I Live Steps Away From My Ex Husband (And His Wife) So We Can Raise Our Kid Together


Parents are constantly shamed for their choices. From how we feed our children to how we educate them, everyone has an opinion on how to raise kids. The result? Moms and dads feel endlessly judged for the choices they make — even if they have no other options. This week, families around the country are sharing their inspiring, funny, honest, and heartbreaking stories with Yahoo Parenting in an effort to spark conversations, a little compassion, and change in the way we think about parenting forever. Share your story with us — #NoShameParenting.

Recently, I was excitedly waiting for an old friend who was coming to stay with me in L.A. while on business. With the guest room ready, dinner done, and my 15-year-old son at his dad’s for the night, I finally started to relax and think about how nice it would be to catch up with her over a cocktail. Suddenly, the doorbell began chiming frantically and repeatedly.

When I opened the door, my friend pushed past me after a quick air kiss, and before her carry-on luggage could even roll to a stop, she blurted, “OK, so just where does your ex live? Show me everything!” Oh, right, I remembered, she hasn’t been here since “the Move.”

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Shortly after I divorced my ex nearly a decade ago, he moved across the street in order to be close to our son. A few years later, he remarried and a little healthy distance was required, so he moved several blocks away. But a few years ago, he and his family (they have two young children), bought the house directly behind me. Eventually, a staircase — just 30 steps — was built to connect his backyard to mine. Our backdoors are only about 120 feet apart. My New York guest — as it seemed everyone else in my life — was curious to view just how in the world our living arrangement worked: from layout, bamboo, and fences, right down to those stairs.

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But it’s not just the old friends’ curiosity I’m obligated to sate: It’s new acquaintances’ too. Just last week, over a game of mahjong, I overheard one pal give a curious newbie the following explanation as my son walked his brother back home: The little boy who was sitting at the dining room table is actually her son’s half-brother, and he’s taking him back to her ex-husband’s place. Yes, it’s right behind the backyard, up those steps.

Instantly, the woman began asking “How?” “When?” and “Why?” And while I have my spiel down by now, it was nice having my friend save me from giving the whole boilerplate.

A few years ago, my ex-husband called me and said, “It’s the craziest thing. So the house behind you — you know the one I’ve always kind of loved — is on the market. Wouldn’t it be great for our son and his brother and sister to live so close to one another and if no one had to drive back and forth?!”

The idea of no-effort drop-offs started to quell my initial anxiety. Already on very good terms with each other, we put on our best therapist/broker/agent hats to hash out how sharing a property line could work vis-à-vis privacy and personal boundaries.

Shortly after we became neighbors, however, the boundary line was called into question, literally. Looking out the window one day, I noticed a deck extension going in and immediately envisioned bamboo trees being replaced with ugly steel encroaching on my city view. We compromised. The deck was extended, but some extra bamboo also went up to camouflage the new addition.

The whole adjustment period was a series of tentative steps, and then, six months in, actual steps began to appear as we added a staircase and a gate between our backyards. In the beginning, it was only my son who used them, but soon his little brother was old enough to drop by for visits, though not without incident. One time he walked in just as we were baking cookies and began following his older brother’s lead by scarfing them down. Apparently he headed back up those steps with a lot more energy than normal, and I deservedly got a stern email later that night after his inevitable sugar crash. But it didn’t stop me from shooting one back that read ‘What about saying thank you for an afternoon of fun instead?’ After a flurry of emails back and forth, we arrived at a compromise: the only sugar served would be a little gratitude.

But 99-percent of the time my ex-husband and I co-exist and co-parent without drama. We’ve stayed great friends and we’re a modern kind of family trying to do what’s best for us. Co-parenting is fantastic at times and challenging at others when we aren’t on the same page. For example, while I want to lock up our son on the first day of football practice, his father encourages contact sports.

What I’ve learned is that I can’t always win and sometimes another way may work better. Co-parenting has all the potential either to amplify or to mitigate the best and worst parts of parenting. But my ex and I decided that life was too short to worry over little things and not to give each other the benefit of the doubt — especially when we’re only a few steps away. Let’s face it, divorced couples with children have to work on their sharing skills for the rest of their lives, so what’s one more property line going to do to change that fact? Nothing.

(Illustration by Erik Mace for Yahoo Parenting)

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