I enjoyed my virtual chat with Jenn Mangino, founder of www.rockstarcoparenting.com. As an ex and a wife, a mom and a stepmom, I always look forward to hearing and sharing both perspectives. Take a look at our conversation as we chat about divorce, Jenn’s theory on the intrusive ex-wife and what she does during her “Jenn” time. Thanks for the chat, Jenn!
Kela: Explain the term rockstar co-parenting?
Jenn: It’s the universally accepted divorce principle. Get divorced, screw up the kids. But studies have shown it’s not so much the divorce that affects kids, but the handling of said divorce. If having an intact first family is equivalent to winning first place, than having two active divorced parents working peacefully together like business partners post-divorce is second best. Rockstar Co-parenting is dedicated to helping parents and children of divorce find second place. I created the site to help other parents (but mostly myself) learn to do this divorce thing the “right” way…like grown-ups.
It’s easier said than done. Making decisions, navigating complicated schedules and social situations, and creating two harmonious households with a partner for whom you have mutual anger and trust issues can feel super human. Divorced parents who choose to co-parent peacefully often discover they have unknown, hidden reservoirs of strength. Super powers. Resilience, Openness, Compassion, Kinetic energy, Sprezzatura, Transparency, Assertiveness and Restraint (yes, it’s an acronym) are the super powers I see inspirational co-parents successfully drawing on every day to create new, better lives post-divorce for their children. They are not just co-parenting. They are Rockstar Co-parenting.
Kela: Your daughter was very young when you divorced. Did you ever worry about her losing that bond that she developed with either you or your ex-husband during the transition of the divorce?
Jenn: Yes. Constantly. I knew the divorce was right for me, I knew it was right for my Ex, but how could it possibly be right for my daughter? I looked in her blue eyes and vowed to do everything in my power to create a divorce situation that would have minimal impact on her life. That meant-to me- that she deserved to have easy access to both her parents. I believe in her right to her own relationships.
It wasn’t easy, I had to give up things that I wanted for myself. I had to give up my clean slate and fresh start, because, honestly, there is no fresh start after divorce when there are children involved. Every subsequent decision I made from that moment on was with this goal in mind.
So far, we’re doing okay. (Cross your fingers).
Kela: How did you take time to heal and grieve post-divorce?
Jenn: Honestly time? Did I take time to heal and grieve post-divorce? Yes. (A smidge). Was it as long as the “experts” say you should take (I was told five years. Five years, people.)? Not even close.
As the primary initiator of my divorce, I think my grief cycle started long before the actual divorce process started. By the time we filed the paperwork, I just felt used up. I had been angry and sad during my marriage, and following the separation, I just felt numb. Which I mistook for feeling fine. Ready to move on, even. Months later, when the tears finally hit me I realized how not fine I was. By then, I had entered into a new relationship, with an old love. (Kids, don’t try this one at home!) Do the experts discourage dating so soon after a divorce? Yeah. Do I discourage it? Probably. The truth is, he is the love of my life and the one who got away, and it did manage to work out for us, as we are getting married this winter. But. It was rough, to say the least. The problem was I had not taken the time to heal completely before we plunged like moths right back into the flame. And it burned us.
It was a bumpy, windy, narrow road for a while, mostly brought on by my sense of guilt and failure. The lesson here, I think, is to take time to be alone for a while (maybe not five years, though) and resolve your feelings before dating again. It’s hard, and very few people can resist the lure of new love, but had I taken some time for myself, the healing wouldn’t have taken so long.
That said, what did I find most helpful during the healing process? Books, books, the internet, books, therapy, books, a brief stint in a support group, and talking the ears off good friends. Oh, and books. (Um, I like to read). I think it’s important to try a little bit of everything…you will find little bits of wisdom in lots of different sources and it will all come together to give you a new knowledge of yourself, and the world, until suddenly you are ready to like your life (and yourself) again.
Kela: I know it’s hard not to worry about our babies when they are away from us, especially when they are very young. But I do feel it’s important for ex-wives to utilize that time to reclaim their lives. What do you do during, what I like to call, your “Jenn” time?
Jenn: I read. I dream. I imagine what I will be when I grow up and find my niche in the world. But, mostly, I write. Writing gave me back my zest for living, my passion for my own life. It’s the one thing I do just for me. Well, that, and pretending I am a rock star belting out ballads in the shower every morning.
Kela: How important is it to you that your daughter develop some sort of relationship with her stepmother? How do you encourage and support that relationship?
Jenn: Extremely important. My Ex and I had worked out a 50-50 parenting schedule before he remarried. When his new wife came on the scene, she jumped right in to being the “mommy” figure in my daughter’s life 50% of the time. It was very hard for me to continue sharing that time with them. The divorce and the 50-50 parenting schedule for him, well that’s only fair and hey, you make your bed and you lie in it. But, sharing the mothering of your child with another woman for no reason at all other than she married my Ex? It’s a bitter pill to swallow…because I would rather be her mother 100% of the time.
But, how much more bitter would that pill be if she were a terrible stepmom, and made my daughter’s life miserable? Or even my life? The truth is she’s a great stepmom, always friendly, and very free with information. I think she loves my daughter, and certainly, she is a good friend to her. Really, how much more could I ask for?
I try to support their relationship by never speaking ill of the other household in earshot of my daughter, encouraging (even admonishing her) to be respectful to all the adults in her life, assuring her that she is loved by everyone, going out of my way to be friendly and chat with her at school events, asking her opinion about issues that affect my daughter, and inviting her to share Mother’s day with us.
Kela: According to Mavis Hetherington, most ex-wives are more intrusive and more involved in their ex-spouse’s household than ex-husbands are. Additionally, they remain bitter and resentful for much longer. Why do you think this is so?
Jenn: It’s a hard question for me to answer, because I really don’t think I am intrusive (and I can really only go on my experience). But, if I was intrusive it wouldn’t be because of unresolved relationship issues between my Ex and I. It wouldn’t be because I felt displaced, or replaced or still wanted him for whatever reason (although maybe this is the case for some women). It would be because I am a mother, and as such I am utterly and fiercely protective of my daughter. I am a lioness. We have these children and we are charged with their very survival. We look at them when they are placed in our arms for the first time and we absolutely promise them the world.
Then, divorce happens and we are expected to give up control over everything that happens to them during someone else’s parenting time. If there is a stepparent involved, then we are asked to trust someone we don’t even know with our most precious gift, our children. Often times, there are issues with communication between the adults, so we are not even given the balm of knowledge to ease our fear, and our utter lack of control. It’s scary, it’s unsettling, it’s unnerving, and it’s frustrating.
With these conditions, I don’t think it’s surprising that there is resentment. Why don’t the Ex-husbands mettle more in household affairs? I don’t know. Maybe because women are predisposed for nurture and daily care, so that is their turf. Men are predisposed for hunting and bringing home the bacon…so of course issues involving day-to-day care probably don’t affect them on that same emotional level.
Kela: Can you offer some advice for those types of ex-wives?
Jenn: Choose your battles. Always, always, always take time to think over your actions and reactions. Ask yourself, “Is this particular issue vital. Will it fundamentally affect my child?” If the answer is no, let it go. If the answer is yes, that’s when you take action. Don’t be like the little boy who cried “Wolf!” and get worked up over every little perceived infraction or slight. It’s pointless. And always remember, you can only control you.
Kela: What advice do you have for other divorced parents who aim to be rockstar co-parents?
Jenn: Love your children. Want what’s best for them. Then, go out and get them that best. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.