Splitsville: Competing For Every First Experience

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

Parents chronicle their child’s “firsts” with an obsession nature that I normally associate with mental illness. There are normal firsts that all parents collect, like the first tooth, first word, or first step. Aside from the predictable milestones, families have their own specific hierarchy of firsts. I’ll always remember my daughter’s first time on an airplane. We didn’t just celebrate her first day of pre-school, but also her first day of dance class. For parents, every new experience in our kids’ lives is exciting and important.

I’m pretty sure that’s why its so difficult for separated parents to miss out on any firsts. I mean, any at all.

My husband and I were planning vacation this year. We scheduled time off work and starting booking flights and hotels. I wasn’t really considering that a week’s vacation would be that big of a deal. We weren’t leaving the country.

Then, about a month before we left, I mentioned the trip to my daughter’s father. Whoa. I expected to give him details like where we were going and how long we would be gone. I did not expect to get the third degree from someone who saw our daughter for a couple hours every three weeks. What did he care how we got to our destination? Why did it matter what tourist attractions we were hitting? We’re going on vacation!

But it wasn’t the trip itself that was frustrating my ex. It was all the firsts he was going to miss. This was my daughter’s first big trip. It was her first time on an airplane. It would be the first time she saw museums and other attractions from our destination. We were visiting a place that he wanted to take her, and now she will be seeing it all without him. That’s what was so hard to accept.

All of a sudden, my ex was asking when we were planning on going to Disney Land. He really wanted to be the one to take our daughter to Disney Land, so that he could have his own first.

As a custodial parent, I’m used to being there for everything. I got to see so many of those early milestones that her father missed. I took her to her first day of school. I held her hand through her first movie, and left with 20 minutes to go when she got too antsy to wait for the end. The thought of missing her first trip to Disney Land, that magical kingdom where every child thinks they’ve found Heaven, was extremely difficult for me. Just like my daughter’s dad, I didn’t want to miss any firsts.

So often when we talk about co-parenting, we focus on who has to pay or drive or discipline. We forget that the hardest part of sharing your child isn’t splitting the costs, it’s sharing the time. It’s all the firsts that parents can’t stand to miss and accepting the fact that you both have to be able to get your fair share. I don’t want to miss my daughter’s first trip to Disney Land, but I want her to have something to share with her father too. No matter what, he deserves a couple firsts of his own.