Saskatchewan·BEAUTIFUL MESS

Throwing everything into co-parenting after divorce

Nearly 40 per cent of Canadian marriages end in divorce and many people struggle to co-parent in a healthy fashion after splitting. This instalment of the Beautiful Mess parenting series offers wisdom from a Regina family doing it well.

'Our decision to be together was a decision to be a family and that to me is bigger than marriage'

Risa Payant, far right, and Jose Miguel Olaechea Reyes make a point of being together to celebrate big events in the lives of their daughters, such as birthdays and dance performances. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

When Risa Payant was pregnant with her second child, she and her husband decided they no longer wanted to be a couple.

They also decided they would continue living together until their baby turned two.

And while they kept separate bedrooms, they shared the work of caring for an infant, taking turns feeding the newborn and rocking her back to sleep every couple of hours.

"It wasn't a perfect dissolution of a marriage, and I don't think anyone's is, but how do we as grownups get past the hurt that really had nothing to do with our kids and wasn't their fault or their responsibility?" says Payant.

Their daughters are now 10 and seven, and even though Payant and Jose Miguel Olaechea Reyes have been separated for seven years, they are still very much a parenting team and very much a family.

The girls are happy when they get to spend time with both their parents at the same time. While not a regular occurrence, the family is able to enjoy the time they do spend together. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

Payant and Olaechea Reyes met in 2007 working on cruise ships. He was from Peru, she from Canada, and they spent most of their time hopping from country to country enjoying the nightlife. Their relationship was on and off when Payant had a surprise pregnancy.

The two were excited to have a baby together, but being from two different countries complicated matters. They figured the easiest way for them to be a family was to get married.

But the couple found they weren't as compatible when they were faced with the reality of life in Regina as new parents. Still, they found parenting together easy and natural.

Our decision to be together was a decision to be a family and that to me is bigger than marriage.- Risa Payant

So, when Payant became pregnant with their second child, the couple decided to split but continue parenting together.

"I know it seems funny because we got divorced while I was pregnant, but I still think that was the right decision for us to have another baby because we really love being parents," says Payant.

"Our decision to be together was a decision to be a family and that to me is bigger than marriage."

Despite no longer being a couple, the family shared a home for the first two years of their youngest daughter's life. (Submitted by Risa Payant)

The idea of parenting over marriage is evident in how Payant and Olaechea Reyes raise their girls together.

Last year when the girls brought home lice, Olaechea Reyes went over to Payant's home, staying up late to do laundry and pick nits out of his ex-wife's hair.

They also make an effort to all come together to celebrate family events, like birthdays or dance performances or the first days of school.

The girls spend half the week with each parent, swapping on Wednesday and alternating weekends.

The girls' home with their mother is a feminine space. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

Payant describes her home as full of femme energy. Sequined jackets, high-heeled shoes and brightly coloured art adorns the walls and shelves. Some of her favourite moments with her daughters are having fashions shows, experimenting with makeup and bright lipstick, and having dance parties.

In contrast, time at Olaechea Reyes's home involves speaking Spanish and cooking together, playing soccer and having chin-up contests on the monkey bars at the local park. 

Payant admits one of the challenges of living in two homes is that children are tempted to play the parents off of one another. They've managed to crack down on this by presenting a unified front.

"We sat down as a family and said, 'Listen, before anything else, your dad and I are on the same team and everything that happens in his house I'm aware of and vice versa.'"

And they've developed some ground rules, like no fights via text message; texts are solely for practical information.

When the teacher sends a note home with the kids, photos are taken immediately and sent to the other parent.

When a child comes home and there has been conflict at school, they will call the other parent immediately to make sure everyone is on the same page.

They make it clear to the girls that they may have separate homes, but they are one family.

Payant and Olaechea Reyes sit down on a regular basis to plan out custody schedules of their two children. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

And Payant and Olaechea Reyes say they are able to be better parents when they have their children because they aren't exhausted from balancing work and full-time parenting.

"Every second weekend I can sleep until noon and go out all night with my pals, or sit and read a book in my pajamas without anyone needing anything from me. It's a huge perk of divorced parenting," says Payant.

Growing up in the 80s, Payant admits she never saw her mother as an autonomous human being.

"A benefit to me in terms of role modelling what it means to be a fully-fleshed out human being to my children is that because I don't have them 100 per cent of the time, I do have time to invest in my career and hobbies and do things that are really important to me."

Payant and her daughters love playing dress up and experimenting with makeup when they spend time together. (Submitted by Risa Payant)

Payant and Olaechea Reyes admit this relationship requires constant work and it's not always easy.

Olaechea Reyes has been dating someone for the past five years and they are engaged to be married.

Payant says there have been tensions as everyone figures out their roles, but she also considers Olaechea Reyes's fiancée to be a third member of their parenting team.

Payant says it all comes back to what's best for the kids.

"It sounds cliché about it taking a village, but it absolutely does. I think the more people who can be on board with us being a family, the better." 

Family bracelets the oldest daughter, Gaia, bought on a trip to Mexico. (Submitted by Risa Payant)

The girls notice when their parents are around each other too much as they start to bicker. They  roll their eyes and say, "this is what life would be like if you lived together."

That doesn't mean the kids never feel sad that their parents don't live in the same house, but Payant says it's good for her daughters to understand that the choice she and their father made not to be together is also a choice about respecting themselves and a choice not to be in something that doesn't feel right.

"It's OK if things fall apart and you can rebuild and you can grow from that experience."

Beautiful Mess is a series that aims to glean wisdom from parents in challenging situations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nichole Huck

Producer

Nichole Huck is a mother of three and producer at CBC Saskatchewan. She is passionate about creating opportunities for open discussions and helping people find common ground. If you have a story idea email nichole.huck@cbc.ca.

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