Today I'm interviewing Deesha Philyaw, co-author (with her ex-husband Mike Thomas) of the book Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive In Two Households After Divorce. Deesha and Mike run a website called Co-Parenting 101 dedicated to helping not-together parents work with each other to care for their children, and the book grew out of that project. (My ex-husband and I met Deesha and Mike when they had us as guests on the radio show they host on co-parenting.)
I think this book is exactly what any parent who's divorced or divorcing needs to help create a working relationship with their child's other parent. You can read the review my ex-husband and I wrote of Co-Parenting 101 here. I wanted to ask Deesha how she and Mike developed a working relationship so strong that they got a book out of it, and she agreed to the interview.
How long have you been divorced, and how often do you communicate with your ex-husband/co-author?
We separated in 2005 and our divorce was finalized in 2006. I communicate with Mike a lot, at least once daily (usually more) via phone, text, email -- sometimes all three in a given day. Between our kids' busy schedules and his travel schedule for work, it's necessary. We also communicate when we feel there's something the other parent needs to know before they kids transition to the other house. Or sometimes it's just, "I wanted to let you know that this happened at school today, or before school this morning. Or, here's something that I'm wondering or concerned about with regard to the kids, and I'd like to know what you think." With kids, there's always something.
Were you and Mike this cordial and functional from the beginning of the divorce process? Reading the book made me feel like my ex-husband and I had been so irrational at the beginning of things compared to you.
Yikes! No... didn't we write something in the book about dropping f-bombs? There were definitely f-bombs dropped. We were functional in the girls' presence, always, but on the phone and in email... not so much. We both had healing work to do in order to be comfortable in each other's presence again. Being more than cordial developed from there, over time. Years.
Why did you write this book?
Peer pressure! Seriously, friends, family, and colleagues would compliment us on how civil we were being and how well our girls were doing in the aftermath of our divorce, and they would say, "You should write a book." We hope that the book will be a practical guide and a source of encouragement for other co-parents, but also that it would be useful for anyone who works with children and family and who wants to change the cultural presumptions about post-break-up parenting. Currently, it's almost expected that co-parents will be antagonistic and combative, and not cooperative. We hope our book can help change that.
What is your hope for readers of the book?
See the above answer. Also, we'd like readers to come away from the book with a sense of possibility and a long-view perspective. In the early separation/divorce days, as you know, things are so raw. It's hard to even think past getting out of bed sometimes. We hope the book will offer readers even the tiniest sliver of hope and light at the end of the tunnel, for those dark times. We also want readers to come away from it realizing that co-parenting is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The parenting partnership that any two people create for their kids is going to be a function of their circumstances, personalities, quirks...all of that. Our hope is that in the context of those things, they create a partnership that serves their kids well.
What do your kids think of the book?
Taylor, who is 14, is in the process of reading it. Based on some of her comments, she's enjoying getting a more "grown-up" perspective on co-parenting, and a behind-the-scenes look at the rationale behind some of the conversations Mike and I have had with her and some of the co-parenting decisions we've made. But this is also a kid who has been reading my parenting magazines and Bitch magazine since she was in 5th grade, so she's also reading it critically, as if her parents didn't write it, and so far, she's been complimentary in her feedback. Peyton is 9; she seems to be very proud of our book and she's memorized the page on which we quote her. Overall, we're very careful about what aspects of their lives we make available for public consumption, so they haven't had any complaints.
Is there anything you think didn't make it into the book that you wish you could say to co-parents reading this?
This is in the book, but I think it bears repeating. Co-parenting involves two, distinct connections that should not be conflated: the parent-parent dynamic, and the parent-child relationship. The latter, however imperfect, is a child's right to have with both fit and willing parents, unhindered. Someone can be terrible intimate partner, but still be an awesome parent.
Magda runs and writes and reads and writes about writing and reading and running. She thinks you're the best parent for your child, and writes about that at AskMoxie.org. Read the blog she writes with her ex-husband about co-parenting after divorce at When The Flames Go Up. It gets better. All of it.