Making co-parenting work after divorce is challenging. Now add new spouses into the mix and chances are those challenges are set to become even more complicated than before.
But they don’t have to be. As one Oklahoma mom learned, welcoming an ex-spouse’s new partner into the family can be a good thing.
“Often times I have people ask me how my ex, his wife, my husband and I co-parent so flawlessly,” Hayley Booth wrote in a Facebook post. “My answer is always the same – we just love our daughter. Seriously, it’s just that simple.”
And while this may bother some parents, Booth says, she has no problem with her daughter calling her step-mother “mommy.”
“I see so many women say ‘ I would never let my child call another woman mom or mommy, because she’s NOT her mom, I AM!’” she wrote. “Well you know what? You’re being selfish. If you are lucky enough for your ex to have a woman who loves YOUR child or children like their own, and one who helps raise them and shape them, why would you not allow them to call a woman they love mommy?”
Booth explains that sometimes you have to put the petty things aside in order to raise a child to be the human being they are meant to be.
“Don’t tell me that peaceful co-parenting isn’t possible because it is” she said. “I know it is. Because I do it every day. It takes a village to raise a child, and I am beyond thankful for my village!”
While Booth has been able to make co-parenting work for her family, such a change to a family’s dynamic can be a shock, parenting expert Julie Freedman-Smith says.
But despite emotions and feelings of hurt and heartbreak that are bound to exist, it’s important to make this new dynamic work.
But jealous doesn’t only happen among the adults, Freedman-Smith adds. Children, too, may become jealous of a step-parent if they feel that step-parent is taking their parent away from them.
It doesn’t mean that this type of arrangement can’t work, Freedman-smith says, especially since examples of thriving blended families are seen all the time.
Some may have already figured out the formula to success, but for those who are still navigating choppy waters, Freedman-Smith offers a few tips.
1. It’s not personal
As a new family is formed, a lot of changes take place, Freedman-Smith says. Even if a couple has gotten over the hurdle of divorce, there’s still a lot of leftover feelings.
As a result, thinking with a cool head can be difficult when disagreements happen.
“Disagreements that are happening – or that are about to happen – are not personal,” Freedman-Smith says. “They’re happening as a result of the roles that everyone’s playing in the relationship, not because you’re a bad person or because somebody’s bad.”
2. Handling jealousy
It’s normal to have feelings of jealousy in these situations, Freedman-Smith says. The jealousy might not stem from the new relationship your ex-partner is having, but it could be as a result of a new relationship forming between the child and step-parent.
“Recognize those feelings for what they are,” Freedman-Smith advises. “Sometimes that means to take some time to do that. It might be helpful to do a bit of therapy… or to just write some things out. A lot of times we don’t even acknowledge our feelings… and actually writing those things down gets those thoughts out of our head and it can be really helpful.”
3. Make things predictable
When it comes to children, it’s important to focus on their needs as they’re likely to be experiencing a range of emotions themselves, Freedman-Smith says.
“If we can make things as predictable as possible for the kids, it makes their worlds easier,” she says. “It helps them feel like they have some power and some sense of control in the situation. So if you can keep the living situation relatively close together, or at least make it predictable for the kids so they know when they’re going to whose house. Calendars are good for that.”
4. House rules and discipline
Ultimately, parents are working to make kids feel safe. It’s important that the discipline structure and house rules remain as consistent as possible to uphold the predictability that helps kids feel at ease.
5. Speak cordially of the other parent and their partner
Yes, emotions can run high, but Freedman-Smith says parents should refrain from talking ill of the other parent and the step-parent.
“Speak well – or at least cordially – of the other parent,” she says. “There can be all sorts of stuff going on in the parent relationship that doesn’t necessarily need to be shared with the kids. So be respectful and cordial and model the values that we want our kids to pick up.”