‘Babe, no!’ “No! No, babe!” my toddler shouted, waving his pudgy pointer finger. My heart sank as the guilt crept in. My son had heard...
Keeping the peace
I was in the middle of a kiddo-less week. That meant my 1-year-old son, Lance, and my 4-year-old daughter, April, were spending an entire seven days not only with their dad, but also with his new girlfriend, Tina.
I was still trying to adjust to the entire situation, attempting to see the silver linings. At this point, though, they were hard to find. We’d been officially divorced for only a few months, and we were all still adjusting to our new separate lives.
I always tried to keep myself busy when the kids were at their dad’s place, but for some reason, this particular week was feeling harder and lonelier than usual.
Pity party, table for one, please!
My ex had started dating already. His girlfriend was still a person of mystery. I knew she existed because April talked about her all the time. Still, I hadn’t yet seen her in physical form.
This was completely OK with me. I wasn’t ready to paste on a fake smile and try to pretend that I was happy to meet my ex-husband’s girlfriend. I didn’t know if I ever would be.
I mean, how awkward. I could only imagine our introduction going something like, “Hi. I’m glad you like my ex-husband. Please be nice to my kids. Oh, and did you know that he [insert all his bad traits here].”
Yes, that would’ve been beyond weird. Funny, inappropriate and possibly a bit soothing for my soul, but weird nonetheless. Nope, I wasn’t ready for any of that.
Apparently, however, God had his own plan.
My phone rang and a number that I didn’t recognize appeared on my screen. Normally, I don’t even answer phone calls when I don’t recognize the number. I figure if it’s important, they’ll leave a message. But for some reason, probably out of complete boredom from not having to be a parent that week, I answered.
“Hello? Erin?” I heard a soft, quiet female voice ask on the other end of the line.
“Yes? This is Erin.” I responded, with a little hesitation.
“Hi Erin. This is Tina. I have April here next to me, and she has some exciting news that she wants to share with you. Here she is.”
“Hi, Mom!” April shouted into the phone.
“Hey, sweetheart, how are you? What is the big news?” I asked, trying to sound excited even though I had a hundred other emotions and questions rising up inside of me.
“Guess what? I lost my first tooth!” April screamed.
“Oh, wow! That’s awesome!”
April continued to fill me in on all the tiny details pertaining to the loss of her first tooth, and I was overflowing with mommy joy.
It had been a long, lonely week by myself and talking to April was just the antidote I needed. My mommy heart had been recharged once again.
A pivotal moment
Wow, I thought after I hung up the phone, just wow. I was stunned, to say the least. It was very considerate of Tina to help April make that phone call. Never in a million years would I have ever expected my ex-husband’s girlfriend of four months to initiate and help my child contact me to ensure I was involved in the celebration of losing her first tooth.
That must have taken a lot of courage on her part. If I had been in her shoes, I probably would have forced Shawn to make the phone call out of complete fear. But, in hindsight, I was so glad it was Tina who called me that day. It allowed me to see a small, yet very important, glimpse of her character — exactly when I needed to see it.
What’s funny is that, even to this day, neither Tina nor I can remember when we met face to face. We both came to the conclusion that it must not have been a traumatic experience if neither one of us could even remember it.
I’ll always remember the monumental interaction I had with my children’s future stepmom on the phone that day. It really was a pivotal point in our newly budding relationship.
Tina could have chosen fear that day and not called me, and I could have chosen resentment. It was definitely a test of strength, faith and commitment on both of our parts.
If both of us hadn't been focused on the same goal — happy kids — this relationship could have quickly turned sour and affected my two innocent children for a lifetime.
Over the course of the following 10 years, there were many more of these key moments between the two of us.
For instance, a year or so into Shawn and Tina’s relationship, Tina decided to open an in-home daycare. It just made sense that my kids would stay there during the day. So many people within my inner circle gasped at the news when I told them. But I wasn’t about to let anyone else decide what was, or was not good, for my family. I decided to trust my instinct and allow Tina to care for my children.
Soon Tina — who had a daughter of her own from a previous relationship — became my go-to contact for any child-related questions. It was simply faster and more accurate to ask Tina instead of my ex-husband. This was a gigantic step in the right direction for our relationship.
Soon, the kids were all school age, which meant we were all attending various sporting events together. Seeing each other on a daily basis for daycare made sporting events and other school functions a breeze for our blended family.
By this point, we had no problems sitting together as a family to cheer on our favorite athletes. It was never awkward or uncomfortable.
I knew this lady was going to be sticking around and that she would be playing a very important role in my children’s lives whether I liked it or not. Thankfully, I made the choice to like it.
Writing it all down
I knew for a long time that my next contribution to the world was going to be in the form of a book.
Since becoming self-employed, I had found so much pleasure in soaking up other people’s knowledge and experiences. I was inspired to write, to create, to share knowledge.
At first, however, I had no clear idea what form or subject matter this book would take.
What unique experiences could I possibly offer anyone in this great, big world? What was I passionate about? What was I most proud of thus far? What had I struggled with — but ultimately overcome — in my 38 years on this earth?
I quickly realized these questions all had the same answer: Co-parenting!
I was an expert. But when I first decided to write this book, nothing flowed. Nothing came out right. All the words were being held captive and I didn’t know how to open the floodgates.
Over the next three months, I sat down and tried to write more times than I care to admit. Each attempt ultimately ended with “Select All” and “Delete.”
By Mother’s Day morning in 2018, I had rewritten three chapters and, out of complete frustration, deleted every single word. Something wasn’t right. It shouldn’t be this difficult. I knew I was missing something. But what?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that almost all of my proudest co-parenting moments involved Tina.
My heart started racing. Maybe Tina and I should write this book together? How cool would it be to share our stories and struggles from both the mom and stepmom perspectives? But would she even consider it?
I could hardly believe that I was driving up my ex-husband’s driveway in hopes of talking his wife into co-authoring a book with me. I must be crazy.
My emotions were on a rollercoaster. I was excited, but nervous, scared, but ready to face rejection. It was a beautiful, warm Mother’s Day afternoon, so we decided to sit outside and soak up the sun while we chatted. I pitched her the book idea and, without any bribery or arm-twisting, she willingly hopped on board.
We proceeded to share stories and reflect on the past 13 years. It was the perfect ending to the best Mother’s Day ever.
In May 2019, we independently published our short-form story — available in paperback and on Kindle: (Step)Mom: A Dual Memoir: How We Navigated Divorce, Remarriage & Co-Parenting With the Same Goal — Happy Children.
Rather than writing another “how-to” parenting book, we wanted to do something more authentic and entertaining. We took turns sharing stories, from the unique vantage points of a mom and a stepmom, on the trials and tribulations of raising kids between two families.
Before the book, Tina and I had always gotten along. But I wouldn’t say we were BFFs by any means. We kept our social lives separate and we just didn’t speak as openly and honestly as we do now, post-book.
Now, over a year later, my relationship with Shawn and Tina has grown even stronger. Writing the book is still at the top of my “best things I’ve ever done” list.
Erin Gipford, a graphic designer and photographer, and Tina Gipford, a stay-at-home mom and daycare operator, live in rural Wisconsin. Learn more about their book at gipfordmoms.com.
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