Splitsville: How To Swallow Your Primary Custody Pride

divorce and childrenWelcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

You’re the one who rubs your child’s back in the middle of the night after a bad dream. You clean up thousands of used tissues every time they have a cold. You plan out their meals, pay for their piano lessons and make sure that their homework is complete. As a primary custody parent, you take care of the everyday details that make up your child’s life. And when the one who has to be parent all-day every-day, not just every other weekend, it’s easy to let all that responsibility go to your head.

I’ve been there. I’ve guffawed over the fact that my ex has absolutely no idea what size shoes or clothes our daughter wears. I’ve rolled my eyes when he suddenly realizes a month late that he missed a school performance, parent-teacher conferences and visitation night at the ballet studio. And I’ve neglected to even include his personal information in the emergency contact section of the waivers for our little girl’s horseback riding lessons. I am not proud of any of this, but I can admit that I’ve done it.

It’s so easy for custodial parents to feel like the only “real” parents after a divorce or separation. After all, the extreme imbalance of time in many custody arrangements leads one parent to be responsible for everything, and the other on constant “catch-up mode,” trying to figure out what’s changed or happened since they saw their child last. It keeps me making every appointment and my ex simply trying to work his own visits into our daughter’s schedule. So it’s natural that I would feel like the “above-and-beyond” parent. The primary parent. But where does that leave my ex? Is it really fair to call him secondary?

Let me clarify that my personal situation is the one chosen by my ex. A judge didn’t decide that I would have my daughter every evening, her father did. So I’m not talking about a dad who wants to see his daughter more frequently, who wants to be there for flus and storytime, but simply isn’t allowed. Obviously, how the arrangement was decided brings a whole new layer of complexity into any personal situation.

But, even though I’m the one who’s present for every minor detail of my daughter’s life, even though I’m the one on every single contact list, primary custody pride will only damage my daughter’s relationship both with her father and with me. No matter how that set-up might make me feel superior, ranking parents as first and second will only stress and upset everyone involved.

Co-parents, by name, can’t be worried about who does more, knows more or takes care of more. We have to stop competing to be the better parent. Because the best parent works with their ex in every circumstance to create a cohesive family for their child. The best parent doesn’t worry about who scheduled what appointment or who memorized every detail, they help their ex find more ways to get involved.

Children don’t care who the primary parent is. They don’t pay any attention to those emergency contact forms and they’ll never know whose name comes first, or whose is left off all together. Kids just know that they have a set of parents and hopefully both of those people love and care for them in every way they can. The more each parent does to work together, the happier they’ll child will be. So maybe primary parents need to get over their all-day every-day pride and acknowledge that it took two adults to make their child and it’s going to take two to raise them. The inclusive and encouraging you are to the other side, the happier your children will be.

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