When couples separate, the children often suffer, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Mashonda Tifrere, author of the new book Blend: The Secret To Co-Parenting And Creating A Balanced Family, writes how exes can move past egos to build a loving tribe.
When I was a child, my parents would argue in front of my sister and me all the time. My father would walk into the house every day after work, and like clockwork, the loud fussing with my mother about any and everything would begin. It was awful. I know I’m not the only one who grew up around parents who didn’t get along and didn’t care that we, the children, knew all about what was happening. It’s far too common.
If you are still upset by your ex’s inability to perform as the partner you imagined and expected him or her to be, or at the way things ended in your relationship, every interaction may seem like a full-on emotional workout. This is partly what makes co-parenting so challenging. The discord often doesn’t stop just because the ink has dried on the divorce papers.
I recently watched a gripping episode of the OWN drama Love Is __, in which a main character, Yasir, has a big blowup with his ex-wife, Destiny, about their son, Deonte. They yell and cry and she even becomes physical with him, all this as their young son sits in a bedroom in the same house.
Just as tensions threaten to boil over, Yasir’s mother, Rose, steps in and gives both her son and his ex-wife the kind of wisdom only an experienced caretaker and mediator can. She commands her son to respect the mother of his child. And she urges Destiny to heal from her pain and resolve her anger. Rose’s words bring a sense of calm to everyone in the room.
Repeatedly witnessing incidents of antagonism (whether loud and dramatic or soft and subtle) is not in a child’s best interest. Seeing the two people he or she looks up to the most behave as if they hate each other leaves a child confused. Children’s minds are not equipped to navigate the mental and emotional impact of a war be- tween their parents, yet they feel very deeply what’s happening around them. While parents are playing out their enraged emotions, their children are left with a clear picture of division and disorder that they may hold on to for the rest of their lives. Inevitably, they have to unlearn this image of partnerships if they want to experience their own serene, healthy relationships.
The solution to all of this in my opinion, is deliberate, conscious, peaceful blending. Is this easy to achieve? No. I can tell you from personal experience that it can be a rocky road. When the separation is new and raw, it’s difficult to imagine yourself having a friendship the new partner. It took years of healing for all parties involved and many openhearted conversations with my child’s co-parents before we reached a place of positivity and were able to move forward as a tight family unit. But it happened for us and it’s possible for everyone.
My child’s co-parents and I went from disorder and inflamed emotions to love, cooperation and unity. What many parents don’t realize is that co-parenting starts with self-care. It’s normal to feel hurt and disappointed after a breakup, but don’t allow your- self to be swallowed up by the pain. Find a way to release the feelings of anger and move on. You will never be able to properly love anyone—your child included—if you don’t love yourself first. You have to make time to get to know yourself again.
You have probably heard the experts say that communication is important in relationships. We must also learn how to communicate with our co-parent. Your tone, your ego, your mood—all these things need to be checked before picking up that phone. I also believe you have to begin with a new understanding that only comes from airing your feelings. It’s that first difficult conversation in which you acknowledge and dissect each other’s pain that sets the foundation for a better relationship, one built on acceptance and trust. Be courageous with your vulnerability. If you don’t think you can have that conversation on your own with your child’s father, bring in a mediator—someone who is qualified and can be objective. Cry together. Cry in solitude!
I have found that co-parenting does not become blending until you develop a relationship with your ex’s current partner. When your ex commits to some- one new, that person becomes a co-parent to your child by default. Your relation- ship with her needs to be as fluid and healthy as the one you now share with your ex. This will free her to love your child openly, and helps your child to thrive and be at peace.
Your comfort and connection with the new person in your son’s or daughter’s life are not things you can fake. And just because it’s rare for women in this family dynamic to actually get along doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Once you fully embrace each other’s ability to nurture the children involved, an appreciation and love for each other will likely follow. Forward-thinking and ego- less actions will allow you to realize that motherhood and sisterhood walk hand in hand.
Blending my family for the sake of a healthy environment for all of our children is one of the most important decisions I have ever made in my life. I am proud of the success our family has had and I want to share our story. My hope is that it will inspire others, because I am passionate about our evolution as humans. Our actions and our words help mold who our children become as adults. We all win if we can raise mindful, loving and empathetic children. That process starts at home with parents and care- givers. By saving our families, we save our present and our future.
Singer–songwriter Mashonda Tifrere (@mashondatifrere) is an avid art collector. She resides in Fort Lee, New Jersey, with her son.