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.
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.