“When you grow up, you don’t dream of being a divorced woman. That’s like the worst thing you can be, right? I live in Appalachia, hunny. If you aren’t married with babies by 25, you might as well be an old maid (I’m half-kidding). Most of the time, when there’s a divorce, you’re the talk of the town. And no wonder — when we see divorced or blended families in media, it isn’t exactly positive. It’s usually portrayed as a broken tragedy. It’s an example of shame: what one should not do. A divorced family used to be looked at as a sorry situation; a broken home. The children are sad. The parents almost always hate each other. Blended families are looked at with pity.
I’m here to tell you this doesn’t always have to be the case. What if I was to tell you a divorce could be the greatest thing you ever did for your life and children? Sometimes, it can be. Enter cooperative co-parenting.
Jon and I met as children and grew up together. Our families were close. When we got together at age 22, we moved fast. Part of it was we felt we had grown up together, so we thought we knew each other. The other part was we wanted to play grown-ups. The time Jon and I were together can just be described as intense. Within 8 months, we were pregnant and engaged. We wanted to be a perfect family when we found out we were expecting a little one in January of 2011. We were married legally in February and had a wedding in May.
After a hard pregnancy and traumatic labor, I was blessed with a beautiful daughter on September 17, 2011, and she is the greatest gift in the world to me. I didn’t plan on having her, or Lane, who followed quickly in July 2013, but they are the most beautiful souls to ever exist, and their creation brings me joy every day.
While we created what looked like the perfect family, it was quickly deteriorating from the inside out. Our marriage had water damage; it had cracks in the walls and holes in the foundation. We tried to stay together for the children. We both wanted happily ever after, but sometimes dreams don’t come true.
After I survived a stroke and cerebral aneurysm at 25, I woke up from brain surgery knowing this was my second chance. We were both toxic and abusive towards each other. This was not a marriage to be proud of. At the time, the hardest thing I ever did was decide the marriage wasn’t sustainable. We just weren’t matching personalities. Even with the children, I didn’t want them growing up and looking to a dysfunctional relationship as a role model. They deserved better, and so did Jon and myself. What kind of example was I setting?
Am I advocating for divorce? Yes, sometimes. If you’re in a toxic relationship, don’t think staying together for the kids will help. Nobody dreams of being divorced, but I think the divorce was the best thing that ever happened to all of us. And apparently, my daughter does too. When I asked her about it, she said this, ‘It makes me happy we can go places and you guys can not fight. When you guys were married, you always fought. It’s much better because you don’t have anything to fight about anymore. I feel safe and happy now.’ And to me, that’s all that matters.
I met with a divorce lawyer in January of 2016. At the beginning of the divorce, it was not cordial. Jon and I had a very public breakup. We both did things we are embarrassed of now. I’d explain more, but here’s the thing about co-parenting — you don’t dwell on the past. We BOTH did and said some not good things. When Jon and I talk about it now, we see we were just young kids trying to do what was told to us and what we thought was best. We both acknowledge our mistakes.
I pictured myself being single for a while. I didn’t want to be immediately in a relationship, but if you’re seeing a pattern on how my life goes, you’re smarter than I am. It never goes as planned.
Greg and I had met when we were younger and had stayed best friends throughout our formative years. He came back into my life at the time my marriage was ending, and he was the only man I could ever trust around my children. I was extremely wary of having another male around my children… for obvious reasons. But Greg was the first thing I was ever sure of. We reconnected and for some reason, he was not scared off by the fact I had two children. For a man who never wanted kids, he stepped up to the plate. His family also was excited to get some grandkids. We had 100% support from Greg’s family, even before mine.
While Greg was eager to be my hero, he didn’t overstep his bounds. He wanted to be a father figure, but he was very clear he didn’t want to replace Jon. Respect was given early. Even when things were rough with Jon and Greg, we never shut each other out of the kid’s lives. During the divorce, Jon, Greg, and I were present at every important event we could be at. We always made sure at least one father figure (if not both) were present at functions.
There was quite a learning curve for all of us, but especially Greg. He had to get used to being a father of two children, and having a family. His biggest critic was Laila, who said this about meeting Greg, ‘I was very protective of you. When you first introduced me to him I was like ‘Who are you?’ Because I remembered what happened to you in the past with daddy, so I had to get trust with Greg. To know he wouldn’t hurt you.’ Lane was an easy win. He was only 2, so he automatically loved Greg. It was more of Greg learning how to deal with a child in diapers.
Obviously, Greg proved his worth to a 4-year-old girl and a little boy, because I married him a year later. It was the children begging us to get married by the time we officially wed on Friday the 13th in 2017.
Co-parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done… and that’s saying a lot. Because I’ve done a lot of tough sh*t. It’s hard to get over the past or to forgive. It’s a journey, and there are ups and downs, but you’re in it for the long haul. Something I read one time was it doesn’t matter who you marry, but who you have kids with… that’s who is in your life forever. To this day, I have heard nothing more true. It’s a commitment forever. So it’s beneficial to try to make the best of it, for everyone involved.
Cooperative co-parenting is not for the faint of heart. Especially after a toxic relationship. I promise you, when you see the smiles on your kids’ faces when you are all together, every difficult decision and disagreement is worth it. In my opinion, it’s one of my greatest accomplishments.
If there is one thing you take away from this article, I hope it is this: co-parenting is the acceptance THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about the children and what would be best for them. Would it be best for them to be able to be unafraid of having all their families in the same room? Of course. A child shouldn’t have to have the emotional stress of trying to make sure their parents get along.
During the pandemic, our co-parenting had to change drastically. We’ve had to cooperate even more. From talking about ground rules for who the kids are around to their education, we’ve had to all coordinate. Birthdays and holidays are always the hardest for us, but this year, it went amazing.
For Thanksgiving, we decided it was safest to spend the holiday together with no extended family. We had Jon over to our house and I made a horrible Thanksgiving Dinner (it was planned in 2 days). But you should have seen the looks on the kids’ faces the entire time. They were so happy to show their dad their other home. We all played Mario Party after dinner on the Nintendo Switch. Do you think I did this for me and Greg? No. I did it for the kids. And surprisingly, we all had a good time and it turned out wonderfully.
We don’t normally do holidays together, but I do think Thanksgiving is something positive that happened in 2020. It’s not because it was a great dinner or the house was clean – because those weren’t the case. The house was definitely a wreck and the dinner was probably about what you’re served in prison. It was because it was honestly like a trophy for all the hard work all three of us have done. I’m thinking of making it a tradition to do a ‘CoParentsGiving.’
In our case, co-parenting made us all grow up. I’m proud of the progress we all have made. The biggest thing when co-parenting is trust. And when you have broken trust, it’s hard to build it back up. It’s taken us 4 years to get to this point. It wasn’t always easy, and it won’t always be. I know there will be arguments to come. I know there will be good days, too.
Co-parenting is just like any other relationship, but you have to remember why this person is still in your life. And you have to respect it. After all, two of the greatest gifts of my life are from Jon. Honestly, the most negative responses we’ve had are from family who don’t want to look past our 5-year train wreck marriage. We have all made it very clear we are co-parenting and Jon and Greg are both fathers. No family is allowed to bad-talk any parent. When his family says something negative about me, Jon shuts it down.
I can’t stress how important it is for family support, even if they don’t agree with the parenting style. The most wonderful thing I ever heard from an ex-sister in law that supports our parenting was when Laila said to her, ‘I’m so happy you are friends with my Mommy.’ Megan’s friendship with me meant that much to Laila. Think of how much it means when other family members talk badly about one of your parents? A person who you are half of.
If you were to tell me 5 years ago Greg and Jon would be able to be in the same room together laughing, I wouldn’t have believed it. But nobody can predict the future. All we do is make an educated guess and hope it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t, and this is okay. It’s okay to admit you weren’t right for each other. What’s important is you move on while being respectful to each other. And I’ve taught my children this. How to move on from something hard. How to know when something isn’t right. And what your worth is. And what respect is.
Today, all three of us are actively raising these children. The children are their own people, and they’re happy with how things are going. You can see it in the photos. Of course, I know not every divorce can end like this. I’m more than blessed to be living this life, and I feel like I got lucky. But that doesn’t discredit the fact all three of us have put in some hard d*mn work for this.
So you know what? I’m going to be proud of something for once in my life.
If you’re looking into co-parenting, here are my recommendations:
1. It takes time. And once the marriage is done, it’s done. There’s no waffling on it. Healing from it takes time, and it’s not going to be easy starting off. Everyone has to adjust to the new normal. It’s going to be hard as hell. I promise it won’t be this hard forever.
2. Both parents have to be committed. It can’t be one-sided.
3. The children are people, not property, so they aren’t to be treated as such.
4. If you can, it’s great to keep both parents in their lives.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Neera Doss-Burner of Huntington, WV. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Twitter, and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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