Be the Best Co-Parent You Can Be (Even if Your Ex Doesn't Deserve It)

Co-parenting is not for the weak of heart.

After choosing to end a romantic relationship, it can be painful to spend years continually navigating the tender and fraught landscape of parenting with your ex. As our Advisor, Gwyneth Paltrow says of co-parenting, "You have to constantly let go. You have to let go of old ideas, old resentments."

After separation the goal is to create the best, most stable, most loving life for your kids. One of the crucial ways you can do this is by creating a solid foundation with your co-parent. Gwyneth's trick? "If you once loved the person enough to have kids with them, you have to focus on what you still love about them and what's beautiful about them and all the good aspects of your relationship."  

If you're currently finding it hard to locate those things you love about your ex fear not. We have three simple steps below, as sort of "fake it 'til you make it" guide to being the best co-parent you can be (even if your ex doesn't deserve it). Because it's not for your ex. It's for your kids.

1. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Or as Leo Babuata of ZenHabits says, "take the good-hearted view." This is when we assume that people who have done something to bother us are not incompetent jerks, but are in fact good people with decent intentions who made a mistake or are having trouble of some kind. One of the most positive things we can do in a relationship with a co-parent is to take a good-hearted view of them. From this place it can be easier to assume that errors made, pickups forgotten. permission slips left unsigned are not a signal of maliciousness, but rather the normal experience of a good person trying to do their best and occasionally making mistakes. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt diffuses the situation, leaving you more content and modeling for your kids an accepting and generous relationship.

2. Speak well of your co-parent.

Kids are very astute about verbal and non-verbal communication cues. Children as young as two or three can tell when parents are in conflict. It's not just speaking poorly of a co-parent that kids pick up on. Some co-parents attempt to solve this with the age old adage "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Yet from this silence, kids learn that speaking of their other parent is taboo and partition off their lives with each co-parent. This leads to parts of your children's lives that they don't share with you and positively reinforces them withholding information, which can be harmful as kids get older.

If instead you say kind things about your co-parent, even tiny, off-handed remarks, kids will realize that your home is safe for them to discuss their full lives. Something simple like, "Oh, your dad loves this show!" or "Your mom has always had such a great sense of humor" serves to validate the kids themselves, who see parts of their own personalities and selves inside of each parent. It will give them a sense of peace that even thought their parents are not together, they do in fact still respect one another.

3. Take on more than your share when you can.

Over the course of our children's lives, there will be times when one parent has more bandwidth to dedicate to parenting. This will naturally ebb and flow with each parent's career, health and personal life. When you're in a couple, this is often decided or mapped out intentionally: the staggering of professional and personal obligations so that there is always one parent available to the kids.

This is a far more complicated balance to strike as a co-parent; you're no longer in a romantic relationship nor are you strategizing for parenting under one roof, so there's no promise of a tradeoff when each parent has independent responsibilities. And yet, if you find yourself in the place, for whatever reason, that you have more time and energy to dedicate to your kids: do. Even though your co-parent may not be able to (or not be interested in) paying it forward, your kids will benefit immensely even from brief periods of undivided attention from you.

On Fatherhood and Father's Day After Divorce: A Conversation With Michael Daniels

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Today we have a special treat, a conversation with our founder Michael Daniels on his favorite topic in the world: fatherhood.  

Michael founded Fayr in 2016 with two very personal goals in mind: to help separated parents be the best people they can be for their kids and to make the process of co-parenting easier and more enjoyable for the whole family.  

Below Michael shares the advice he wished someone had given him when he first separated, the most challenging time in his co-parenting journey, and how Father's Day has evolved over his 7 years as a co-parent.  Interspersed are a couple sweet, wise, and humorous anecdotes from his daughter Vincenza (10) and his son Vance (9).

Happy Father's Day to Michael and all of the dedicated co-parenting dads out there!

Have you always known you wanted to be a Father?

MICHAEL: I always knew that one day it was something I would do.  I don't think I had a clear picture of when it would happen or what exactly it would look like, I just always knew that having kids and being a dad was important to me.

How is being a dad different or similar to what you imagined?

In all honesty, I was worried that I might not be totally prepared to be a dad. I had an atypical and challenging upbringing. My own father was a really brave, noble guy who did the best he could to raise me, but there wasn't a lot of emotional warmth. My goal, even though it was never modeled for me, is to be really affectionate with my kids. I tell them I love them multiple times a day.    

The greatest surprise for me was that being a parent is really fun.  It’s hard work, but it’s also so great telling bedtime stories, playing with my kids, watching them grow and mature.  I don't think I had any idea how enjoyable and fulfilling fatherhood would be.

"My dad is a giving person. He’s a really funny person. And he’s the type of person that you like to be around. My very favorite thing is that he always makes time to be with us, not like most other dads."  - Vicenza

What does Father's Day mean to you?

For me, it’s about two different things: my own father and my kids. My dad passed away in 2010, right in the middle of my own separation. He was a decorated Army Ranger. I've always admired his courage and raw toughness. The lessons he taught me inspire me to be brave and strong, to know that even when things are tough, I live a wonderful life. As a father myself, I think how I want my own kids to never doubt that they are my top priority. I strive everyday to be a real presence in their lives, to be both emotionally connected and physically present for my kids. We also try to make meaningful memories together whether that be going camping, as my son's boy scout master, or teaching my daughter to ride a bike.

How is Father's Day different since your separation?

I separated when my kids were 2 and 3, so there aren’t other Father’s Days to really compare it to. In a nice way, we’ve been able to start from scratch and make this day ours. And it’s so rewarding to see them take initiative each year.

What are your favorite Father's Day traditions?

I love how my kids go out of their way to think of me. They’ll always get me a card on their own and then plan a creative, family event. Last year we did Color Me Mine together. I didn’t have any Father's Day traditions growing up, so it’s sweet to see my kids honor this day.

"My favorite thing about Father’s Day is that I have a tradition with my dad. I always get him something that stands for how great he is.  And I write on his cards about how much I love him and how much he means to me. I love watching him read my cards." - Vicenza

How has your time with your children changed as they've gotten older?

We still have a 50/50 custody share, so we spend the same amount of time together but the activities have changed a lot. When the kids were toddlers we spent a lot of time down on the ground playing. As they get older we continue to play but now we go swimming or ride bikes. I try to make certain they don’t grow up too fast, so we do still play goofy games and rough house—I think the kids don't want to give up that kind of play yet either. I know a time is coming when my kids will be more independent and will want spend more time with their friends. In the meantime, I just want to keep making the most of this period when the three of us really enjoy being together.  

What do you worry about most for your children as a separated father?

When I was separating I didn’t know what the future held—there were so many unknowns. All at once my dad got cancer and passed away, the recession hit, and my home life was changing dramatically. I worried about two things mainly.  First, I worried about the kids with all the transition they were going through. There was so much in the air, so much constant navigating for all of us between our initial separation and working out the optimal custody arrangement. I also just missed them so much as we first started spending time apart. Second, I was really worried that with all that stress that I wasn't being the best version of myself for my kids. 

What are routines, sayings, or expressions that you always share with you children?

I say I love you multiple times a day, everyday. I never want them to doubt that.

We also have a fun and kind of quirky morning routine. A few years ago I was given a really beautiful poker set as a gift from a former mentor. The kids were infatuated and insisted that I teach them how to play. So if we're having a good morning (where everyone has eaten, brushed their teeth, gotten ready for school and we still have some spare time) we will sit down and play Texas Hold 'Em together.  It's not what I thought we'd do, but the kids love it and it's such a fun and relaxing start to the day. Plus, it's our own unique thing and that's really special.

"My favorite thing about my dad?  I like how my he's always nice to me. I like how he always looks out for me and how he understand my feelings." - Vance

What is your top priority for the days you have your children?

My goals are for them to have experiences, to be active, to get outside a lot, and to enjoy time together.  

What advice do you wish someone had given you right when you separated?

In hindsight, it would actually have been some version of the advice that Dr. Sadeghi gives: don’t spend time being angry, don’t waste energy feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve gone through something really tough, but you cannot let it destroy you. Focus instead on healing, on self-reflection, on the people you love and people who love you. Make a conscious effort to not dwell in the anger and sadness of the loss but to say "This is completed, this is done.  So what now am I going to focus on in this next phase in my life?" What ultimately healed me was refocusing my attention is what matters most: my kids, my personal growth, and our shared well-being.  

What is the best thing your kids have said to you since your separation?

The sweetest thing actually just happened the other day. My daughter said sort of out of the blue, "No matter what, you are the best daddy I could ever want."  It doesn't get better than that.