One Heart, Two Homes
About the Guest
Parenting children in a healthy way after a divorce has its challenges. Tammy and Jay Daughtry, along with director of FamilyLife Blended™, Ron Deal, talk about co-parenting children of divorce in a way that leaves them happier and healthier. Tammy, who was divorced with a daughter before marrying Jay, tells how she and her ex worked together to make decisions affecting their daughter. Tammy coaches other parents to do the same.
Jay and Tammy DaughtryAs a native of Rockford, Illinois, Jay has a pastoral background of over twenty years and a personal encounter with life-altering grief, having lost his first wife in an accident. His passion for hurting families comes authentically as he has walked many painful pathways of grief and loss. Jay was a widower and single father for over three years and now is remarried and raising a blended family of four children, three dogs and is a proud new grandfather. He is also a creative soul with a long hi...more
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Jay and Tammy Daughtry and Ron Deal talk about co-parenting children of divorce in a way that leaves them happier and healthier.
One Heart, Two Homes
Bob: When Jay and Tammy Daughtry got married, they blended together two families and found what a lot of blended families find—expectations don’t always turn into reality.
Jay: As we got married—I had been a father for almost 21 years at that point—and it was really difficult for me because, as we were getting married, I am thinking: “Wow; another child! I’m going to pour my love into her just like I poured my love into my other three kids, and I’m going to be a dad. We’ll have daddy/daughter nights and stuff.” But that’s not going to be my story because she has a daddy.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There are a lot of issues that go into blending a family and into co-parenting. There are, also, a lot of ways to make it work well.
We’ll talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have never talked to parents who were in the midst of or who had gone through a divorce who have said to one another: “You know, we hope this will be really hard on our kids.” Parents don’t say that when they are going through a divorce / they say just the opposite—they say, “Even though this isn’t working”—for whatever reason—“even though our marriage isn’t staying together,”—
Dennis: They want to protect.
Bob: —“we want the outcome for them to be good.”
Bob: The problem is most of those parents with that desire don’t know how to make that happen in the midst of the challenge that they are experiencing in the dissolution of their own marriage.
Dennis: Yes; and we have a resource for parents in those situations that we’re going to feature today that is going to help them, I believe, avoid some of the pitfalls that occur after a divorce or the death of a spouse and the formation of a blended family.
Jay and Tammy Daughtry join us again on FamilyLife Today. They are the co-founders of Co-Parenting International. Welcome to the broadcast.
Tammy: Thank you.
Jay: Well, thank you.
Dennis: Tammy has written a book called Co-Parenting Works!
Also joining us is Ron Deal, who heads up FamilyLife’s Blended Family Initiative, and has got a summit for blended family ministry coming in September. This is something that every person in the church ought to be aware of and every church ought to have somebody at this event.
Ron: They should—children’s minister, a student ministry leader, or the senior pastor, all the way up to the marriage ministry leader—anybody who is interested in understanding stepfamilies better and ministering to stepfamilies in their church and in their community should be a part of this two-day event.
It’s being held, this year, on the campus of Focus on the Family®. And we’re excited about working alongside them to bring this event. This is our fourth annual event, and I should mention that Jay and Tammy have been presenters at that event—at the summit—in the past.
Bob: And I’ll just say—if folks would like more information about how they can attend, they can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There is a link there that will give them information about The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry™. It’s got the complete rundown. You can register online; or if you need more information, call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Dennis: And the Christian community / the church needs to be addressing this, recognizing that 40 percent of all the marriages being formed today are forming blended families with these needs. And we’re going to talk about some of them right now.
Bob: If you’re committed to the idea that redemption is what the Bible talks about—
Bob: —then, you ought to be committed to the idea that you can step into situations that have been fractured, even for wrong reasons, and see right things come out of that.
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Jay, I want you to comment on something because the name of your ministry is Co-Parenting International. What exactly is co-parenting? How would you describe it?
Jay: Well, I guess the best way to describe co-parenting is that two parents in separate homes are raising one or multiple children. Those children are moving back and forth between those two homes. They have to learn how to function together, though they are separate, for the best interest of their children.
Bob: They have to form a team.
Bob: Tammy, you use that as an acronym in the book to explain: “What are the elements that make for successful co-parenting?” This comes out of your experience with your ex-husband and the two of you co-parenting, in the same city, a teenage daughter. What are the elements that make a healthy team?
Tammy: Well, communication is one of the toughest things in a post-divorce scenario.
When mom and dad are in two homes, we have to find healthy, positive ways to communicate. Often, the main thing that parents do is try to talk at the handoff. That’s the number one thing I did well, 15 years ago, when I was facing a divorce—is I sat down with my daughter’s dad; and I said, “I don’t ever want us to do co-parent business at the handoff.”
I was raised in a divorced family. So, I experienced that, as a kid—you know, 7-Eleven® parking lots or the front door of somebody’s house.
Dennis: What did you experience?
Tammy: Well, mom and dad doing “the handoff”—you know, you put your luggage in the car, the kid’s waiting in the car or waiting outside while mom and dad are having a conversation. Sometimes, that was quick and easy—handing us a child-support check or talking about a schedule—but sometimes, those conversations got difficult.
As you can imagine, divorced parents have a lot of decisions to make—the whole lifetime of a child—you know: Whether they are going to play soccer / be in ballet; they are going to be part of a club at school—
—“Who’s going to take them?” and “Who’s going to buy the shoes?” “What’s going to happen at Christmas?” “There’s a death in the family,”—things that—a parenting plan is a great anchor to post-divorce co-parenting; but real life happens in motion. So, those communication points about—“What do we do related to school, money, etc.?”—those are important communication points that a mom and dad have to figure out a way to handle.
I would recommend that they not ever do it at the handoff. The handoff should be quick, positive, and affirmative for the kids preparing themselves to be—actually, be nice to one another at the front door—to wish the other family well as the child leaves.
Ron: Okay; can I jump in for just a minute?
Ron: You just said something really important: “…preparing themselves for a positive handoff.” Well, for some people listening to us right now, they have a decent relationship. We like to call that a cooperative co-parenting relationship with their ex-spouse, and they can do that.
That’s not a hard thing for them to have to prepare themselves for a positive handoff.
There are other people listening right now, who are going: “Oh, my word, you have no idea what I have to go through, and how difficult this is, and how many negative things come our direction. We have to respond to this and that and this accusation. In the background, there’s this court-thing going on.” These are people that have what we call the angry associate—or of the fiery foes kind of ex-spouse co-parenting relationship.
Dennis: In fact, Ron, some of them don’t even make a handoff, face to face.
Dennis: We had a guest, here on FamilyLife Today, who said, “I was met at the door by the Sherriff’s Department.
Dennis: “He would drive me down to a spot where my other parent met me.”
Ron: Honestly, in some situations, that is the best thing for the kid; but what that means is—the two adults can’t get to a place where they can have a positive attitude about the handoff.
Bob: So, explain what it’s like for a child to be in the backseat of the car and mom says to bio-dad:
“I’m not going to be able to pick her up next week because I just found out I have to go out of town on my job.” He says, “I can’t take her next week either because I’m already committed to this.” She goes: “I’m sorry. It’s my job! What do you want me to do?”
Bob: And he says: “But I’ve been planning this for six months. What do you want me to do?” What’s going on with the kid in the backseat, Jay, when that conversation is going on outside the car?
Jay: Exactly; exactly—that’s what we’re talking about. There is an escalation that takes place. Sometimes, that’s long and drawn out. Sometimes, it goes from zero to a hundred in half a heartbeat. Meanwhile, while mom and dad are doing their thing—acting out of their own angst, pain, and frustration—well, the child is sitting back, maybe, right there / maybe, in the backseat of a car—who knows?—but all of that is spilling over into their hearts.
In that moment, they are feeling anything but safe. They are feeling a terrible tear in this loyalty of wanting to protect both parents, who are both going at each other. So, there’s this huge load of anxiety that they carry.
Ron: It’s a burden.
Jay: Now, if that happens once, twice, three times—now, imagine that child’s heart and their mindset. Every time it’s time to go and make that transition—I mean, I’m telling you—it’s probably hours, at least and, maybe, even days before it takes place—that they start to gather up a terrible burden of anxiety. They start imagining all the worst case scenarios. They start carrying all of the pain of what their parents are doing into those situations. And they have no way to do anything about it—in 99 percent of the cases, they have no voice.
Dennis: A child does not know how to process emotions like, supposedly, we who are adults.
Ron: And let me—
Dennis: They are young, emotionally, and need coaching around this. So, you can only imagine the confusion they feel.
Ron: And let me just acknowledge—this happens well into adulthood; right? So, we may be talking about six-year-olds; but I know twenty-six and thirty-six-year-olds that, every time mom and dad argue, they begin to shrink / they begin to get depressed. They begin to kind of feel the weight and the burden that Jay is talking about on their hearts.
Bob: So, what we’re saying is—if the mom and dad start this whole thing off by saying, “We really do want what’s best for our kids,” that mom and dad are going to say, “When we’ve got to work stuff like this out, we’re not going to do it with the kid in the backseat or even waiting out in the car while we are spending 15 minutes in the living room”—
Ron: That’s right.
Bob: —“and the kid is in the backseat, going, ‘What’s taking Mom and Dad so long?’” You have to have that dialogue outside of the child’s presence and hearing; right?
Tammy: Absolutely. That can happen in a few ways. When we started out in our journey, our daughter was one. So, we would talk on the phone a few times a quarter. When she was asleep, we would make appointments with each other by phone. As she got older—I think around four or five—she was in ballet on Saturdays. So, maybe, once a quarter, we would meet at the McDonald’s down the street while she was in ballet. We’d bring our day-timers and our, actually, an agenda / a list—not a negative agenda—but talking points that we knew we needed to discuss.
We would sit down and do our very best to try to make decisions that were in her best interest. Now, those conversations at McDonald’s—they never escalated to the point of crazy—but there are hard conversations that moms and dads have to have. You know, even if you both are Christian and you both have similar values, you still make decisions differently. So, that compartmentalized time has been very protective, first and foremost, for our daughter because she’s never witnessed a conversation; she’s never had to be the messenger, back and forth between us; she hasn’t had to wait in the car and wonder, “What’s happening?”
But the second thing it has done is—it’s really protected me, and it’s protected her dad. When we show up at volleyball games or at high school events, we’re not sitting in the stands, trying to work out child support issues. We do it at the co-parent meeting. We just now—we get to show up and be a mom / be a dad and enjoy our child.
Again, from an adult child of divorce’s perspective, there are common emotional burdens that kids carry. They go back to that very kind of thing—that Mom and Dad could never communicate / they put me in the middle as a messenger. That’s just tough on kids, and it doesn’t go away.
And co-parenting is a commitment by mom / by dad to say: “No matter what happened in the past, we are going to do everything we can to protect our child / raise them well.
“Though we don’t agree, we’re going to find healthy ways to disagree.”
Dennis: If there is someone listening to us, right now, and they are in one of these situations, where they go, “You know, it’s not working the way we’re doing it,”—does there need to be an invitation to co-parent?—say: “Could we possibly do this together? Can we cooperate with each other?”
Ron: Absolutely. As a marriage and family therapist, one of the joys that I’ve had through the years is coaching people through that process—where they have a difficult, or awkward, or distant ex-spouse relationship—and to have them take strides to change that because it radically—as Tammy just implied—it radically changes everything else.
Bob: Yes. I’m thinking about the listener, who is going: “I would love what you’re describing—the quarterly meeting at McDonald’s with my ex-spouse, where we could get—I’d love to do that; but when I tried to make something like that happen, he doesn’t show up.
Ron: Let me give you a suggestion right now.
Bob: “He’s not paying the child support.”
You know, they can give you all the reasons why this isn’t happening.
Ron: Here’s a practical suggestion. So, let’s talk about the best case scenario and the worst case scenario because this is—we’re talking about real life at this point. Best case scenario: You take Tammy’s book, Co-Parenting Works! and you send it to your ex-spouse. Right now, I’m saying to everybody listening that: “If you have an ex-spouse co-parent relationship, send them Tammy’s book”; right? And you can blame me when you send it to your ex-. You can say: “Well, I was listening to these guys on radio. He said—
Bob: “They made me buy it!” [Laughter]
Ron: —“that I should. So, I’m just sending it to you because Ron said so.” So, there you go.
Dennis: “And it’s not because you are a bad parent.”
Ron: That’s right—that’s the point! There’s no agenda here. We’re not blaming anybody. We’re just saying—we’re inviting you to read this: “Maybe, there is something in here for you. I’m going to read it. Well, let’s see what happens.” That soft invitation has gone so far—I’ve since seen so many people change their circumstances with just a nice, soft invitation like that. Blame me—it’s okay. I’m okay with it.
Bob: And I’ll just say that we’ve got, obviously, copies of Co-Parenting Works! in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
A listener can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and get two copies—one to keep / one to send—and maybe, begin the process of doing this. But I know that there are people who are listening, who are saying: “This will never work with my ex-. I can’t get him to return phone calls, much less, respond to a book.”
Ron: And let me tell you—that is true in some cases; okay? Now, sometimes, it’s not true. The reason it hasn’t worked in the past is because it was you pushing your agenda on them. You did that when you were married, and it didn’t work.
Ron: It’s not going to work in your divorce. So, let the book teach your ex- what they need to hear—not you. Let the book do the teaching; okay?
Now, let’s come back, though, to the worst case scenario because we need some help. Jay and Tammy—when the other household is not cooperative / doesn’t seem to have any interest in that—you’re doing everything you can; but obviously, you can’t change them. It’s just a difficult situation.
What are the things that you suggest?
Tammy: Well, there’s—it’s interesting—there’s actually a whole chapter in here about: “What do I do if the other parent won’t cooperate? What if I’m actually co-parenting alone? If they’ve abandoned me, they’ve abandoned the parenting process.” You know, sometimes, a parent lives three blocks away; but they are not engaged. So, we deal with a lot of those tough, tough topics.
It’s not an easy thing to give a magic answer to, but what I always go back to is: “If you love the same child / you both love these children, something has to change.” Maybe, you won’t agree for five years on anything different; but if one of you does one thing different today and every day after, your child has a chance to grow up in a healthier way than doing nothing.
Ron: Jay, I’ve got to ask you a question. So, Tammy had been co-parenting with her ex-husband for many years; and then, you came into the picture. What’s your role as a stepparent?
How did that complicate things for Tammy and her ex-husband? How did you find your way in?
Jay: Wow! That is a really hard question to answer honestly, but I’m going to answer it honestly—because it’s a very emotional question. As we got married, I had been a father for almost 21 years at that point. I had two daughters and a son. It was really difficult for me because, as we were getting married, I am thinking: “Wow, another child! I’m going to pour my love into her just like I poured my love into my other three kids, and it’s going to be great. I’m going to be a dad, and we’ll have daddy/daughter nights and stuff.” But there was a moment when I realized, “That’s not going to be my story with her because she has a daddy.”
I’ve learned to be very happy about the fact that he’s fully engaged, that he loves her terrifically, and that he raises her well.
For me, as a stepdad, I had to step back and say to myself, “Okay; all of what I feel I want to do to engage, I have to filter and be careful with because I don’t want to cause confusion; I don’t want to dishonor her father and put him in an awkward place.”
All along the way, I’ve been very careful to be sure that I’m smiling and shaking his hand at the door. When she has questions or difficulties because she’s had a fight with her dad, I’m not jumping in to be the hero and say what a bad guy he was and, “If I was your dad, this is how I would do it.” I mean, those opportunities are there; but I recognize, in the long view, taking a position like that might give me a moment of satisfaction or feel like I’m the hero; but it would hurt her heart.
It would harm my relationship with her father which harms my relationship with her.
Ron: That’s right.
Jay: So, it is an odd place to be many times.
Ron: And what you’ve just said—there’s a grief in it.
Jay: Yes; absolutely.
Ron: I mean, it costs you something—your expectations / your hopes are not realized. Yet, you make that sacrifice, day in and day out, for her.
Bob: Well, at the end of the day, co-parenting is about sacrifice.
Ron: That’s right.
Bob: It’s about all of your hopes and dreams aren’t going to be what you wish they could be. You’ve got to make choices, not based on what matters most to you, but what’s in the best interest of your son or your daughter.
Dennis: And here is where, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, I would just implore you—ask God to teach you; ask God to love your former spouse through you; ask God to love your child in the midst of this.
I don’t know what that looks like in your situation, but you know Almighty God does. And He’s given us a book, the Bible, to be able to instruct us, and mentor us, and teach us. He’s, also, given us members of the body of Christ, like the Daughtrys, who have pounded out some tough lessons here that they want to pass onto others. A book like this can really be important, not only for you, but for your former spouse and, most importantly, for your child.
Bob: Well, it gets you working together, as a team, for the benefit of the child. Of course, we’ve got copies of the book, Co-Parenting Works! in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to request your copy, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
By the way, Jay and Tammy are going to be with us out in Colorado Springs September 29 and 30. We are on the campus at Focus on the Family®.
We’re hosting The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry™. This is our fourth annual summit, and we’re doing it this year in partnership with our friends at Focus on the Family. Ron Deal is going to be there. Greg Smalley will be there. Dennis, you and I are going to be there—a lot of folks lined up to be part of this year’s summit. It’s for pastors, or youth leaders, or counselors, or anybody who has a heart to see God bring healing, and redemption, and restoration in the midst of brokenness—and that’s what broken families represent—but God delights, as we’ve said, in taking broken things and making them beautiful. That’s the goal of the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry.
We hope you’ll plan to join us. If you’ve got any questions, or if you’d like to register, go online at FamilyLifeToday.com—there is information available there. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’ll see if we can answer any questions you have about the upcoming summit.
You know, we’ve got more than 300 staff, which are part of our team, here in Little Rock, and dozens of other couples that work as part of FamilyLife all around the country. So, if you stop and think about it, it shouldn’t be surprising that, virtually every day, somebody on staff is celebrating an anniversary. That’s the case today. Bob and Debbie Anderson, who live here in Little Rock, and are a part of the FamilyLife team—Bob works as an event planner / he helps with all of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways throughout the year. He and Debbie are celebrating 42 years of marriage today. “Congratulations!” to the Andersons.
We think anniversaries are a big deal. We’ve been celebrating anniversaries all this year as The Proud Sponsor of Anniversaries™. We hope all of you are making a big deal out of your anniversary—you should. Anniversaries are a big deal because they represent commitment and covenant-keeping—doing what you promised—
—to love, honor, and obey. And even as we talk about blended families here today, our goal, at FamilyLife, is that the marriage you are in today would be the marriage that endures all the way to the finish line.
We appreciate those of you who partner with us in this endeavor—thanks for your support of this ministry. In fact, if you can help with a donation today, we’d love to express our thanks by sending you a set of three Bible studies from our Art of Marriage®Connect Series. These are designed for couples to use in small groups; or you can use them individually, if you’d like—as husband and wife—go through them together. These three studies are our gift to you if you are able to help us with a donation of, at least, $100 in support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
You can make your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over the phone. You can also mail your donation to FamilyLife Today; and our mailing address is PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, Ron Deal is going to be back with us. We’re going to continue our conversation about what works and what doesn’t work as you are trying to blend a family. Hope you can tune in for that. And if you know somebody in a blended family who, maybe, is experiencing some challenges, invite them to tune in as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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