06/11/2013 10:55 am ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Back Up Co-Parents in the Spotlight

Thank you Robin Lerner for bringing to my attention a New York Times article in conjunction with the release of a wonderful new film documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom, entitled, "The Voice Behind Mick and Others." This piece about the lives of back up singers helped me pull together a notion I've been chewing on for some time and haven't been able to fully articulate until now.

It's gutsy and somewhat old school to say everyone knows that the youngest joint custody kids need their mother's love and care differently from father's until about age 3. The premise is not an insult or a slam against men if one understands co-parenting over the lifespan and less as a point in time. Parenting roles are different yet equally important to children in a process that evolves over time and within a larger support system. The support system itself -- family and other caregivers -- is the chorus in a sense, yet another cast of back up singers. All of this heavy lifting or harmonizing is organized around the goal of raising and launching the next generation well into adulthood.

Apply the back-up singer analogy to co-parenting infants and toddlers. For a father's role to fully blossom, he might have to start out planting proverbial seeds as a background singer to mother's diva with a break out hit in him. Excellent back up to the mother doesn't favor or enhance her by threatening or minimizing the father. Back up co-parenting doesn't have to be quick sand or breeding grounds for co-dependency, competition for affection or conflict.

As the child enters preschool and toddler years, let's take gender out of the equation altogether as co-parents agree to greater time-shares and fathers are granted more physical custody earlier. More involved than the Disneyland Dad or Magic Mountain Mom, more hands on than Aunt Mom or Uncle Dad, imagine the co-parent who over time emerges fully and may even elevate in stature and become on par with, and possibly exceed, the original A-slot parent.

The parent who never departs much from 20-30 percent physical custody still plays a pivotal role, if they pitch in regularly with transportation and homework, especially school projects and extra-curricular activities. Sorry, but a back up co-parent will have to explain why passing duties to other third-parties, arguably the support system, is best. Without delving into gender stereotypes, dads who technically have fewer overnights are no less instrumental to the overall smooth functioning of their child's life, when there's no dodging of responsibilities.

Great background singers add incalculable beauty, color and depth to a performance. Here is the key to success: While it may look like the back-up parent plays catch up to the lead, the overall effect is of a soul -- and playful back and forth between the two. When certain harmonies work and meld into a mellifluous one, the end product can't be beat. Let me hear your back up co-parent stories from the front lines.