Lessons I Have Learned as a Step-Parent #2: Co-Parenting and Extra-Curricular Activities

I think that most parents want their kids to be involved in sports, or the arts, or some kind of lessons. They want their kids to find something they enjoy doing, be a part of something, make friends, learn new things, you name it. I’m sure there are dozens of studies that extoll the benefits of kids being involved in various things. This is one area where I’ve learned a lot of things about because, while there are a lot of ways to skin the proverbial co-parenting cat, there are also a lot of wrong ways to go about this.

Picking an Activity

How do you decide what your kids are going to do, particularly if there is a date or a time conflict? Do you work together and decide? Do you make decisions based on “your time” vs “their time”? Do you ask what the kids want to play? Honestly, do you try to influence what your kids “want” to play?

For us, it started out that the boys’ mother wanted nothing to do with sports. They played baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter, only on our time, she wouldn’t allow them to go on her time because that was her family time. It didn’t matter that the kids told us they wanted to play, her time was her time. And the courts agreed. Eventually, she realized that the kids wanted to play sports, so she signed them up for soccer in the summer and tried a few different things in the winter. On our time, they played our sport and on her time, they played her sport.

Then last summer, we tried to switch time. Two played “our sport”, baseball, and “her sport”, soccer, and one just played “her sport”. If all that particular kid had was one sport on a given night, that parent would take the child to “their sport”. If there was a conflict, the person whose night it was took them to “their sport”. We don’t know what was said, but their mom explained to them why Daddy couldn’t take them to soccer and why Mommy couldn’t take them to baseball. And for the most part, the kids seem ok with it and it actually worked reasonably well.

In the winter, we didn’t have a sport to trade, so I keep a spreadsheet with the times we take the kids on “her time” to hockey and it totals all of her time they boys are at hockey and we give that time back when we can. It has also worked pretty well.

This summer, we are trying to make decisions together, as two separate families, co-parenting. It’s a slow road, and really stressful, but it’s the first time they are having real conversations about what the kids want and we might even end up having a sport that is truly a “kid’s sport” and not “hers” or “ours”.

If I’m being honest, the boys’ mom is not the easiest person to deal with, so I’ll admit I find the segregation less personally stressful. It works much better for me, as the outsider. Do I think it’s what’s best for the kids? No, I don’t. And so the only thing I say to the kids is that they can play whatever they want and I will support them the best I can.

Attending an Activity

Being there is one of the best things you can do for a kid. There’s a line from the movie “Blended” that really resonated with me. Adam Sandler says, “it should be boring to your kids how reliable you are”. I think that is spot-on. The kids always look to see where we are in the stands. We sometimes only get a nod or a smile or a half-wave from those too cool to actually wave, but it means something to them that we are there. And when Nana comes… well, that’s just the best. We would be at everything if we could be.

It’s not totally true to say that the boys’ mom never came to any sports. She came to a handful of baseball games the year their dad and I started dating and both families watched the youngest play soccer because Dad was a coach. Honestly, it was a bit awkward, she stayed very close to the kids or would take the kids who weren’t playing far away from the rest of us. A few different people said it felt tense. She clearly felt it because she stopped coming or, if she did bring the kids, they weren’t allowed to talk to us, they would look away. That’s where the start of the separation began.

For us, the separation kills my fiancé, he wants nothing more than to watch the kids play soccer or basketball or whatever else they want to play. And when he can’t, it really hurts him. And when they don’t say hi… well, it cuts him really deep. And it hurts the kids. We’ve had to talk to them about not saying hi and you can tell just how in the middle it puts them and it hurts all of us. And what hurts more is they really don’t know any different… but we are trying to find a new way.

Be there, cheer loudly, be so reliable it’s boring.

Lessons Learned

So… here’s what I have learned through all of this:

  1. You MUST listen to your kids and support their decisions. As hard as it is, you can’t take it personally if they don’t choose “your activity”. My fiancé’s youngest didn’t want to play ball last year and that was ok. He wants to play ball and soccer this year, and that is also ok.
  2. Both parents should be able (and absolutely must) come to the activities and support their kids. Not only is it important for the kids to feel that love and support on the most basic of levels from both of their parents, it’s important that the kids see their parents getting along, and it’s most important that your child doesn’t feel caught in the middle. These activities are supposed to be fun and not a cause for pain or confusion.
  3. If you have multiple kids, don’t pull the kids not involved in the activity away or stop any of the kids from saying hi to the other parent/family. The kids aren’t “your kids” on “your time”. They will always have two equally important parents.
  4. Trying to balance two busy activities is hard. Don’t sign your kids up for too much to protect your own interests.
  5. The other parents WILL judge you if you only show up half the time, figuring you are half of the reason the kids don’t come, even if you are not. You are in between the rock (telling them the truth and making yourself look spiteful) and the hard place (looking like you can’t make it work for the kids). The parent who isn’t letting them come might look marginally worse, but you lose, they lose, the kids lose. The kids fall behind, don’t make those bonds, and don’t have as much fun. There is no winner in that scenario. Been there… and lost.
  6. You also look like a much better parent when you can work it out.
  7. It takes BOTH parents supporting the kids’ decisions. It really messes with a kids head when you put down the other parent or try to influence them to play “your activity”. Both parents need to be willing to work together.
  8. If you or your ex has a new partner (and it’s serious), you as a parent have to be able to accept that new presence in your kids’ lives. You are only hurting the kids to put that other person down.

I’m sure there are even more lessons we can learn and I will keep learning them as we navigate our way through this. What’s key is to make it about what the kids want and what’s best for them, and not best for you. This is not about your comfort, but theirs.

In closing, here are a few of my favourite sports pictures of the kids from this year so you can see our reasons for why we fight for them to be able to do what they want, and why will keep on fighting until we can make this what is truly best for them.


1 thought on “Lessons I Have Learned as a Step-Parent #2: Co-Parenting and Extra-Curricular Activities”

  1. Being a step-mom is way harder than people acknowledge! You’re doing a great job! We went through our ‘separate’ phase too with my step-daughter. Now that my husband and I have two kids of our own and my SD is in middle school (and biomes remarried), it’s gotten a LOT easier with all of us being at events together. It definitely takes a lot of time….sigh… Hang in there, you are amazing!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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