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.


Our Summer

After my last post, I decided to post something a little more positive. I’m a little behind, but it’s a good problem to have to be too busy to write blog posts. I am actively trying to live in the moment and not document every little thing, lest I miss something by staring through a lens.

We had a great summer. I had really high expectations for the summer, and it didn’t work out to be quite as fun as I thought it would be, but it was a really wonderful summer. I try not to get hung up on my expectations, but it’s hard when things don’t go as you planned. As one of my favourite singers said, “Expectations are the killer of the good sometimes”, and it’s so true.

We didn’t do much without the kids, although we did manage to take a trip to Ottawa to see my brother and celebrate Canada 150. The celebrations themselves were a letdown, as was my mother, but Curtis got to meet some of the family members I hold the most dear.

The rest of the summer was filled with ball, ball, and more ball. 5 tournaments, plus regular games. We did have more success with the kids going as we could make a deal for soccer with their mom. It felt like progress. The boys improved so much this year, I am so proud of them. One of the coaches even said that he wants Reegan to come out for the Tier 1 team next year (provided he can come to all the games), so that’s a really big deal. All his friends will be on that team. It’s a long way away, but fingers crossed we can make it happen. We just have to think positively.

IMG_3375Notice the little monkey in the background. Best photobomb from Taitum!

We took one trip as a family to my family cottage. As with any family property, there are politics and rules, but we had a great time there with my aunt and uncle and even my mom. The boys are even excited to go back next year and have already requested my brother come with us. It really warms my heart that the boys like the cottage. That’s my favourite place in the world and it was really great to spend my birthday up there with my family. I got a family breakfast and a family pic by the lake so it was a pretty good day. We may have the opportunity to own a piece of the cottage property through my mom’s inheritance and we really want to find a way to manage that financially. I want to give the boys the kind of summers I had.

IMG_3617My birthday present 🙂

Curtis and I both had a friend get married this summer – funny, though, it was HIS friends who kept asking us when we were getting married. It’s a bit of a touchy subject. I tried to make a joke about it once, and it didn’t go over well and I just ended up feeling bad about the fact that he doesn’t seem to care if we get married. I care. I definitely still deal with feeling like an outsider… most of the time, and it would really help if he would actually make me a part of his family, part of the kids family. I want to make a sign for our ice rink and I stress about what to call our family. Do I call us by his last name (even though I don’t have his last name and that is painfully, acutely clear to me)? Do I hyphenate the last name? It’s awkward. I think I’m going to avoid last names entirely. I know, though, he won’t do anything until he’s good and ready. Of course, we tried to pack too many things into those days and we had last-minute babysitter drama, but the weddings were lots of fun. I’m glad we made it work to go. It rained both days and, of course, they were both on nights when we had the kids, but we still managed to get all dolled up and go and have a great time. Definite wins.


Taitum had his first real birthday party with friends this year, which was pretty cool. His mom had just had her baby so she didn’t do a party for him this year so we didn’t have to worry about who was inviting which kids. We did a fireman-themed birthday party so it was really cost-effective, too. We took them to the fire hall and they got to see the trucks and try on Curtis’ gear. We also took them swimming and had a fire-themed obstacle course in our backyard and cake and lunch… I think we’ll try taking it easier next year! It was fun (and easy) to have a party in the summer for once, though! What’s important is that he had a great time.

IMG_3869That face! Look how happy he is.

Curtis and I both have birthdays in the summer and we decided to not buy gifts for each other, just to spend it on our trip. We wanted to take the boys to Chicago to see the Jays play, but that didn’t work out financially, so we ended up at the indoor waterpark in Niagara Falls. The boys’ choice. I wanted to do Wonderland, because that’s what I did growing up, but they were more excited about the waterpark. (Their mom ended up taking them to Wonderland, where they had a great time, which irked me to no end, but they had such a great time with us, it’s hard to feel bad about the choice).


The summer ended with the Fall Fair. As the summer progressed, we found that they probably had too much freedom because trying to get them back into a routine (even on our trip) was painful. (See my post about aliens stealing my step-kids). I was hopeful that we would have a drama-free fall as organizing that and back-to-school with their mom was (mostly) stress-free. So far, though, the fall has been pretty stressful as hockey will once again be a bone of contention. As we took Reegan into the arena this weekend, he said, “That was a QUICK summer”. That it was, Reegan, that it was.


The Real Cost of the Ex-Wife

We all know the tales of the costs of divorce. Tens of thousands spent in lawyer fees. Especially for the good fathers out there, who the law does not favour one little bit, fighting for shared custody, fighting for equal rights in regards to their kids, fighting to enforce agreements, fighting what is best for them. We have spent a literal fortune fighting for those kids.

So, we all know that story and we all think we know the cost. But the cost of an ex-wife is so much more than just lawyer bills.

First, there’s the support payments. Even with 50/50 custody and her being remarried, we still pay his ex-wife $500 a month child support. She is currently on mat leave with her 4th child (with her new husband) and she is laughing to people about how much more we’ll have to pay next year because of her leave. And that’s money we don’t have. We will likely have to sell our house to pay her extra support to fund the mat leave for the baby she had with the man she cheated with and left Curtis for. The law is supposed to make it so that they kids have an equal life at both houses. She just bought a house worth way more than ours, she has tons of expendable income to buy them anything they want and take them on lavish vacations, where we scrimp and save and borrow just to give the kids something a little nice. We will have to sell our house to maintain her level of spending and she is laughing. How is that an equal life?

We could fight it, and incur more legal costs fighting it, and hope we can at least maintain the $500/month status quo, but the law doesn’t have a lot of grey to protect fathers in that way.

She tells the kids how much money we have and makes a big deal about buying them whatever they want, portraying us as the rich people who won’t buy them anything. They know they can have whatever they want at their mom’s. So we try our best to keep up in the ways that we can, the name-brand clothes they want, day trips.

We try to make up the difference as best we can with quality time and sports. We pay for all their sports and their sports equipment. She won’t let them go to sports on her time (because it’s more time with us), so we give up our quality time in recompense so she will let them go most of the time. We’ve already been told that one would be on a rep baseball team this year if we can get him there, so we are trying our best to find ways to make it happen. Those are costs no one figures. And their agreement says that there is no time to be given back, but what is agreed upon in court is not what happens in reality.

On top of the physical cost and the loss of time, there’s also the emotional cost. So much time and energy is spent fighting her, or worrying about what she’ll do and adjusting our behavior before it’s an issue. We drive different ways to avoid seeing her (which is hard since she just moved around the corner from us), we fold the “M” clothes separately so we can send them in her clothes on her days and make sure she gets them back, we keep an extra set of everything (shoes, hats, mitts, boots, snow suits) at our house in case she doesn’t send them since it is difficult to get these things from her, (as I mentioned) we give up our time with them so they can play sports-full time… and these are just a few. The worst is that we let her get away with bad behavior where we have the legal and moral high ground (such as meeting with the school and teachers behind Curtis’ back, not telling him about doctor’s appointments, changing doctor’s appointments deliberately to make it work for her and not work for Curtis, not telling us she was in the hospital over night, and so on) because we’re afraid of the consequences. She’s mean and a bully and she doesn’t seem to care about the effect that will have on the kids… so we have to. And the emotional toll is great. Curtis tries his best not to let it affect us, but that doesn’t always happen. So sometimes we fight about her or because of her… sometimes we let her win.

If it was just her, that would be one thing. The ex-in-laws are in town as well… they go between spreading rumours about Curtis to make his ex look better, to complaining about her behind her back, to trying to fight for the kids when it comes to sports, to supporting her so they don’t have family issues (going so far as to turn the kids’ heads so they don’t see us)… Her sister and her parents will sometimes act like nothing is wrong and chat away like we’re besties (umm… seriously?) and will sometimes act like we have the plague. The emotional costs are never ending. I personally find the whole lot of them – the ex, the ex-in-laws, the new husband – terribly stressful. For me, the ex pretends I’m not there. Literally acts like I don’t exist. It’s less aggressive than it used to be, though. She doesn’t glare at me before putting her nose in the air anymore, or deliberately turn her back to me… I’m just not there. And for the most part I’m ok with it because it’s one less stress to deal with.

There’s one further cost that affects only me. And probably because I let it. She makes me insecure. About myself as a parent, about how I look… I feel like I constantly live in her shadow. It’s not that I don’t understand my role as a step-parent, I completely do. It’s little things like how she is organized enough to beat us to doing things and dictate the terms of it all (sometimes because Curtis doesn’t get his butt in gear and I have to be able to live with that), or how she had a baby and was up and about and taking the kids on trips the next day, or the fact that she had a baby a month ago and she is already back to being half my size while I sweat my butt off and swear off carbs just to lose 1lb in that same month. She is putting the image of a super mom out there and while I know it’s not that simple, I’m buying what she’s selling. She makes me question my worth… and that is one of the biggest costs because it affects how I act (for better and worse). I am trying to be the best I can be, I am always trying to compensate and be a better (step)parent… but I am also letting her win and make me doubt myself and that’s not good for anyone.

Balancing Act

This week is sure to be another crazy balancing act in our house. Curtis and I both have extra work training to try and fit in this week, and there’s not a lot of compromise that can be done to work around it. It is what it is. But we’re communicating with each other and with my super understanding co-worker (thankfully) and I think we have it sorted out… in theory… knock on wood… standby and go…

We has to make some tough decisions about sports this week. Nolan and Reegan have baseball practice tonight and all 3 kids have soccer games. Curtis also has a baseball game and a soccer practice tomorrow. Allowing him to go to both games would require switching with his mom, but not for practices. Nolan hasn’t swung the bat once in 4 games. He’s done very well at the other aspects of his game, but he’s not swinging… he needs the practice. So does he go to both practices (ball tonight and soccer tomorrow), or is it more important to play both games (soccer tonight and ball tomorrow)? (Hard to follow? …Yeah, for me, too) Sigh… Well, he wants to play the games (what kid doesn’t?) so we had to make that tough call. We did end up deciding to let him go to the games. Reegan’s coach had said ball practice would be cancelled tonight, too. It wasn’t, but we had already told their mom, so all 3 kids will go with their mom to soccer tonight. The only good thing about this is that it will let Curtis visit his dad in the hospital. It does allow us to fit that one important thing into our week. We can’t both go, but we’ll take the wins where we can get them.

Tuesday, I have all-day training, and I have to go into work early and stay late. Both Reegan and Nolan play at 6:30 in town so Curtis might have to do that on his own. I’ll meet him there when I can. Then he has ball Tuesday night. Wednesday, more all-day training for me, same deal, and then Reegan has ball again and Curtis has training at 7 so I have to be home for that. Thursday is the last day of school and Curtis has ball. Somewhere in there, we have to pack for our trip to Ottawa on the weekend and just do regular life stuff. I’m tired already.

I’m just hoping we can stick together through all of this. It was a rough weekend. We have trouble finding the balance we need when his sister is visiting. There’s no middle ground, it seems. It all has to be his way. His sister may have the run of our house when she’s here and I am not supposed to feel uncomfortable or anxious about it because that’s how his family does things. I find the whole thing wholly unfair and that in itself makes me feel anxious and he doesn’t deal very well with my anxiety…so we argue. It’s an exhausting downward spiral. When we stick together and work together and respect each other (because I’m not devoid of blame for the arguing on the weekend), we can accomplish so much. So here’s to balance. And baseball. And family. And wine… because sometimes, wine is the answer.

I also wanted to share a moment of appreciation I had for my boys (yes, I just called them my boys). I have started walking in the evening with a neighbour and she was telling me that when her husband goes out for the evening, her step-daughter goes to her mother’s. She will never stay with my neighbour. She even chose to walk in the rain to the bus, rather than take a ride from her step-mom. My neighbour never takes her step-daughter to sports or just has one-on-one time, and that made me sad for her. She’s fine with it, she has two girls of her own to be an amazing mother to, but I still felt sad. She is one of the nicest, most generous people I know. I would be devastated if the boys did that to me (and her husband would be devastated if her girls did that to him). The boys would always choose their father, and I’m (mostly) ok with that. Even Reegan, who is usually ok with me, clung to his dad yesterday. And that’s ok. I still got to be there with the team and write the recap and be a part of their lives. That feels like a step-parenting win. So, here’s to my boys…


Reegan’s ball team waiting for Team Pictures