child to take his nap. At 18 months old the boy still hadn’t slept through the night. By that time, I was back at work, my partner’s parents had both fallen ill, and even more of the work load at home had fallen to me. Fast forward a whole bunch of counselling attempts and flubbed “let’s make it better” efforts and in July 2009 the relationship ended.
I don’t think I had a clue back then what co-parenting would or should look like. Though I’m sure we both considered it, neither of us has hired a lawyer or mediator. We don’t have formal custody arrangements, times or dates.
What we have done is try every schedule imaginable to try to make it work for everyone. When my son was two, we tried a week on and week off. I hated it because I missed him so much. For years we did four days at mom’s house/three days at dad’s house, which meant that every Thursday, Friday and Saturday he would go to his dad’s. That was okay for me, but not so great for dad who never had a Friday or Saturday night to himself. And my son was frustrated because transferring homework and sports equipment mid-week always meant something got lost or missed.
Last summer, we switched to what I am calling the nimble approach, the premise being that we enjoy hanging out together as much as possible and we all have to be flexible about the arrangements. If one of us has an event or party or wants to go away for a weekend, we tell each other ahead of time and the other parent automatically steps in. There are no babysitters unless we are both in a pinch. When my son has hockey in the morning he stays at daddy’s house. When he has school in the morning he stays at mommy’s house. If we wants to play Xbox on a Saturday afternoon that he’s at dad’s, he calls first but is allowed to come by. When he wants to walk the dog and play in the park, he can spend some extra time at daddy’s house if it works. Nothing is set in stone. We live a 10-minute drive from each other. We alternate school pick up based on who has more urgent meetings. We both attend school events as much as we can. We both go to sporting events and sometimes we even sit together. On Halloween our son spends one hour in my neighbourhood and one hour in his dad’s. Christmas is breakfast all together the rest of the day split between houses.
We try to plan a week ahead of time and we review the schedule together every Sunday. I have a very detailed white board that helps my son to know what is happening each day, which is super important for him. We check-in during the week and make sure the schedule is on track. So far, no one has ever got confused or forgot to pick up or drop off. No one misses anyone too much, and both parents manage to get rest when they need it. Although I’m not always able to commit to doing non-parent things very far ahead of time, I can almost always make things work.
I’m not sure our nimble arrangement would work for everyone, nor do I think it will work forever. But for right now, it seems like nimble is how we make our alternative family work. What’s your arrangement and how do you make it work for everyone?
This is #1000families post number 175. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.
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