As a man of color raised by two parents that barely scraped the middle-class category, I can tell you that it was very difficult for me growing up. The typical hardships that plague most black families–money, the economy, violence–had a very huge impact on my upbringing.
I was raised in a two-parent household up until their separation half-way through high school. My father was always present in my life but he didn’t spend as much time with me as I would have liked.
Being an only male child with no sisters and brothers I found myself seeking validation and mentoring in all of the wrong places.
I attended an all-black elementary school and high school in Chicago. Gangs proliferated every aspect of my high school experience, and it was difficult being young and black during the early to late 90’s.
Both of my parent’s were college-educated but they both struggled financially for many years. My mother was a social worker and my father–ex military–worked for several companies doing a variety of things before he landed his last permanent job with a major airline.
When I was in high school I started hanging out with gangs, trying to be “in” with the in-crowd. The lack of a strong male role model was apparent in my life as a young man of color, and I saw how misguided I was.
In my community on the Southside of Chicago, back in that day, there were more examples of men being father’s and heads of households than what we see in today’s landscape. Back then all of the men that I knew truly embodied what it meant to be men, and what it meant to be a father.
If you were young you needed and wanted men that you looked up to in life. If you were a young man your father or father-figures meant a lot to you and their influence on you was very profound.
My neighbor across the street spent a great deal of time with me in my younger years taking me and his sons on trips and excursions. Parker–as we all called him–was a man that all young boys would love to have and be around.
He was fun, he spent time with us, he demonstrated patient with us, and above all, he allowed us to be boys. He had two sons of his own that were childhood friends of mine and we were always together. He took us Downtown, he took us to the museum, Wisconsin Dells and the Chicago Auto Show.
Memories that I will never forget.
All of this brings me to now and how I approach co-parenting with my nine-year old son Dean Jr.
His mother and I are no longer together today, but it has taken me years to work on how I approach my relationship with her in co-parenting my son. She’s never been the easiest person to get along with, and long ago I realized that I couldn’t depend on her to change how she interacted with me.
I understood that in order for our situation to be one where we could get along and co-exist with each other without any tension I needed to set the tone. As a man I needed to lead the situation with a clear and logical mind.
Nothing good can come from this kind of situation when two people are both emotionally irrational. Someone has to step up and be the bigger and better person for the benefit of the whole.
Here are Five Things that I’ve Considered in Ensuring a Healthy Relationship with my Son’s Mother:
- After the divorce or breakup find a way in your mind to see her as a partner as opposed to an “ex”. The basis of my point here is that as a man you can take a leadership role in guiding how the relationship goes post-breakup. I went through a period when my son was first born where I didn’t speak to his mother as often as I should have. I was emotionally rigid and didn’t want to be engage with her because of what had happened between us. Eventually I had to choose what I wanted the relationship to look like. I had to be intentional about guiding and rearing her perception of me at a time when her perception of me wasn’t that great. In looking at her as a partner it changes my perspective, and in turn changes how I interact with her. Instead of working against her I am always looking for ways to work with her and add value to her life.
- Get on her good side. This is probably the simplest advice I can give any man that is in a co-parenting situation. Women can be moved and influenced very easily by a man that they can respect and trust, and this is really not that difficult. It just requires you to change the way you think. Most women will take a bullet for a man that they can believe in; so it’s important that you take time listening to her needs and wants while working to make sure that you fatherly duties are being taken care of. In an environment where there is a lack of men stepping up to the call to be better men and fathers, you can be assured that any extra effort on your part will give you cool points.
- Communicate consistently and often. In the early years after my son was born I made it a habit to call and text my son’s mother regularly. I could often tell that a lot of my calls weren’t that welcomed, but what she didn’t know is that my willingness to create a good relationship with her had nothing to do with how she treated me. I was very intentional about doing my part even if she wasn’t as accepting. Men should ensure that they call often and regularly to ensure that they’re in the loop with their childs life and activities. You also need to be mindful that she may not be as forthcoming with information as it pertains to you child. So this gives men even more of a reason to take the lead here.
- Be a man that she can talk to. If you work to be the kind of man that she considers a friend and comfortable talking to about any issue that arises, you’ll find that she will be more open to come to you and discuss important issues surrounding your children. As a father I always want to make sure that my son’s mother and I are on the same page as far as parenting is concerned. Even though we live in two different households, my name is still on his birth certificate. Therefore I need to be comfortable with how my son is being raised, what he is being exposed to, where he’s going, and what he’s doing on a daily basis. If you’re like me then you’re a passionate father, and when it comes to your children, passionate discussions should arise with the mother. My son’s mother and I regularly engage in very spirited conversations about Dean Jr. because we love him, and we want the best for him. His mother sees that in me and it makes her more comfortable communicating with me.
- Put your children first. I took my son to an acting and modeling convention in Florida a few years ago. I spent several thousand dollars of my own money because I wanted to give him exposure to different opportunities. We flew to Florida for five days, he participated in several onstage sessions, and was offered a few opportunities to begin building his modeling portfolio. It didn’t go as far as I would have liked because it was an expense, a heavy one, but his mother was extremely pleased that I would do something like this for him. To me it didn’t seem like a big deal because he’s my son and I love him dearly, but to the mother it could mean the world. As a father anything that you do to lighten the burden of the mother raising a child is the greatest contribution you can give. Co-parenting is about two people working together to create a fertile situation for the upbringing and development of children that are emotionally and mentally healthy. Dysfunction can ruin a child for life, and as a father you need to be mindful that you can lead and change any situation with any woman for the better!
To your success,