I’ve been friends with Angela and Rey for 2o years. We all grew up together in Austin. They started dating after high school, were married and had Teo. Their marriage didn’t last. They grew up and grew apart, but despite all the pain and sadness, they have found peace and forgiveness for the sake of their child. They co-parent beautifully. It’s easy to see that their son is happy and thriving in this loving and peaceful environment they’ve created for him. It’s his new normal that Mom, Dad, Grandparents, Mom’s boyfriend, etc. all show up for him at soccer games and school events, snapping photos together and having dinner together. I emailed them a list of questions, thinking I would receive separate responses. Not surprising, they sat down together to answer the questions and even found it to be a cathartic experience. Their relationship is a gentle reminder to let things go. Forgive, move on, and find peace within. Angela and Rey shared their journey to today, how they found forgiveness, and the importance of consistent communication.

Tell us about yourselves.

R: I’m 34 years old, born and raised in Austin, Texas. I own and operate Practice Yoga Austin, a donation based yoga studio located on east 6th street. I’m thankful to be sharing a practice that I love in a wonderful community.

A: I’m 35 years old and have lived in Austin since I was a wee one. I am a Social and Emotional Learning Specialist for Austin ISD. I work with educators to develop and enhance their own social and emotional skills, as well as how they can support this development in their students.

A: Teo is almost six years old, and is finishing up his kindergarten year in Austin ISD – time is wild!

Co-parenting. You guys make it look easy but I’m sure it has been an emotional journey. Let’s start from the beginning. Was the divorce amicable? If not, how did you find a friendship after what I’m sure was a difficult and emotional time?

A: Ah, the beginning…Rey and I grew up together. We went to the same high school and were good friends before we started dating when we were 21 – babies! Having friendship as our relationship’s foundation has helped this process immensely. We’ve loved each other for a long time. The love has not been lost; it has just changed shape.

R: I’ve had a rebellious nature my entire life. At a certain point in our marriage, I found myself questioning the validity of western cultural norms based on the belief that they were outdated and oppressive. In retrospect, I realize that I was driven to dismantle our marital circumstance in order to see for myself if Western culture had any innate value. One of the main reasons we are able to co-parent harmoniously is because Angela was able to forgive me for needing to sort myself out outside the context of a traditional family. There was a great deal of pain, but the thing that kept us from spiraling into dysfunction was our shared love for our son, as well as an understanding of how difficult relationships are to maintain through life’s stresses.

A: There are many things that we discuss and do intentionally, but it’s important to note that Rey and I both are naturally kind and peaceful people. We both aren’t people who lose our tempers or lash out very often. I think this has a huge impact on our ability to co-parent and walk through our divorce journey with as much grace as possible. This is not to say that we haven’t had our moments of conflict and pain, but for the most part, we have maintained a friendship throughout our journey. I’m proud of us for that!

R: We came to the mutual understanding that we couldn’t hate/harbor anger toward each other for Teo’s sake, and thus have been able to genuinely forgive each other.

A: My parents got divorced when I was very young and were not able to collaboratively co-parent. I often felt in the middle of their conflicts. As I reflect, I know that everyone was doing the best they could at the time, and I truly had a happy childhood. I also recognize how the hardships of divorce affected me growing up, and I wanted to be intentional about providing Teo with a healthy, happy and loving environment.

R: I trusted that if I treated Ang and Teo with kindness, things would unfold the way that they should. Part of that kindness was discussing and compromising on aspects of the divorce. We talked and found common ground. We also were both aware of the divorce industry and how that system preys on people’s pain. We chose not to subject ourselves to that.

A: Exactly. We didn’t take the route of torturing each other. For example, I never considered trying to take half of his business, and he didn’t consider not giving me half of our home sale, even though he bought the house before we got married. We shared a lawyer who prepared the legal documents for our divorce decree, but all decision-making and compromise happened during conversations just with the two of us.

I imagine there was a lot of forgiveness needed in order to move on. Can you describe this process?

A: The path to forgiveness is a winding road. I feel like it has been an evolving process. In the beginning, I felt utterly broken by what was happening. I hated that we were breaking up our family. I felt sad, abandoned and angry that my life wasn’t working out the way I thought it would. When grieving, it’s imperative to feel all the feelings. They are all valid and part of the process. Therapy doesn’t work for everyone, but it has proven beneficial in my life. It helped me to have specific time dedicated just to talking to someone about my feelings and how to navigate my healing journey. I also relied heavily on my friends and family and continue to do so! There is nothing like total heartbreak to teach you how loved you truly are. I find that so fascinating. When I was at my lowest, it was also a time that I felt most supported by my people.

Because of my line of work, I love the world of self-help. I read books, listened to podcasts and wrote in journals. In particular, Brene Brown’s work has been instrumental in my life. For me, it’s also been healing to fight against the societal narrative that divorce means we failed. Nothing that brought this magical being into the world is a failure. We learned so much in our ten years together and continue to grow and learn how to be healthy contributors in our relationships. It requires a lot of positive self-talk, understanding and acceptance to combat those deeply set societal narratives though. Rising Strong by Brene Brown has had a huge impact on me.

R: We needed time and space to work through our resentment. Ang was very forgiving, and we both reflected on our contributions to our marriage not making it.

A: I agree. Time and space were huge. We needed to put some distance between ourselves and the experience, so that we could be in a reflective and healing place. There were moments of anger and blaming, but for the most part, Rey and I are both self-reflective people. I noticed that as time went on, we had more conversations where we were both able to share how we felt we contributed to some of our conflicts, things that we were each working on and what we each needed in order to move forward in our co-parenting relationship. We’ve become better listeners over time and have a deep respect for each other.

Was co-parenting a decision made early on or something that evolved organically?

R: From the start, we knew that Teo would have both of us. We knew we weren’t going to deprive him of time with either of us.

A: Yes, definitely from early on. It was never a question that we would split our time with him as equally as possible, as well as use consistent parenting methods. We have kept open communication from the beginning about anything pertaining to our little man.

You have both been involved in other relationships. I love seeing photos of everyone’s partners at Teo’s games. Are your partners supportive of this decision?

R: Yes. I don’t currently have a partner, but when I did, she was on board. She understood the value of co-parenting and respected what we were doing.

A: Absolutely! When considering dating someone seriously, it was always my priority to spend time with someone who supported co-parenting. This simply won’t work if everyone isn’t on board. My partner has been very understanding and supportive of our parenting structure.

How did you tell your new partner that you’re co-parenting and your ex will be around…a lot? I’m sure it’s a strange conversation to have.

R: I just approached it as ‘this is my situation and it’s important to me’. It takes a strong partner to be able to be in a relationship with someone who is also co-parenting because there is potential for insecurity and feeling left out. One of the things I’ve done with Ang’s partner is welcome him with open arms, so that Teo knows that it’s ok to like this new person.

A: In regards to my relationship now, we were very fortunate because Rey and I both knew him years ago and had mutual friends. We have all followed each other on social media for years, so he was already aware of our co-parenting model. It helped to ease the potential awkward conversation. I admire anyone who steps into this role, because it has its challenges. Like Rey said, it takes strength to not succumb to normal insecurities that come with this experience. Like you mentioned in the question, this person has to understand that their partner’s ex is going to be around a lot and that the child’s emotional and mental well-being is always the priority. I think it boils down to having healthy communication. Everyone has to feel safe to share their feelings, so that we can problem-solve together. So far, this is working well for us. It definitely helps that Anthony is a kind and gentle person who we all love him very much!

Rey has been awesome about welcoming him in our lives. I remember listening to a podcast that talked about the importance of the biological parent “giving permission” to the child to like/love a new person and how valuable that is for the child. Children can easily feel torn and protective of their biological parents in these types of circumstances. We never wanted to make Teo feel guilty for liking a new person. The more love that surrounds him, the better. Rey has given Teo permission to like Anthony over and over, and I am so grateful to him for being able to do that. He speaks positively about Anthony to Teo, and has always been super cool with him in front of Teo. They’ve even hung out the three of them without me a few times!

What is the best part of co-parenting?

R: I get a lot of emotional reassurance from Ang and having another brain to problem-solve with is better. There’s a nice balance of support and freedom.

A: I will admit that when we first separated, the thought of seeing Teo 50% of the time killed me. What I have realized over time is that I am a better parent because I get a break every couple of days. Every parent needs a break, am I right?! I have more time for self-care, spending time with friends and I don’t have to hire a babysitter very often. I am able to schedule adult activities when he is with his dad. Anthony and I are able to have time to ourselves to give our relationship the energy and fun it deserves, which can be challenging when you’re raising children. That is a gift that I didn’t understand when we started this journey. I also really like that Teo gets to have both of his parents consistently. We can both be at all of his games and events with ease and comfort. No one has to miss important events in his life. It helps that we all genuinely like each other and choose to spend time together. We can also be more flexible and don’t feel the need to stick to a typical custody schedule. Because of our priority to parent together, we communicate a lot and are able to discuss our parenting thoughts in calm and productive ways so that we can stay on the same page. If we make a new rule at Mom’s house, Dad supports it at his house. This makes for a less confusing and thus, more peaceful experience for Teo.

What is the most challenging part of co-parenting?

R: hmmmm, keeping the balance of responsibilities in mind, where both parties feel like it’s fair takes effort. The burden of living expenses on your own can be difficult.

A: It takes intentional energy to not fall back into old patterns of communication when opinions differ. We have to be mindful about how we approach each other if we are worried or upset about something. I have to remind myself to listen and respect his point of view, even if I disagree. It takes a lot of compromise. I think we do this pretty well, but we have our moments, of course! After all, we are two imperfect human beings doing the best that we can!

What would you say to a newly divorced couple who is interested in co-parenting but doesn’t know where to start?

R: Let the starting point be “we are not going to hate each other for our child’s sake”.

A: I think just being interested in co-parenting is a great start. I would also recommend that each person dedicates themselves to their own self journey, whether that involves therapy, journaling or whatever helps them understand and process their own feelings. Sorting out your feelings about the breakup helps to free up brain and heart space to focus on co-parenting.

It’s also super vital to have open and honest conversations about what each parent wants for the child(ren), what each person is willing to do and what are non-negotiables for each person. Depending on where people are in their own healing journeys, this could be with a therapist or mediator if that helps. In the beginning of our journey, Rey and I would have regularly scheduled parenting meetings without Teo present at neutral locations. We took notes during these meetings. It really helps to write things down to truly capture everyone’s thoughts. We created norms and common expectations and wrote them down. We created a shared Google calendar and anything that affected Teo is put on this calendar.

Make an agreement to not fight in front of the child(ren). This leads to anxiety and insecurity for children who are already experiencing a huge transition. It is so damaging to speak negatively about your ex in front of your child(ren). That person is half of your child, so insulting them leads to hurt feelings in the child.

Be willing to make sacrifices and understand that compromise is a necessary part of this process.

Can you share advice for handling conflict when it arises?

R: Pay attention and listen to what the other person is saying.

A: Intentionally take time to calm down. Once everyone feels calm, share your perspectives. I highly recommend the book, Nonviolent Communication. Actively listen and seek to understand their viewpoint when they are sharing their perspective. Make sure to validate the other person’s experience. Even if you don’t agree, their feelings deserve validation. Remain solution-oriented and discuss many ideas that could work to solve the conflict. Then, decide together which of the ideas is a mutually beneficial option. Remember that compromise is vital.

Teo seems like an old soul, very wise for his age. I imagine that even though this is his new normal, there are times when he ask questions about the future. Have there been times when he is confused that you are all together, but not together? How do you handle these times?

A: Yes, we do have these moments. We agreed early on to focus on love. We came up with a consistent message that we both tell him anytime he asks questions about why we don’t live in one house. We always start by validating his feelings, so that he understands that it’s normal to feel sad sometimes and to want your family to always be together. We often tell him, “we learned that this is the way we love each other best. Some people love each other best when they live in one house, and some love each other best when they don’t live together.”

R: To be honest, I feel sad and guilty sometimes.

A: Especially in the beginning, Teo’s sadness and questions broke my heart into a thousand pieces. I’ve had to remind myself that it’s ok to feel sad sometimes, while also remembering that we are better parents together now than we were before and that Teo is a happy, healthy magical little man!

Can you share any tips on things you did you do for Teo to make the transition of going back and forth between homes easier on him?

A: We chose a consistent schedule that worked for us and have stuck to it. Neither one of us gooes more than two days without being with Teo. Using a visual schedule has been helpful for him. He is getting to the age where he understands which nights are Mommy nights and which are Daddy, but he still enjoys looking at the calendar, crossing off days and knowing where he will be the next night. We also Facetime almost daily, so that he can see the other parent even when he’s not physically with them. We created consistent routines and rules at both homes. We read books to normalize his family structure. When something arises that needs addressing with Teo, we will sit down and have that talk with him together. When he is having a meltdown or issue at one parent’s house, we will Facetime the other parent for support and so that he sees that we handle these things together as a family. This doesn’t always happen, of course, but it’s helpful to have that support.

R: We also share a meal or have some amount of play time all together when we transition between homes. It makes him happy to have time together, and it makes the transition easier and calmer than a quick drop-off.

Can you share any resources–books, website, apps that have been useful?

R: Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning lecture on Piaget on Youtube – really all of his lectures have helped me.

A: Adult books:

  • Brene Brown’s Rising Strong and Daring Greatly. Really anything Brene Brown. She has great e-courses as well. She’s my hero.
  • Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff
  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • Carry On, Warrior and Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. Her books and her blog, Momastery, inspire me greatly. Just following her on social media brings me joy and hope. I have tearfully read one particular post more times than I can count, because I identify with it so very much: http://momastery.com/blog/2016/08/01/i-need-to-tell-you-something/
  • The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson – I can’t speak highly enough of this easy to read book about parenting. It has changed me as a parent and how I approach supporting educators. It also gives so much insight into my own self and the adults around me. I facilitate book studies with parents and caregivers around this book, and it is truly one of my favorite things I do!
  • I am currently reading No-Drama Discipline by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, which goes hand in hand with The Whole Brain Child. I am loving it and can’t wait to facilitate this as a book study with groups of caregivers and educators!
  • There are a ton of co-parenting books out there, and I honestly struggled with some because they didn’t feel representative of our unique circumstance (ie. assuming you hate your ex etc. That narrative was difficult for me to get past. I should have given more a chance, because I’m sure they aren’t all like that!). I know there are many co-parenting books out there that really help people in this process!
  • Podcasts:
    • Dear Sugar
    • The Longest Shortest Time
  • Children’s books:
    • Two Homes by Claire Masurel
    • The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman
    • The Family Book by Todd Parr
    • Who’s in a Family by Robert Skutch
  • Apps:
    • Stop, Breathe, Think
    • Stop, Breathe, Think for kids
    • Headspace
    • Calm
  • Other:
    • 5 minute journal
    • Yoga
    • Walking and running in nature – so healing

Angela also asked Teo a couple of questions.

Teo, what is special about our family? “That we be nice to each other and we all love each other a lot!”

“What’s your favorite thing to do with your family? “Go to El Alma and eat together.”

What’s cool about having two homes? “If a fire is at one house, you can go to the other house. And it’s fun to play with each other at my houses.”