I like to think of myself as fairly magnanimous. Generous of spirit. Warm hearted and welcoming when need be. But I’m going to be honest with you: If I had to walk my precious toddler to his first day of preschool alongside his father’s girlfriend — and my child was calling us both “Mommy” — it would be hard for me not to hurt the hag with my fingernails. And, depending how quickly I could get it off my foot, maybe also the heel of my right shoe.
But that’s exactly what happened (the dual-Mommy part, not the crazed-maiming part) in Oklahoma recently, when Hayley Booth, 26, and her ex-husband’s new wife escorted Booth’s 4-year-old daughter to day one of class. Booth’s social media post about it went viral: “If you are lucky enough for your ex to have a woman who loves YOUR child or children like their own, and one who helps raise them and shape them, why would you not allow them to call a woman they love mommy?” Booth wrote in a post whose popularity landed her on the Today show and in Us Weekly magazine. “Don’t tell me that peaceful co-parenting isn’t possible, because it is. I do it everyday.”
My parents divorced (each other and then, well, others), and I know that busting up a marriage does a number on the psyche — but busting up a family can be emotional fricking bedlam. It shakes up your center of gravity and aims a fire hose at your self-identity. So how is it that some divorced parents are so sanguine and evolved, while others resort, well, to shoe mauling?
I asked one of my divorced girlfriends what it would take to get her to truly appreciate her ex-husband’s new wife. “A miracle of massive proportions,” she said. “My kids even hate her.” And does she … sort of … secretly like that they hate her? “Honestly? Yes,” she confessed. “It makes it easier on me to have to share them.”
Worst of all, says another, is suddenly having to run parenting decisions through a new third party — especially one who’s “as smart as a wet sock — just one. It’s infuriating.”
My friends who’ve come to appreciate their ex’s new partners as co-parents say there are two key factors that nudge the relationship from naturally combative toward mutually cooperative. The first is time. Even the exceptionally evolved Booth told Us Weekly she was jealous of Mommy #2 at first: “It’s really hard to let another woman into your child’s life. It took a little bit over a year to form the relationship we have now.”
The second is an agreement that Junior’s happiness is priority number one. “In the beginning, there are trust issues, of course,” says a divorced dad I know. “But if our daughter is happy and feels loved, that’s pretty much all that matters. Sometimes you just have to let the petty things go.”
However, most folks agree that when infidelity is what broke up the marriage, there’s little chance of Mom learning to love Dad’s “other woman.”
“When cheating is involved? No way,” says my friend, whose husband left her and their kids to shack up with someone else. “There are families out there that make it work, and I have mad respect for them, but I’ve tried to put my feelings aside for the greater good, and I can’t. I just can’t.”
Look, parenting is hard in the best of circumstances, and no one can tell us how to create our own family’s sense of peace. Sometimes the greater good is about making a little girl feel safe and secure on her first day of school by sandwiching her between freakishly mature mommies.
And sometimes it really is about hitting someone with your shoe.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.