It happened--the day that most young people look forward to their entire lives. Our daughter turned 21, and she could not have been happier. It’s a milestone that marks the day she became a legal adult. Her mother and I rejoiced for her. Not just because she “did it,” but because “we did it.”
When Nzinga was just a year and a half old, her mother and I separated. Like most romantic relationship endings, it wasn’t easy. My family, which I loved so dearly, was breaking up. Suddenly, I felt like a failure again. It was déjà vu all over; first the absence of my father for which I secretly blamed myself and then the early abandonment of my first child. I bombarded myself with questions of whether I would ever get this “family thing” right. Like so many other couples with children trying to navigate the ending of relationships, we found ourselves in the family court system; allowing the court to make decisions about our daughter that we couldn’t find a way to come to ourselves. However, after mediation and wise counsel, we came to an epiphany, we could do this together.
We kept the child custody and visitation order in place so that we could have a Plan B if we ever found ourselves in a position in which we could not make an amicable parenting decision on our own. It wasn’t very easy at first; and to be frank, at times it was painful. However, over time, our ability to have a non-romantic, co-parenting relationship became easier and easier. The secret sauce to our success? We put a motivational factor at the forefront that neither of us could disagree on—the goal of the love and well-being of our daughter.
Fast forward to May 3, 2020, when our beautiful daughter turned 21. She came to this milestone with a college education, business certification, and as an emerging business owner and world traveler, not to mention a heart of love and compassion. I believe this is because she had two parents who never lost sight of our primary goal.
Nzinga’s mother and I fought the odds and redefined the statistical analysis that says 72% of African American children who are born in nonmarital households will eventually have little to no contact with their father. Over 21 years, we proved that successful co-parenting could be done.
What did we learn, and what do we want to pass on to other parents trying to figure out co-parenting relationships? Commitment is the first step. You must commit to making your child’s well-being your number one priority and task no matter what. You must be willing to be flexible enough to stick with it and work things out during the times when it may not be easy, or you may not feel like you like each other very much. Keep your child in the forefront of every decision you make. Don’t let your feelings or emotions about your co-parent become an obstacle to your responsibility of being an involved parent. Lastly, know that co-parenting becomes easier when you foster an appreciation for the magnitude of the importance of the other parent. You are BOTH essential, necessary, and significant to your child’s health and well-being.
One of the most important things for our daughter is she has an embedded narrative and experience of two supportive, cooperative parents who provided a loving base from which she has launched her future and that gives her the confidence to shoot for the stars. Even though her parent’s romantic relationship ended, for Nzinga WE ARE A FOREVER FAMILY.
For more information on co-parenting, check out additional National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse resources on the topic!