From Tension to Triumph: Two Families Co-Parenting Successfully

Co-parenting

Meet Trish Eklund, a mom who has graciously opened up about her life. She is telling her story to help those of us who see co-parenting as an uphill battle that perhaps can’t be won. If Trish’s story is any indication, it is possible and entirely worth the effort.

A little over three years ago, my husband of twelve years left. I was completely devastated. I lived in limbo for a few months, before I finally realized that our relationship was beyond repair. We settled our affairs amicably, and were extremely careful not to badmouth one another in front of our daughters, Ali and Cami. This was not easy by any means, and took an enormous amount of self-control. I kept telling myself it was for our daughters. We decided joint custody would be best for our girls.

Since our divorce, Jeff and I both found new relationships, and we both remarried. My husband Bob has no children from a previous marriage, and Jeff’s wife Molly didn’t bring any children into their relationship either.

Meeting the Challenge

The self-control required to keep negative opinions about one’s ex completely private from the kids is easily matched by the discipline you must have to maintain composure when a new woman gets involved with your children.

Everyone who has gone through a divorce and worked at blending new spouses into your children’s lives knows how difficult it can be. Bitterness and unresolved anger can easily cloud your judgment. The only way I was able to move forward was to forgive my ex-husband, and to forgive myself. I felt like a failure, and the hardest part was letting go of that feeling and accepting that sometimes things just don’t work out.

There was one day in particular that tested me on the co-parenting front. Jeff and I had been separated for a few months. Ali and Cami had been with their dad for the day and came back to me that evening with fresh pedicures. Here they were with pretty pink toes and huge smiles. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I smiled back at my daughters. They had gotten their very first pedicures with Molly.

Pedicures, like hair cuts and clothes shopping, are very personal, and any other mother figure getting involved in grooming can seem like an infringement to their loving, protective mom. As soon as they went to their rooms, I slipped away to the bathroom and cried softly to myself unbeknownst to the girls. When I thought it through, I realized that Molly had no idea that she had taken Ali and Cami for their first pedicure. She was trying to bond with my daughters by treating them to something fun because she wanted the girls to like and accept her. And it worked: I could see that the girls genuinely enjoyed getting pedicures with Molly.

I could have let jealousy get the best of me and made an angry phone call to my ex-husband or Molly. I could have had a let’s-see-who-can-outdo-one-another-battle. Both of those options would only hurt my daughters in the long-run, and would have added more stress to my life. I was tired of being miserable from my divorce, so I let it go. This would not be my last test.

Sorting Out Miscommunication

One morning when she was getting ready to leave for the day, Ali, my oldest, asked if she could have a Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Cream Pie. I told her she could, but she needed to make sure she ate a real breakfast at school. The snack would hold her over as she waited for the bus at her dad’s house–that’s where I took her each morning since my home was not on the bus route. I thought to myself, I’d rather give her a snack now than expect her dad to feed her, since it’s my day.

Ali arrived at her dad’s house having eaten her Little Debbie. Not much time passed before Molly sent me an angry text. We texted back and forth for hours, and I finally called my ex to unload my frustration. We soon untangled the miscommunication.

Here’s what had happened:

1. Molly was not fully looped in as to why Ali would be getting the bus at Jeff and Molly’s house.

2. Ali had told Molly that I had given her the Little Debbie for breakfast so that she wouldn’t have to eat at Jeff’s.

3. Molly thought I didn’t want Ali eating at their house.

Our argument never would have taken place if we were in direct communication. I wouldn’t wonder if Jeff relayed the details of practical things like the bussing arrangement. Molly wouldn’t feel offended that I seemed to be overly controlling about the girls’ food. The void could be filled with conversations between the two of us.

Workable Solutions

From that day on, we started communicating. The relationship I have with my daughters’ stepmother requires honesty, compromise, patience, and a since of humor. It requires work, just like any other relationship worth cultivating

In our society, people believe that mothers and stepmothers should not get along. That’s the relational template that we’re working with. People are almost always shocked when I describe our blended family and tell them that Molly and I speak every day. We talk about the girls, changes in each household, and are completely honest with one another about what is happening in each household. When we started our open communication, it was awkward, and most of the time we both had to fake it. Eventually, we got to the point where we no longer had to fake it. Now we actually consider one another friends. It is so sad to me that divorced parents who do not cooperate with one another are considered the norm.

After three years of working at it, all four parents in our two families agree on every decision for the girls. We don’t always see eye to eye, but we discuss each issue until we can all come to an agreement. We all sit together at events for the girls, we have co-birthday parties, and we all try to go to school conferences together.

 

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  • Lisa Amowitz

    Trish–you are amazing. Love you and admire you beyond words.

    • Trish Eklund

      Thanks so much, Lisa!

  • Melissa Putnam

    Thank you for posting this!! I have a very strong relationship with my ex and his girlfriend and I’m told constantly by other women that I have a weird relationship with them. I’ve always remained steadfastly adamant though in that I am doing the right thing by putting my daughter first and not my anger and resentment. My daughter’s stepmom also took my daughter for her first pedicure and I was like you, very upset that I had been robbed of that experience. But once I calmed down, I realized it was more important that she loved and cared for my daughter than me getting to do something with her first. My daughter recently starting calling her stepmom mommy. She is only three and has been around her stepmom for over a year now, so I know it seemed logical to her to just call her mommy. It cut like a knife!! I was so angry. I am her mother not that other women. But after time I realized two things. Love is always more important and my daughter obviously loves her stepmom. Second, she doesn’t just call her mommy. It’s mommy followed by her first name. She knows who her “mommy” is and that is all that matters. So thank you again for sharing your story and letting me know I’m not the “weird” one afterall!!!!

    • Trish Eklund

      Melissa, Thank you so much for the comment. You brought tears to my eyes! You are a very strong and brave woman to put your daughter first. How sad that the “norm” is spreading hate, jealousy, and bitterness to children. People always put down the things that they don’t understand, and I hope someday things will change. I am so proud that you are raising your daughter to be an open-minded, caring, loving adult. WE are not weird. WE are leading by example and showing others how to treat people. Thanks so much for being so brave! And remember, you are an inspiration to your daughter! She has enough love for everyone, and one day she will thank you.

  • Jana Kline Fligor

    I am very hopeful that one day my blended family will be as transparent and cohesive as yours Trish.

    • Trish Eklund

      Jana, thanks for the comment. I hope that one day yours will be as cohesive as ours as well. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have stepchildren and feel like you have no say. Decisions regarding the children affect both households, therefore you are all a family, even if not everyone acknowledges it. The book Nonviolent Communication is very useful in learning how to approach someone who can be difficult to deal with. Start small. Call and ask a question and make the other mom feel like she is the only one who can answer your question. Be polite and buisiness-like. This is what Molly did. And she was very careful. She always came to me regarding decisions rather than using my ex as a go between. Baby steps and patience! Don’t give up, there is always hope.

      • Jana Kline Fligor

        Thank you – I will keep that in mind!

  • Pippa

    Wow, I can’t imagine having the strength of character to work through this situation. It takes guts and selflessness, and it looks like it has been worth the effort. You have my heartfelt admiration!

    • Trish Eklund

      Thank you, Pippa. The term “fake it till you make it” applies here. It was hard at first, but now it is so much easier.

  • Amanda Miller

    Thank you for sharing this story. Although the father of my daughter, Lyndzie, and I were never married, I struggled with the idea of having another mother figure in my daughter’s life. We went through a period of communication issues, jealousy of the things that she did with Lyndzie, and many more. It has been a little over a year now and we are all (my ex, his wife, my husband, and I) on the same level of communication and let one another know details of important information as they arise. It has been a struggle, and sometimes is even now from time to time. I thank you so much for sharing your story.

    • Trish Eklund

      Hi Amanda. Thanks so much for the comment. I’m glad you could relate. I’m not going to lie, there are still little moments when sharing is hard. It takes a lot of self control, patience, and letting go of the little things. It’s a lot of work, but worth it in the end. I write for Big Blended Family and Her View From Home regularly. I’m trishiewriter on twitter. So stop by and ask questions any time! How wonderful that you were able to heal and take the high road. Kudos to you!