By Guest Blogger Dionne Jenkins

My husband and I recently celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary (Yay!). But I also celebrated another anniversary; twelve years as a stepmother. It has not always been easy; it is still not. Trust me, we have had our share of ups and downs as a blended family. But over the years, our relationship has grown together, and we have learned what works and most importantly, what does not work in a successful co-parenting relationship.

Do we have it all figured out? Of course not. But what I know for sure is that what all three of us (my husband, his ex and I) have in common is our desire to see that our daughter’s needs are met and for her to be successful in life. In the process, we have overcome old hurts, become friends, and started to look at one another as each other’s extended family.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I drove down to Myrtle Beach for my stepdaughter’s basketball tournament. For three days, my husband, his ex, and I arrived at the sports complex, greeted each other with hugs, and sat together on the sideline rooting and cheering for her team to win (my husband, a bit loudly at times). If I am being honest, had this tournament happened a few years earlier, we would not have interacted in the same manner. Sitting there, watching my stepdaughter’s team play game after game, it occurred to me how much our co-parenting relationship has changed over time, and for the better. I realized that to get to that point, we had to be very much like my stepdaughter’s basketball team.

Communication is essential.  Everyone knows that to be successful on the basketball court, players must communicate with each other. You need to let your teammate know when you are open for a shot, or when they are about to run into a defender’s screen. A lack of communication on the court leads to miscues, turnovers, and the other team outscoring you. Likewise, communication is one of the most important factors of a successful co-parenting relationship.  Co-parents must communicate about the needs of the child(ren), their education, and simply what is going on in their lives. Successful co-parents must keep the lines of communication open and cordial in order to nurture that relationship. A breakdown in communication will lead to a breakdown in the relationship.

You must be clear on your objective.  A basketball team has one goal – to win the game. That’s the only reason for showing up each day and putting hours of sweat and tears in practicing for the big game. Likewise, your objective as co-parents is to raise a happy, healthy child and prepare them to be successful in life. That is your sole purpose as parents. When you realize what your objective is, it makes the hard work as co-parents worthwhile, and you can overcome the many challenges along the way to accomplish a “win.”

We’re all on the same team.  When one of her teammates had the ball, my stepdaughter did not go up and take it out of her hands. Why? Because they’re on the same team. While it may not feel like it at times – mother, father, stepmom and stepdad – you are all on the same team. No one player is more important than the other. One player cannot win a tournament by themselves. (Just ask Lebron James!). Sure, one player can probably rack up a few points alone, but they certainly cannot defend an entire team by themselves. In order to be successful as a blended family, you must realize that parents and stepparents play a vital role in the development and happiness of the child(ren). You won’t always agree on which “play” you should follow (again, ask Lebron James!), but you will come to appreciate not having to do it alone.

Practice makes perfect.  My stepdaughter’s team has been playing together consistently for a few years. So, naturally, they have grown to trust each other and work in sync to such a degree that they dominate on the basketball court. At the tournament, they beat every team they played by at least 30 points! But it wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, while they were still learning from each other, they struggled. Now, they listen to each other, help each other, and celebrate their accomplishments together. Co-parenting will not be easy at first, especially after a breakup or divorce. However, speaking from personal experience, I have one piece of advice for you.  Stick with it!  The children need you – both sets of parents. If you continue to work together, towards a common goal, it will get easier over time. I promise.

I can only imagine how my stepdaughter felt seeing her mother, her father, and her stepmother sitting together, cheering, and rooting for her to succeed. That must have relieved so much stress and anxiety from an already stressful situation. Ultimately, after playing six games, her team won the championship and we were so proud of her!

There is saying that co-parenting is not a competition. Well, I don’t necessarily agree with that statement. I do agree that co-parenting is not a competition between the two parents. But, as parents, I believe that you are, in fact, competing against the other “team”; other external forces, some of which are not so positive, that can impact your child’s life. That’s why it is so important that you work together as teammates and not adversaries. That team might also include a stepmom or a stepdad. You must choose to work together on a common objective, listening and communicating with each other, and acknowledge each other as important members of the team. The ball is in your court.

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