co-written by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Deesha Philyaw; crossposted from Co-Parenting 101
Ah, celebrity gossip. It titillates, it entertains, it allows us mere mortals to perhaps feel just a wee bit superior when famous folks’ dirty laundry gets aired. Since celebrity gossip isn’t going away any time soon, we figured we’d use it as another opportunity to preach the Gospel of Co-Parenting. This week’s sermon:
An Open Letter on Co-Parenting to Nas and Kelis
Dear Nas and Kelis:
It’s unfortunate that you have filed for divorce, especially since you are expecting your first child in a couple of months. We’re writing not in judgment of you, but rather in support and encouragement, because we’ve been there. In the years since our break up, we’ve been called the poster-children for divorce because of our commitment to putting our children first. We wish we could have been the poster-children for a forever-marriage, but things didn’t work out that way. Speaking from our experiences, we’re here to tell you that while divorce is ending your marriage, your child’s family endures. Granted, it will be a family with parents living in separate households, leading separate lives–but it’s still a family, and as such, you owe it to your child to do the best you can to minimize conflict and maximize the peace in his/her family life.
To these ends, we’d like to offer you some unsolicited advice:
Never, ever, ever ask your child to choose sides between the two of you. As loving, involved parents, your child will love both of you. Don’t try and mess with that. Period, end of story, doesn’t matter who did what to whom–as long as the kid is safe and well-loved–that’s it.
Unless there are legitimate concerns about safety or abuse, your child has a right to regular access to and a healthy relationship with both of you. You have a right to your feelings about each other, however negative, but you don’t have a right express those feelings to your child nor to otherwise hinder or interfere with the relationship s/he has with the other parent.
Watch where you sling that mud. Even if you weren’t in the public eye, you would be obligated as responsible parents to keep the grown-up details of your situation between the grown-ups. Think twice before any “tell-all” interviews or books. Because you are in the public eye, the bitter details of your divorce that are made public–the finances, the accusations–will be documented. Remember that one day, your child will learn to Google, or Vulcan-mind-search or whatever we’ll be doing in the next decade or so.
Then again, maybe it’s not either of you who has been leaking the details of your divorce to the media. Choose your confidantes wisely. Loose lips sink ships…and they can make divorce and separation even harder on kids.
We know it’s not easy, but try to think past your short-term anger, animosity, and pain, and envision your child’s future. You will be your child’s primary role models. Will you model vengeance-seeking, bitterness, pettiness, and drama? Or will you model peace, forgiveness, and cooperation? Again, this is easier said than done, but if you make cooperative parenting and healing a goal, you’re more likely to attain it than if you don’t.
Come up with a co-parenting plan, in writing. It’s much easier to agree on the details of your custody arrangement in advance than it is to try to make decisions in the moment, and possibly in the heat of the moment. A fair co-parenting plan is objective and will minimize misunderstanding and conflict.
In your plan, you’ll include specifics about custody, holidays, vacations, education, insurance, and extra-curriculars. Clothing is another detail you can hash out in advance. Decide which of you will be responsible for buying your child’s clothes, and when. What’s the plan when (not if–when) s/he has a sudden growth spurt? If possible, split your child’s wardrobe between your two houses, according to the amount of time s/he will be in each place. And for the love of all things decent and dignified, don’t pass down your fashion sense to your offspring!
As hard as it may be, communicate! Regardless of how you feel about each other, your child needs both of you to step up, be mature, and work together in his/her best interest. If you can’t talk in a civilized fashion, email or text. Make it work! Your child is depending on you.
Finally, if all else fails, put these two on speed dial:
All the best and much peace to you and your family,
Mike and Deesha