A version of this article appeared in Volume 1, Number 1 of Family 1st, Greater Moncton’s Family Guide, of which Pickle Planet Moncton’s Jenna Morton is the Contributing Editor and Senior Writer. Family 1st is published four times a year, with issues in Moncton, Fredericton, and Saint John.
It’s a typical family vacation photo: two happy kids, smiling at Disney, with their mom and dad. What’s not so typical is that this photo was taken after the couple separated.
Megan and Tim Calvert were high school sweethearts. Nearly 20 years together, 14 wedding anniversaries, two kids. One separation.
“We were lucky that there was no significant event that precipitated our separation. It was a mutual choice to live separate lives. Our families are still friends and there is no animosity between any of us,” says Megan. “When we separated, we agreed that we still both wanted to be with our children as much as possible and that neither one of us wanted to miss major moments in their lives. They are only little for a short period and we don’t want to miss it.”
The pair host joint birthday parties, discussing location and splitting costs. They go trick-or-treating as a family and sometimes even travel to sport games and tournaments together. “We both put the children to bed on Christmas Eve and we are both there when they wake up,” shares Megan. “Although that means late night travel & early mornings, it’s important for the kids to have us both in their memories.”
It might sound idyllic, but the transition wasn’t seamless.
“We are separated for a reason so clearly there were issues that needed to be dealt with,” says Megan.
“The big thing for me was realizing the kids have to come first, that you have to do what’s right for them over yourself regardless of how hard it is,” adds Tim.
Megan describes their journey as “trial and error” to figure out which communication methods and boundaries would work best for their new relationship. “There are always challenges,” says Megan. “Christmas was particularly hard this year. But you have to process it and move on.”
Like Tim and Megan, Heather and Martin Yates also spend Christmas together, despite now living in separate homes.
“We always spend birthdays, Easter, and Christmas together,” explains Heather. “There is no splitting our time. Whoever’s house the kids are at is the host.”
Heather and Martin spent 16 years as a couple, nine of those married, and have been separated the last two years. Heather acknowledges realigning boundaries from couple to co-parents is a challenge.
“It’s very difficult to let go of control when you’re not with the kids, but you have to trust in the ability of the other parent,” says Martin.
“It’s a matter of compromise and sometimes you have to swallow your pride,” says Heather. “It’s like a work colleague, sometimes you have to bite your tongue and not speak your mind so candidly!”
Heather and Martin have a few rules for their new relationship. “If you don’t have the kids, and you miss them and want to see them, the other parent cannot say no,” explains Heather. “They can say not right this minute, but never no. We cannot just show up at each other’s house unannounced. And if the parent who has the kids gets sick, or the kids are sick, just go and help. Nothing is worse than sickness, but dealing with it alone is unbearable.”
“Don’t be afraid to talk to the other parent,” adds Martin. “Chances are they are struggling with the same feelings or issues as you.”
The transition was “quite stressful” says Heather, but now she believes the two are “better friends than we were before” and their children are happy.
Both these couples are in the early stages of co-parenting, and entering a time Ken Kelly remembers well.
“I found the first 18 months to the two-year mark a little tough because you’re then talking to one another about matters that involved the kids and little else,” he says. “Not having that person to “fall back” on or run an idea by took a little getting used to. And though it was rough during that time, I think it allowed each of us to establish new parameters for what would become the solid friendship that we have now.”
Ken and Tanya spent 14 years together; they were married for seven years, with two kids, when they ended that relationship. The pair have been co-parenting for six years now.
“We share custody of the kids on a week on/week off basis. We celebrate the kids’ birthdays together each year and our respective families always pitch in. For vacations, we just schedule for the bulk of vacation time to be on the week the kids would normally be with that parent anyway. If the other parent needs an extra day or two or three to make a vacation schedule or trip work, it’s as simple as a conversation between us. Neither of us have ever declined the other; neither Tanya nor I are interested in sabotaging the other person’s plans.”
Ken says mutual respect and agreement on what’s best for the children are keys to successful co-parenting.
“We’re lucky that we’ve remained largely on the same page with respect to what we’d like to see our kids become and what we expect of them on a daily basis, so there really aren’t ever any hot button issues. If a situation comes up where we don’t agree, we talk about it privately so that we can be united in our approach with the kids. Having that consistent message between the two houses is important for everyone,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to stand your ground, but don’t be unnecessarily difficult with one another at any point, either.”
“Having a good co-parenting relationship provides everyone stability, and that’s something that will ultimately benefit kids the most,” says Ken.
That’s a sentiment shared by Megan.
“My biggest worry with separating was always the children’s health and happiness,” she says. “But if you allow those two factors to truly influence your decisions, they will be okay. They will be more than okay. My kids are calmer and happier because they don’t have two parents who fight anymore. Kids are incredibly resilient and if they see two people who still respect and love each other but in a different way, they will get stability from that. We are still very much a family, we just look different.”