‘Mommy and Deanna, I love you both, and it hurts me when you say bad things.’ Ashamed, we went from enemies to sisters.’: Mom shares journey to peaceful co-parenting

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“It wasn’t always like this. Lord, it wasn’t. It was a hard road to get to this point in our relationship. You see, Ashley is my husband’s ex-wife, and the mother of my stepchildren. To say our relationship started out full of animosity is an understatement. I knew Ashley had every right to be concerned about who was going to be around her children. She is their mother. That is her job. But I didn’t want to take her job – I knew I wasn’t their mommy. I was just Deanna, not even their dad’s girlfriend yet. I was just a friend. Could I handle the ups and downs of being in a relationship with someone who had an ex-wife, and shared children with her? I wasn’t convinced I could.

Our story all started with an online date. I was a 34-year-old, never married teacher in central Kansas. I had a habit of dating men who weren’t right for me, so when Brent sent me a message, I figured he was just another blip in the road. He was a recently divorced man in western Kansas with two kids under 5. When we continued to talk over time, we found we had so much in common. It was eerie. Down to our hometowns being so similar, even finding out we were in the same building at our college, ON THE SAME FLOOR, on 9/11. He seemed so perfect for me, but I knew there had to be a catch. There it was: his ‘volatile’ ex-wife.

Couple take aesthetic photo of them sharing a sweet smooch
Courtesy of Deanna Spears Clark

I finally met Ashley a few weeks later. Well, ‘met’ is a bit of a stretch. At our first meeting, we nearly came to blows. Right away, we started off on the wrong foot. It didn’t take long for our negative behaviors to engulf us. (I always prided myself on being level-headed, but there were times level-headed probably wouldn’t have described me.) It escalated quickly after that: passive-aggressive texts and Facebook posts (and even people spying for us). Heated meetings and phone calls. Anxiety and nausea just thinking of one another. Constant jabs and undermining each other. We were both guilty of treating the other with disrespect and hatred. Sometimes it’s so hard to be the bigger person—and I think we both felt like we were the one taking the high road. ‘I hate this!’ I’d tell my husband. ‘I can’t do this anymore!’

Newly weds take a photo with their two children before their wedding reception
Courtesy of Deanna Spears Clark

This continued for nearly three years. Back and forth, back and forth. It wasn’t always easy, and I know we weren’t always successful, but we tried our hardest not to speak negatively of each other in front of the kids. (At least I tried to. I’m pretty sure she bit her tongue many times as well.) We learned the hard way that speaking ill of one another hurt the kids more than anyone else. Our son taught us when he spoke out on our behaviors as a child. ‘Mommy and Deanna, I love you both, and it hurts me when you say bad things.’ Yes, that’s something I’m ashamed of. Speaking for myself, the bitterness in my heart was all-consuming at times, and hard to push past.

Couple pose with their son and daughter in front of a Christmas tree
Courtesy of Deanna Spears Clark

But fast forward to now, over six years after we first met: we buy one another gifts for holidays, including Mother’s Day, Christmas, and birthdays. We share birthday parties and special occasions for our kids (they’re coming over for a 4th of July BBQ). My husband and I were so happy to go to Ashley and Ross’s wedding last March. I remember Brent saying, ‘Is it weird to be celebrating the new marriage of your ex-wife? Who cares!’ Crazily enough, we even have family photos coming up soon, of all of us and our blended families. Who could have ever imagined it could be this way?

Newly weds walk out of their wedding reception hand-in-hand with big smiles
Courtesy of Deanna Spears Clark

I ask myself, how did we get here? For me, it started at a women’s church encounter. I prayed to God I could release the anger and bitterness in my heart toward Ashley. I remember standing at the Cross in the front of the room, asking for something I couldn’t even imagine. ‘Lord, please let me release this hatred. I can’t take it anymore. It’s killing me on the inside. I know I’m a better person than this.’ I knew all it was doing was making me sick; hating someone hurts you more than it hurts the other person. For Ashley, the change began when she began to pray about our situation, too. Neither of us knew the other was asking God to make a change in our lives. She told me when we volunteered to watch her other child when she needed help; something in her heart softened. She remembers looking through pictures of our kids and realizing that all they wanted was for their mom and dad to be happy in whatever paths they chose.

Mom takes a selfie with her kids and step kids while sitting in the bleachers
Courtesy of Deanna Spears Clark

So, we grew. We matured. We became more like sisters than like enemies. We did it for the kids, but also for ourselves. Now, our kids know we are a united team. They know what one household says, the other household agrees with and supports. They know we are here for them and for each other. Our kids will be better because we have worked to build a loving and strong relationship and bond. They’ve seen how broken families don’t have to be broken. We are stitched together forever through the love of our children, and now for the love we have for one another. Both families—moms and step moms, dads and step dads, kids and step kids. The labels don’t matter. We’re all family.

Two moms spend time with their blended family
Courtesy of Deanna Spears Clark
Two moms enjoy a nice lunch out together with some of their children
Courtesy of Deanna Spears Clark

I asked Ashley if it was okay for me to write this story. I told her I’d let her read it first. I told her I was going to be brutally honest, and she agreed it was the right way to be. ‘Of course! I can’t wait to see the final draft! Honesty is the best thing!’

It wasn’t always like this. But it will always be like this from now on. That doesn’t mean we see eye to eye on every topic. But it does mean we’ll work together to find a solution. As a family. If we can do this, anyone can. We are living proof that miracles can happen. Sometimes all you have to do is ask for one.”

Beautiful blended family with seven children take family photos in red and blue plaid shirts
Courtesy of Deanna Spears Clark
Family of four take a selfie together while spending some down time together on the couch
Courtesy of Deanna Spears Clark

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Deanna Spears Clark of Garden City, KS. You follow Deanna on Facebook here and Ashley here. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘I invited my husband’s ex-wife to my wedding. In our family, we’re not ‘half’ or ‘step.’ We’re just family.’: Mom and stepmom come together to peacefully co-parent after feud, ‘women should always support each other’

‘To my ex-husband’s family: You didn’t have to continue loving me, but you do.’: Woman pens emotional letter to in-laws, ‘You’ve turned unfortunate circumstance into something beautiful’

‘You need to place our child for adoption.’ How could he ask me to do that? I was totally alone.’: Birth mom becomes part of son’s adoptive family, ‘The moments we share are priceless’

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