As part of our Blended Family Friday series, each week we spotlight stepfamilies to learn how they’ve worked to bring their kids together. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we’ll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life! Want to share your story? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katie Nemer and her son’s stepmom, Julie Cox, blog about raising their blended family at Adventures In Co-Parenting.
Besides being writing partners, they’re very close friends, though both admit that forging that friendship didn’t happen overnight.
Below, the two moms share how they grew to be parenting partners for the sake of Katie’s son (and Julie’s stepson) Jackson.
Hi Katie and Julie. Please introduce us to your family.
Katie: I have a family of five: there’s me, my husband Josh, Jackson (13), Zoe (5) and Preston (3).
Julie: There are five of us in the Cox family: me, my husband JT and our three busy boys: Jackson (13), Declan (5) and Beckett (3).
Julie, when did you come into JT and Jackson’s life?
JT and I have been together for eight years, married for six. When we were introduced by mutual friends, I was very impressed with his dedication to Jackson — his cute-single-dad status was definitely part of the initial attraction.
Tell us a little bit about your co-parenting relationship and how it evolved.
Katie: Not too long after JT and Julie first started dating, she called me up a week before school started and announced that she had gone school supply shopping with Jackson and gotten everything on his class list: the backpack, crayons, all of it. It’s a moment in time I will likely never forget; I couldn’t tell if I was totally pissed off that she had stepped on my toes by doing this with him and not asking me if I wanted to take him, or completely relieved that the school supply shopping was done and off my to-do list. I realized this was my opportunity to define our relationship: Either she would be ‘that woman’ who just stepped in and bought my son a backpack or she could be my new best friend, hand-delivered by the mom fairies to help me manage my complicated life. It was a very instinctive choice and I’ve never looked back.
Julie: I don’t know the exact statistics, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t many people who are friends with someone who procreated with their spouse. And we’re not talking just smile-and-wave kind of friends here. We’re talking first-call-when-in-labor and dance-at-each-other’s-weddings kind of friends. To be honest, though, it wasn’t always this way. Initially, I was extremely intimidated by Katie. She had had a baby with my husband and it took a lot for me to not think about that every time we saw each other. Eventually though, after confronting my insecurities and realizing that this had the potential to be a very real and positive friendship, we have grown it into something we are very proud of and have come to count on.
What are some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?
Katie: A huge challenge that comes with co-parenting is accepting that sometimes your child is not with you. We have literally bartered out holidays at times (“You can have him for Easter because we had him for Christmas”). And even though I have been doing this for years, there are times I forget what weekend Jackson is with his Dad and Julie, and inadvertently attend a family event without him. It’s difficult knowing I am disappointing people who want to see him. I contemplated bringing a Jackson blow up doll to Thanksgiving once, but I figured Great Grandma H. would see through it.
Julie: Co-parenting is a tough lesson in sharing for all of us, but especially for Jackson’s adoring little brothers. They have a hard time accepting when it’s not our “turn” to have Jackson for the week. Sometimes they just cry for their “big brudder” and my heart breaks for them. That being said, I’m pretty sure they are catching on that this is a soft spot of mine, because one of my 3-year-old’s recent crying fits was immediately followed up by a request for ice cream to help him not be sad any more.
What’s the best thing about being part of a blended family? What makes you proudest of your family?
Katie: I always have the “Jackson board of directors” to run issues and big decisions by. And JT and Julie are super nerdy and make spreadsheets for everything, which is actually really helpful. I’m extremely proud of the fact that we have never once needed an attorney or mediator. We have always worked it out ourselves.
Julie: I’m not going to lie, I love the shock value that comes along with telling people how well the four of us co-parents get along. Co-parents are so often painted as natural enemies, whereas really the opposite can be and should be true.
What advice do you have for other bio-parents and stepparents who just can’t seem to get along?
Katie: Co-parenting is challenging but extremely rewarding, and anyone can do it. It has to be a conscious decision made by the adults to put the wants and needs of the kids before their own and let go of the past. Also do simple things like buy each other birthday cards or just say a kind word to show you still respect each other as people. Small but meaningful gestures like these truly can add peace to the chaos.
Julie: Bad things may have happened to drive you apart, and those bad things may have led to bad blood. No matter what, though, you will always have one thing in common: love for your shared child(ren). If you are committed to being an active part of your child’s life, then you have to commit to being a part of the co-parent’s life. There is no way around this. As we’ve found, co-parenting isn’t always easy, but loving your kids is.
What’s your divorce or co-parenting-related New Year’s resolution?
Katie: I am notoriously a bit territorial. In 2016, I would like to promise my extremely intelligent, amazing son Jackson that I will be better about not making a huge fuss about him keeping his new fleece (or whatever) at our house. If he can’t take it with him, it won’t feel like his and I respect that. (In my defense, their house eats snow boots. But it’s OK because of the year our house “swallowed” all of Jackson’s pants.)
Julie: Communicating with a teenager can sometimes be difficult. One-word answers, often coupled with an eye roll, seem to be Jackson’s go-to responses to, well, everything. My co-parenting New Year’s resolution is to continue to work on my relationship with my stepson, even if it involves patiently dealing with his teenage communication walls. As a high school teacher, I cringe internally every time a student says negative things about a stepparent. I can’t help but worry: Jackson will never say these things about me, right? Jackson and I share a lot of interests so there’s a lot we can talk about. He is so important to me and I want to make sure he knows that, even if I get a couple of eye rolls in the process.
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