Co-Parenting: My Daughter’s Two Mom(s)

FullSizeR-3

These are Olivia’s moms. Plural. I’m on the right. Jess is on the left. She met my ex-husband two years after our divorce and now they have a little boy named Luke that my daughter loves more than me. She told me so and I adore her for it. Nothing makes me happier than to hear her voice become nurturing and sweet when she talks to her brother. As moms of siblings, Jess and I are nailing this co-parenting thing. Olivia has recently tried to order another brother or sister and Jess announced that it was my turn, “You’re up, Sister Wife.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.”

Jess has a killer sense of humor and we spend every Christmas morning together making our weird little family work.

She also loves my daughter which makes me love her. She sent me a text several months ago to let me know she was concerned about some of Olivia’s comments surrounding body image and beauty, “She said no one cares about smarts. Not ok.” She immediately changed messaging in their home and asked for advice, “Liv is gorgeous, but she’s also brilliant and hilarious. We need to talk about how smart, clever and funny she is and dad is on board. No more telling her how pretty she is…”

Jess was there for Liv’s school orientation, she’s there for school plays and once she was there dealing with a bully when I was on a business trip. She picked Liv up that day, handled the fallout and was ready to go toe to toe with the parents if needed. The best thing I could have ever hoped for was that my daughter would be surrounded and raised by strong women who want the absolute best for her in life.

This is unusual, I know. It shouldn’t be.

Mutual friends give each of us the heads up when we may run into one another, concerned for a scene or an awkward encounter and we both laugh. Sunday night we ended up in the same suite at TMobile Arena to see the wonder that is NKOTB. Jess immediately gave me a hug when we saw each other, “They warned me you were going to be here and I was like, ‘I like Jeanette! We’re cool!'” Other mutual friends have called me before big events to warn me I’ll run into her and my ex-husband and I immediately announce, “I love Jess.”

When people respond with confusion or say, “I couldn’t do that,” I argue that you can, but you have to get out of your own way. I often remember the advice I was given in the required parenting class I had to take when I filed for divorce, “You have to die to the relationship you had and create a new one. You are in the business of raising a child together. No more who did what.”

You have to forgive the past, shed the hurt and there is no room for jealousy. You also pray the woman on the other side is secure, mature and willing to recognize your role as a parent. She has to be willing to meet you in the same place. Before Jess there were girlfriends who were uncomfortable with my frequent conversations with my ex-husband, our Christmas morning tradition that was created both out of divorce and a joint promise to our child, the photos we would text one another as milestones or memories were achieved. Those who have never had kids don’t realize that the ex doesn’t want your man anymore. She doesn’t show up to insert herself in your relationship or remain on his mind. She just wants him to be a good dad to their child and it takes a secure woman to understand the difference.

There is also a hell of a lot of respect. Jessica makes it clear that I’m mom and what I say always goes. She will always defer to me. I also back her up when Liv is in trouble with her and we both recognize that we need breaks. We all know that we are healthier parents when we have vacations, time to work on our own relationships and interests. It brings us back to the most important person in the equation with a much stronger, healthier mindset.

I always prayed that the woman that would end up in Olivia’s life would love her (almost) as much as I do. It would be the best thing for all of us.

We lucked out.

And Liv lucked out. She has an(other) amazing woman in her life and a baby brother that looks at her as if she herself hangs the stars.

And, if I’m honest… another thing I didn’t expect, but which has been a pleasant surprise?

I love Olivia’s brother too.

Life can be beautiful in all it’s weirdness… as long as you let it.

Dear Dads: An Open Letter to Men Raising Women

FullSizeR-2

Dear Dads:

They say there is nothing like the relationship between a daughter and her father. You are our heroes, our dragon slayers and The Keepers; you keep us safe, guard our little hearts and build the foundation for the woman we are to become. When we are little you are the strongest man we’ve ever met. You can do no wrong. Until we get a little older and boobs and boys come knocking.

Then you turn crazy.

Well, my dad did. I hope you managed to keep it together better than mine. Boys completely knocked him off his Superhero game. In the event you haven’t gotten to those days of dating and independence, let me give you a little insight taken both from personal experience and interviews I’ve conducted with women on the subject of self esteem and messaging.

You, dear dads, will teach us boundaries and how we should expect to be treated by men. You alone are the example we will weave into our relationship fabric and we will either be subconsciously conditioned by your messaging or consciously decide we want the exact opposite of you and what you’re trying to sell.

Wouldn’t you rather consciously navigate the years where we scare you the most?

How you speak to women, be it our mother, the women in our community and those that work for or with you, we hear you. We hear the compliments. We hear the scorn. We hear the, “Oh, you women…” or “Just like a woman…” and the teasing smile on your face doesn’t make it any less impactful, What about us women? Do all guys just put up with us? We must be a real handful. I should just be thankful to have one that deals with me.

We also hear the way you talk to or look at women when you are with your friends. If you flirt with women other than our mother, degrade women, even jokingly, we are being told we are lesser, other, and if we have our wits about us, we begin to lose respect for you. That hero you once were suddenly looks weak, flawed. Our foundation begins to shake because we could trust you when we toddling, eating solids and writing letters, but navigating social circumstances are the bigger lessons, dad. They’re the ones where we need you to come through for us. We need to see men who respect us behind our backs. Now more than ever.

When puberty begins, please don’t roll your eyes, disappear or leave it to our moms. We need to believe we’re normal and still your little girl when our bodies are betraying us. That’s how it feels. Did you know that? We are mourning our little girl days and scared of new attention. Men begin to look at us differently and we aren’t ready for it. We need our fathers to treat these moments as milestones and have the hard talks. When you hide from us or tell us to cover up the bodies we don’t know what to do with, you are telling us there is something shameful about what is happening. In my interviews with women there is a direct correlation between self esteem around sexuality when parents don’t talk to their children about the “birds and the bees” or act as if a woman’s body is shameful. It breeds the understanding that a woman is for the pleasure of men, which leads to promiscuity, when puberty and conversations around sex are ignored and pretended away. Please don’t fail us here.

In the past 72 hours I have had conversations with two very different women from two very different walks of life who attribute their self image to comments their fathers made about their bodies. One worried she may be betraying her father’s legacy by acknowledging that his warnings about her burgeoning shape, and hips more specifically, colored the way she viewed her body for the rest of her life. The other also shared that her diminished relationship with her body was a result of the “Freshman 15-ish” that her father aggressively encouraged her to lose.

Both dads were great dads. Neither realized their messaging was doing damage in a society that teaches a boy his body is a machine and how to fuel it for maximum performance, yet teaches a girl that she is her size and gender. The ad men are not kind to us, dad. We need you to take that into account.

My father didn’t talk to me about weight. That never came up and for that I am thankful. It was his viewpoints on modesty and men that did me in and it wasn’t intentional. I was taught that my body was something to hide because of what it could cause men to do or how they would respond to me. It was shameful and I believed any attention I got was a direct result of how I presented myself. My dad, a good man and a great father, had no idea I began to disconnect from my own body. I have spent most of my life hiding under clothes too big for me so as to not bring on unwanted attention. It took me until this year to wear yoga pants outside my home or the gym and it was because of a dare.

Oh my God, yoga pants are so much more comfortable than jeans on a four hour flight. Bless you, Jess, for that dare.

Dads, please don’t be scared of us. Don’t disconnect. We need you when you think it is time for mom to take over. Maybe you can’t have the same conversation, but you can be the man that, through your presence, convinces us that no man who thinks we’re gross or annoying simply for being a woman is worth our time. That is part of your charm –your protective nature. You are the first man in our life. We just ask you to consciously set the standard for the ones who come next and realize your words are indelible.

After all, we will always be your little girls at heart.

Love,

J