MamaSpeak: Can You Be a Co-Parent if You’re not Co-Parenting?

February 15, 2011 by  


I can’t count the number of times a frustrated parent has lamented to me, “You can’t be a co-parent, if the other parent won’t.”  Yeah.  I feel you.  And, really, I get it.  It’s a reasonable perspective.

But, it’s only one perspective.

There’s another that asserts that who you are and what you do doesn’t have to be contingent upon what anyone else is doing or being.

Yeah, maybe I can’t actively co-parent (the verb) without someone with whom to do it.  But, does that mean I can’t be a co-parent (the noun)…just without a partner?  Call me crazy, but I think it’s possible.  (Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?)

It’s all about who you say you are; What you’re committed to; who you’re willing to be for the sake of your children…and your integrity.

See, for me, a co-parenting is kind of like a religion…and I strive to be a faithful follower…a devoted co-parent.  It frames how I choose to be in this world, in my relationship with my child’s other parent.  It isn’t relative, my sense of myself as a co-parent, because I stand committed to it regardless.

There are many times when I fall short.  I’m no co-parenting saint.  In fact, I admit to being a backslider.  But, there is a force larger than me, greater than any co-parenting sin I might commit—my love for my child—that gives me the strength to forgive my transgressions, to stand and step forward again believing that the journey will be worth it in the end.

When my son’s father fails to follow one or all of the Co-Parenting Commandments, it doesn’t change the fact that I have chosen to be a believer and to adhere to the tenets of my faith.  It does not mean that it is acceptable for me to treat him as anything less than a parent of my child; one who is human, and fallible, perhaps even a non-believer…and who despite it all, is loved steadfastly and unconditionally by our child.

See, for me, co-parenting is all about what I believe in, what I choose to be committed to, what I will stand for even in the face of apparent impossibility.  And defining myself as a co-parent is all about who I choose to be.  It’s a state of mind; a way of thinking about myself and my child’s father that guides me in being the best parent I can be for our son–independently of what his father may or may not be doing or being in any given moment.

It’s also a commitment.  A beacon of light that illuminates the steps to take along a sometimes treacherous path.  A lighthouse that stands unmoved by the ebbs and flows of my co-parenting relationship, pulling me back on course when I have lost my way.

Sure, I have crises of faith.  Welcome to the human condition.  Whether it’s faith a higher power, in ourselves, or in humanity, doubt will creep into the cracks, leading us to wonder if it’s really worth it, if our faith-guided actions really make a difference, if what we believe in really even exists.

And, the truth is, we don’t really know.  We have no guarantees.

The skeptics may be right.

Still, I remain a faithful, committed co-parent.  Amen.

MamaSpeak: Co-Parenting is the New Black History Celebration

February 7, 2011 by  

MamaSpeak_Black History

As the daughter of a Black Studies pioneer and a history major, myself, the study of Black history has always been an integral part of my life.  It was all around me, on the bookshelves of my parents’ home, in the framed art on their walls, in the lessons my father taught to college students.  It just was.  No special month required.  So, despite the identity crises resulting from being raised in a lily white college town, I was well-versed in the proud heritage from which I sprang…kings and queens of African nations, revolutionaries and activists, heroes and sheroes whose names were rarely found in any of my school books.

In the past few years, though, “Black History” has taken on new meaning for me.  Thanks to my father’s interest and commitment to doing genealogical research on his family, I have been blessed with a more intimate connection to the history embedded in my biological and cultural DNA.  And, learning that history has influenced my story about myself in ways that no knowledge of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh ever could.

For much of my life my story has been about fear—fear of failing, fear of succeeding, fear of looking like an idiot, fear of getting hurt…you name it.  You’ve felt it.  At so many points in my life, I have been confronted by this paralyzing thought that I can’t do it (whatever it is). Whatever the ingredient was that makes some people do it anyway…I believed I didn’t have it.  It just wasn’t in my genetic code.  And, it cost me.  I mortgaged some valuable opportunities and hoarded some important contributions that might have made a difference somewhere to someone.  But, that was my story, at least the first draft, and I was sticking to it.

But, inspired by his research, my father started to share new stories…well, old ones, really, but, new to me.  And, those stories inspired a new draft of my own.  The heroes of these tales include an Uncle who won the pardon of his brother after decades of hard labor on a Mississippi chain gang for exacting his own sense of justice with a shotgun at a time when and a place where there was no justice for a little Black girl, his daughter, who had been raped.  And, also among them are landowning freedmen from Virginia, brothers, unjustly enslaved and sent to Mississippi after the Dred Scott decision, only to reemerge there as freedmen and landowners again decades later; a feat as impressive as turning water into wine during that era.  My father’s interest has connected us to the Bubi people of Bioko island, known for overcoming their own incessant internal warfare when necessary to collectively kick the assess of slavers who attempted to set foot upon the shores of their island.

The moral of these stories for me is that I come from some fierce stock.  My people, my kin, were determined, justice-loving, do-or-die, nuttin’ nice kind of folks both on the continent and on the plantation, and that is the blood that flows in me.  The closeness of some of this history, the specificity of it, has reshaped who I know myself to be in many ways.  It has given me certainty that the immediate past is not all that defines me and that I have a direct and traceable connection to some bad ass Black folks.  And, though it is difficult to explain, it is empowering for me to be able to say with certainty that I, too, am a bad ass Black woman…and I get that trait from my great-great-grandfather on my father’s side.  So, as I enter into the second half of my life, I do it armed with the second draft of my story…one that serves me more fully than the first.

And, I wish that for every Black child.  If I could give each of our children one Black History Month gift, it would be the opportunity to say with certainty, “Yeah…I am [insert word of power here], and I get that from my mother/father’s side.”

Of course, because our lineage as African people in this country is difficult to trace, there are barriers.  But, perhaps the other part of that tragedy is that because our families have been disconnected by the conflict that often accompanies divorce, separation and never being married…with kids…most of our children never get a true appreciation of the blood that flows through them.

I understand that you might not be enamored with your child’s Mama or Daddy today or ever, but what we have to understand as parents is that our children’s stories don’t start with us.  Many, if not all of us, have hearts that pump blood infused with the inspiration, determination and genius of a line of survivors, strivers and thrivers.  Our shortsightedness, the Baby Mama/Baby Daddy drama that we allow to be insurmountable, denies them their rightful access to a connection that could be the healing potion for the parts of their stories that blind them to their possibilities.

Giving our greatest effort to co-parenting and learning and sharing the truth that the weave of their DNA is strong, the reach is deep and the rich blood of both sides of their family flows unhindered within them could be the salve that soothes the pain of the story they carry…and exposes the illusion that because their parents have separated, their family is broken.

MamaSpeak: Co-Parenting and Grief–On Losing Love and Finding Yourself

October 4, 2010 by  

I recently heard a phenomenal sermon relating to grieving. The sermon focused on getting through and past the 3 stages of grieving. They are:

  • Numbness
  • Disorganization
  • Reorganization

The first step, numbness is a state of severe shock and denial of the death. Life and everything in it seems unreal, like you are living a dream. A really bad dream. You may distance yourself from people and life and be stuck in your emotions and thoughts.

Disorganization is next and is surrounded by emotional chaos. You may feel irate, annoyed, relieved, panicked, or devastated. If the death was sudden and tragic, you may feel like you need to seek revenge. Depression kicks in as you realize your loved one is gone, as well as fear, and physical agony.

The last stage is that of reorganization. In this stage you reorganize your life and learn to live with the loss of your loved one. You learn to readjust and become more emotionally stable.

After you’ve gone through these stages, a new you emerges. So they say.

After hearing this powerful sermon I realized that I am grieving the end of my relationship with my daughter’s father and our new co-parenting situation.

I’m currently in the disorganization stage and am an emotional wreck. Even though we ended our relationship two years ago, I am still in a state of severe disorganization. I am an uncontrollable emotional being living in a state of constant chaos and confusion. I am devastated we are not together; I’m angry, fearful, anxious, panicked, depressed, lonely, and unwilling to move past my own grief to reorganize my life. I don’t know how, I can’t imagine my life being reorganized, can’t imagine it someday being ok that we are now co-parents and not soul mates. I’m so stuck on him and what was, than I cannot accept and appreciate what is and what is to come. I know that in order to be emotionally free I need to find a way to push through this disorganization phase, regardless of how much it hurts. Regardless of how many tears I shed. Regardless of how long it takes. Of course I don’t want to be living in this stage for the rest of my life, but I’ve come to realize and respect its time in my life. I am grieving, and I need to allow myself space and time to grieve in my own way. Though I do realize that the sooner this phase ends, the sooner I can reorganize my life.

MamaSpeak: The Non-Custodial Other

September 14, 2010 by  

One of the most challenging situations confronting single parents is that of visitation and interacting with the courts.  In The Myth of the Broken Home – Guidebook for Single Parents, one of the most delicate chapters for me to speak on is “The Non-Custodial Other” as it stirs up many emotions for me.

During this time, my daughter, Tamara, was about five years old, I was coming out of a domestic violence situation, and my daughter had become accustomed to seeing her father on a daily basis.  He was in her life from the time she was born, whereas my son knew little about his dad because we divorced when my son was about a year old.  Soon after my first divorce, his father, in the military at the time, was relocated to the east coast.   So basically I had very little control over whether or not he chose to see my son.

I vividly recall my daughter’s terrifying scream when departing from her dad at the storage place where we met to retrieve our items.  Upon entering, when she saw him, she was elated and played as if nothing happened.  But that’s expected of a five year old child, and it also displayed the love she had for her father, particularly since soon after the domestic violence occurred, she would sit in the back of the car, yelling in her little voice, “I hate my daddy.” I would tell her, “You do not hate your father, Ta’mara, you hate what he did”.  My babies hurt, and I saw them hurting, however, I refused to allow my children to become embittered by the situation that could affect them for the rest of their lives.  The forgiveness and the healing were not for him but for my babies.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I was not going to put her in harm’s way, but for two years he refused to see her.  He made promises and did not comply with the court order, and on many occasions I drove her to his house.  I despised him during this time as I watched him hurt my daughter over and over again, but inside I knew she needed him in her life.  As my son grew up, his father swore I was trying to keep him away, and I said, “I can’t wait until he gets of age so you can see that it’s not me.”  “If you were in his life like a father should be, there would be nothing I could do to keep him away from you.”  His accusations upset Jamal, because it was I who often encouraged Jamal to contact his father.   Although he is now a young adult, I continue to encourage him to send his father a card or to call.

As a society, we often talk about the importance of boys having a positive male role model to aid them towards developing into men, but that is equally, if not more important, for girls.  The dynamics that exist in a relationship between a male and female are innate, and it doesn’t matter if it’s mother-son or father-daughter; these relationships are pertinent for our children’s emotional development.

Today our girls are grappling with their identity, aimlessly searching for someone to show them affection and approve of them.  Again, if they don’t have a positive male role model during their stages of development, they will by means of their own understanding fill that void.   My son, who is 9 years older than his sister, was a big support and continues to be a very influential male in her life, especially when her father was not there.  As I sit and reflect back on these times, I begin to cry because I am so thankful, so grateful, for how far God has brought us and that he is allowing me to share with others how we all can make this work together.  Don’t get me wrong; it is tough as I still remain pretty protective over her, but today Tamara and her father have a wonderful relationship.  Just because he and I were at odds does not mean it will be the same with him and his daughter.

Visit www.nobrokenhome.com
to learn more about
The Myth of the Broken Home – Guidebook for Single Parents

MamaSpeak: Is Co-Parenting Really Worth All the Effort?

August 3, 2010 by  

Stressed Co-Parent

I had never heard of co-parenting until I was smack in the middle of it. Many different reasons lead to my daughter’s father and I ending our relationship. For a while after our relationship ended, I still acted like we were together. Assuming he would be as involved as when we were together. Assuming I could just go over and hang out at his house. Assuming that the feelings he had for me were still there. Guess my head gets stuck up in the clouds sometimes.

It took a long time for me to accept our situation and even longer to view it as a co-parenting situation. I was bitter, and I was downright mad at the situation. I was angry that we weren’t still together and that when it came to our daughter, we had two varying opinions. I said left; he went right. We didn’t talk to each other. We barked. We scowled. We yelled. I was so sure that my way was the best way. I mean, I’m her Mother. I was the one who carried her for 9 months, breastfed her, read her bedtime stories, did her hair in the morning, knew she liked her apples cut in thin slices not thick. And what did he know? Nothing…if you asked me back then. I didn’t value his place in her life, and it all comes back to me being bitter and angry that we weren’t together.

I couldn’t harbor all those negative emotions inside of me forever. It wasn’t healthy for me or my daughter. It was draining all of my energy being so mean, so I had to let it go and embrace the idea of co-parenting. I had to accept him as her Father and her Dad and an equal being in our daughter’s life. Because she isn’t just my daughter, she is our daughter; and we both have a responsibility to keep her healthy, safe, and happy.

Co-parenting matters because my daughter’s happiness is my number one priority. She and her Dad have this unbreakable bond that I don’t understand at all. But I have learned that I don’t need to understand their bond. That’s something special that only they share. When I see them together, when I see my daughter’s face light up as she yells, “Daddy”…well, that’s why co parenting matters. My daughter is lucky and has two parents who think she is the most precious thing on this planet and want nothing more than to see her smile every day.

I want us to be able to have a pleasant conversation, I want us to be able to all go out to dinner together and laugh and have a good time. I want to be able to call him without it being a yelling match. And I want our daughter to know that Mommy and Daddy are ok with being around each other. We owe that to her.

MamaSpeak: So What if I’m not a Celebrity Single Mom

July 14, 2010 by  

I have to admit, I’m a bit obsessed with celebrity gossip. I browse through gossip magazines while I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, and I follow some gossip sites online. One of the things I’ve noticed is the trend of glamorizing celebrity single moms. I find this mind blowing, because regular single moms like myself don’t get the same treatment day to day.

From Sandra Bullock to Kate Gosselin to Halle Berry, there is tremendous support from society backing these celebrity single moms as they make their way through single mommyhood. They are splattered on the covers of InTouch and UsWeekly, sharing their heartaches, their struggles with trying to live a normal life. We see them on Oprah talking about their journey, and we get sucked in. We buy their magazines, we go see their movies, we subscribe into the glamorization. Why can’t this same support be had for non-celebrity single moms? Are we not good enough?

I’m a single mom, a younger-single-minority mom to be exact. Society sends the message that young-single-minority moms won’t be successful. They won’t attend college. They won’t secure a steady job. They won’t make enough money, so they will have to depend on the system. They are immature, irresponsible, and should have waited to have a child. These messages are constantly relayed through movies, magazines, books, and TV. You always hear about the plight of a single mom, the hardships she’s been through as she struggles to find stability. I’m not ignoring this fact, but where are the stories that speak of single moms graduating college or buying their first home? Where are the stories highlighting single moms starting their own businesses or volunteering within their communities? Does society not think that these stories will attract enough attention? Are these stories just not interesting enough?

I’m not ashamed that I’m a single mom, and don’t know why I get the sideways looks when I tell people I am. Maybe it’s because I don’t fit the mold of what a non-celebrity single mom looks like. I am enrolled in college, I have a car (old but running most of the time), I have a steady job, and my own apartment. I struggle with being a single mom, but I want no one’s pity or sympathy. I don’t need anyone in my ear telling me I’m doing a good job, but I would like to see my demographic positively acknowledged within society. The messages I come across don’t support me along my journey. In order to obtain resources I have to be a poor single mom. What’s up with that?

We support these celebrity single moms and tell them they can do it, no problem! Why is the message we send to non-celebrity moms so dissimilar? Why do we tell them they will fail?  Why can’t the message be the same regardless of celebrity status?

All mothers-single, young, old, married, or widowed-should be respected and supported in our society. The amount of support we give Mothers should not be dependent on how much money they earn.
My life is by no means glamorous, nor does it need to be. What is most important is the love I have for my daughter. What I would appreciate is if society would respect and appreciate me as a Mother.

MamaSpeak: Honor Thy Absent Father

July 6, 2010 by  

Another Father’s Day has come and gone, and judging by some of the blogs and message boards I read, this was one of the most controversial ones I think I’ve ever experienced. From mothers not wanting to be wished a Happy Father’s Day (even if it’s just to say have a happy day), to religious teachers spreading the Good News that the Word of God forbids us from calling any man father, to adult children lamenting a father’s absence during their childhood. There’s one thing for sure, the day set aside to honor dads doesn’t come with nearly as much pomp and ceremony as the one when we honor moms.

So, why is it so hard for many of us to wish the man whose DNA is woven into the fibers of our being a Happy Father’s Day? Why can’t we just do it? I wish I had an answer, but I don’t. My best guess is that some daddies are just easier to love than others. For some, that may have something to do with the fact that he stayed. While, with others, it may have a lot to do with the fact that he left. Either way, there’s no denying the effect his absence–or presence–plays in our lives well into adulthood.

My father was one of the ones who left. And to this day, I love him truly, madly, deeply. But, admittedly, there was a time when that love came from a sense of duty I felt for his being responsible for my existence. As I’ve evolved in love and as a person, I now know that I love him just because. I love him because he’s not perfect—and neither am I. I love him because he’s made mistakes—and so have I. Nevertheless, having his blood running through my veins never generated an automatic emotional bond or connection to him. That probably explains why when it comes to determining who I’ll send a Father’s Day greeting to, I find myself bypassing him, and going straight for the men who have had the most influence on me: brothers, cousins, uncles, ministers, co-workers. It’s never a conscious effort to omit him. It’s just that when I think of fathers, these are the men that come to mind. They’ve mentored my children, stepped in to be a surrogate dad in the absence of my own, and modeled the behavior and attributes that I want my husband to possess.

I called and sent text messages to all of them, while my father received nothing. And I’m okay with that, because I’m over the emotional tug-o-war of should I/shouldn’t I: Should I let him walk me down the aisle? Shouldn’t I have called him on his birthday, even if I didn’t remember? Whether my decision is yes or no, neither is an indicator of whether I love him or not.

I harbor no anger or bitterness toward him for anything that he did or did not do. Love does not demand its own way, and it does not keep a record of any wrongs. I hold him in high respect, which doesn’t include the Father’s Day fanfare of greeting cards and ties. I love him the way that I choose. And that’s more for me more than for him. And it’s because of this peace that I’m able to give and receive Eros love with a mate in spite of not having grown up with my daddy.

I know how difficult it can be to honor an absent father. We must all love and honor them in our own way. And our decision can’t be based on a scorecard that we’ve been tallying all the hurts and wrongs on. Honor him by letting go of the fact that he wasn’t there. If not for him, then do it for you.

MamaSpeak: Mothering Beyond Biology

May 11, 2010 by  


I met Tammy during her freshman year of high school. She showed up at my apartment one Friday after school when she rode the bus home with my daughter. And, in typical teenage fashion, she had not made plans for how she would get home.

I was cold. I was tired. And all I wanted to do was turn up the heat, throw on some sweats, and curl up under my electric blanket. But, my plans were thwarted when my daughter came dashing out the patio door before I could open it. “Mom is it okay if Tammy spends the night”?

“Britt, who is Tammy, and what have I told you about having people in the house when I’m not here”?

As it turned out, Britt had met Tammy that day, and decided that, as new friends, they should hang out together after school. “She’s not in the house; she’s out in the hallway.”

As badly as I wanted to lay into my first born, I knew this wasn’t the time. But I cut her a look that let her know I would deal with her later. As a mother, my first priority was to get this child—somebody’s daughter—inside. My second order of business was to contact her parents to make sure they knew where she was.

As Tammy stepped inside, I immediately noticed her stoic demeanor. She wasn’t disrespectful at all, just reserved and standoffish. Little did I know there was so much more going on with her, but I wasn’t able to connect the dots. When I asked about her mother, she politely, but firmly stated that she was not in the home right now, and that her grandmother could pick her up in the morning. I then told her that I needed to confirm that with her grandmother, and asked for a number, for which she obliged. Tammy’s grandmother informed me that due to her eyesight, she didn’t drive at night and wanted to know if it was okay for her to stay with me, and she’d come get her first thing in the morning. We agreed that Tammy could crash at my place, so I made sure the girls had what they needed for the night, and I turned in.

The following morning I was well rested and better able to process the previous night’s events. I still wanted to know what “my mother is not in the house right now” meant. Was she serving overseas in the military, working out of town, or on vacation? No. She was none of the above. She was serving time in prison. Wanting to respect Tammy’s privacy, I didn’t probe, but my daughter told me when I grilled her about this new friend. That moment marked a turning point in my life. It is when I accepted my role as den mother, something I had resisted for years.

For some reason, my kids’ friends always warmed up to me. Many of them called me Ma and loved having an adult who would listen to them, something they didn’t get at home. They saw my home as a place of refuge where they could come after school to do their homework or a place to hangout on the weekends. I admit I wasn’t always comfortable acting the role of “play” mom. I was barely 30, and saw it as a position more suited for someone more matronly than myself. I also felt like the real moms needed to step up to the plate and connect with their children themselves.

Tammy changed all of that. I learned how to reserve my judgment until after I knew at least part of a child’s story. Some of them had a mother or father in prison, while others had mothers who were deceased. Like Tammy, some were being raised by their grandparents, while others were being shuttled from house to house in the foster care system.

They say that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Tammy came into my life to teach me compassion. Looking back, I’m happy to have played such a significant role in these kids’ lives. All of my children and their friends have reached that adult milestone of 18, and many of the kids still see me as a surrogate mother, of sorts. They take me to out to eat, and invite me over for Christmas dinner when I’m in town. I have also earned the title of “Grandma Lisa,” to more grandchildren than I can count.

They say that parenting locks you in for 18 years, but I say it’s like serving 25 years to life. Once a mother, always a mother, even if you didn’t birth the child.

MamaSpeak: Ending My Maternal Martyrdom

May 3, 2010 by  


Perhaps I learned it from my mother, or maybe it’s just how we’re socialized—which allows me to not blame my mother. Either way, being a Mommy martyr in my co-parenting relationship came pretty naturally to me. It was such an integral part of how I knew to be that I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

It looked a little like this:

I plan all of our child’s activities, because I am the better planner. You let me, because I am the better planner. Then, I start to feel overwhelmed and resentful about your lack of contribution and dumping all of the responsibility on me. But, you’d just screw it up anyway, so what choice do I have other than to just do it…for the sake of our child?

And, to compound it all, everyone knows that if anything is going to get scheduled, planned, coordinated, organized or sorted out, that I’m the one to contact, so they don’t even have your cell phone number. They call me. And, you let them. Then, I start to feel overwhelmed and resentful that no one calls you; they only call me. But, you’d just screw it up, anyway, so what choice do I have other than to just do it…for the sake of our child? Woe. Is. Me.

You get the picture. The result? I continued to be overwhelmed, exhausted, resentful and alone. He got to feel useless, unconfident as a parent and disconnected. And, none of that was what we wanted.

But, here’s what I had to get before I could change any of that for myself. Buried deep beneath my need to make sure everything was handled perfectly was a deeper need to feel like a great mother. And, hidden deeper still was a nagging suspicion that I actually wasn’t a good enough mother. By clearly establishing myself as the better parent, though, I could get something that resembled reassurance; temporarily anyway, until the next doubt seeped into the cracks of my parenting confidence.

See, by relegating my son’s father to the non-planning parent, the not-as-good-as parent, the parent you love to hate…I was only creating more overwhelm for myself—unnecessarily. At the same time, I was getting an emotional payoff that apparently seemed worth it at the time. In reality, it wasn’t.

I didn’t have to feel like I was doing it alone. And, in fact, I wasn’t. Making the shift wasn’t/isn’t easy. It has required opening up the box and letting him expand a little…maybe even shine now and then. It has demanded that I accept that things may not get done the way or even in the same timeframe in which I would do them. It has taken a little faith, a dose of forgiveness and a whole lot of humility.

Fast forward, and I’ve relinquished a few responsibilities and continue to hand more over. I have found that when I don’t try to do everything, some things still actually get done. Piano homework gets done, birthday gifts get purchased, and the little guy gets picked up from school (late, but he gets picked up!). On top of that, I get to build a life beyond my household, get to remember what it feels like to be a whole human being again.

And, we both get to be great parents…which is what we both really want and our son really needs.

Does anybody feel me on this?  How are you martyring yourself unnecessarily?

MamaSpeak: This Game of Co-Parenting…Are You Playing to Win?

January 25, 2010 by  


Doesn’t it suck when you think you’re winning a game only to find out halfway through it that you’ve been playing the wrong game? For thirty minutes, you and your partner, affectionately known as “Them”, have taken some serious risks, so you wouldn’t underbid and lose points for winning too many books. And, you’ve done it masterfully, talking high quality junk all the while. Confident, cocky even, in your mastery of the game and ability to diminish your opponents, “Us,” both on the table and verbally. It’s the fourth hand, and you and your partner start smirking at each other from opposite sides of the card table, because these fools, “Us”, went board and then took twice as many books. You start clowning, talking loud, because they’re about to be down another 80 points for sandbagging. But…What? Oh. Hell. No.

House rules…We don’t play that way. Wrong game, Baby!

Yes, that smooth, culturally relevant metaphor is all about co-parenting. The fact is, too often, we go along thinking we’re winning, only to find out we’ve got the rules wrong, or worse, we’re playing the wrong game altogether. We’re bidding our hands, but winning the game actually requires a little sandbagging. We’re playing Joker’s high, but really deuces win. We think spades are trump, but they keep changing it. Oh snap, we’re playing Spades and the game is Tonk! Damn.

And, of course, the problem is that the way you score points, how you win, how you play, everything changes depending on the game. Co-parenting is the same way. Too often, we find ourselves playing the “Better Parent” game. We rack up points, playing full out, in areas like:

  • Who’s spending more time on our child?
  • Who’ spending more money on our child?
  • Who “knows” our child best? Who knows more about what goes on in his/her life? Mind? Heart?
  • Who does our child prefer or even love more?
  • Who cares more?
  • Who’s the better parent?

But, guess what? Wrong game, Baby! In this house, we play the “Happy, Healthy, Whole Child” game. Here, you score points in categories like:

  • How loved does my child feel?
  • How whole does my child feel?
  • How safe and secure does my child feel?
  • How successful does my child feel?
  • How confident is my child in his ability to deal with difficult challenges?
  • How happy is my child?

Winning requires strategies and skills like teamwork, effective conflict management, high quality listening, meeting in the middle, focusing on solutions, and yes, do-or-die commitement. Talking across the board is allowed, if it’s respectful, and everybody knows the house rules up front. And, hell, if you’re winning and want to talk junk…we honor bragging rights. Because, where we live, in our house, “Us” and “Them” become “We” and, we play this co-parenting game to win. Our kids deserve nothing less.

So, in your next quiet moment of reflection or while you’re in the throes of an argument with your child’s other parent, stop for a minute and ask yourself what game you’re playing. And, if it’s the wrong one, change it up…and play to win!

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