It's the age-old story.
Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl and has two kids with her.
Girl starts a blog. Boy starts a blog.
Boy and girl get divorced.
Boy and girl join together to write a blog about what it's like to be divorced parents living within walking distance of one another in New York City and trying to keep their kids off the psych ward.
These days they're the non-coupled couple behind When the Flames Go Up, an insightful, honest look at two people who really don’t have much in common, but love their boys.
Why should you be reading this while your love life goes down in flames? The Stir asked Magda and Doug.
What was the impetus for starting the co-parenting blog?
Magda: For me, the impetus to write When the Flames Go Up was that I knew there were other people who just didn't know how they were going to co-parent without losing it somewhere in the process. There were a lot of days when I didn't know if I could do it. I still don't know if I can, sometimes. I hope the blog can be a lighthouse for people, and maybe for us.
Doug: I struggled with the idea initially, but what finally put me over the fence was the simple desire to see if we can do it. In the end, I think I've been offered a singular opportunity to maintain a dialogue with my kids' mom and create a journal that my kids can read someday. Plus, I was inspired by John Cleese and Connie Booth, who co-wrote Fawlty Towers while they were divorcing.
Was this a natural direction for you -- as you are both bloggers?
Magda: It's a totally natural direction for me. It was hurting me NOT to write about it. Writing Ask Moxie and helping people take things apart and look at them and figure out how to put them back together in a better way is really who I am. So to me it was quite harmful not to be able to talk about what I was going through as a way of helping other people find their own path through this same situation.
Doug: A mutual effort of some kind or other had been in the back of my mind for a while, and it seems natural for a pair of bloggers, who are accustomed to chronicling our lives as we do, to want to address co-parenting. We both take it seriously, we both want to help process our feelings by writing about them, and we both want to learn from the ever-expanding community of ex-spouses who raise kids separately but together. I'll be glad if anything we write serves a helpful purpose for others in our situation, but frankly I'm mostly interested in writing down all the stuff I learn so I don't forget it.
Did you lay out any ground rules for what can be spoken about, who has veto power?
Magda: I've had a very firm line in my head about what I write about and what I don't anyway, just from having blogged for so long. Everything I ever write online I do with the expectation that my kids will read it someday. I don't want to write anything that will hurt them, or hurt their relationship with me or with their dad. I know Doug has his own line, too, which is different than mine because we write about different things in different styles. We both have veto power, because if we feel like something would hurt one of us, by extension it hurts the kids.
Doug: I think each of us deserves first review of the other's posts before it goes live, at least until WTFGU figures out what it's meant to be. Ultimately, I hope that responsibility to our relationship as co-parents and to the kids will serve as all the editing we need.
Is anything off-limits for you guys?
Magda: I don't know about "off-limits" as much as "on-topic." Someone asked us if we were going to write about dating, and I don't have a theoretical objection to it as long as it's actually about co-parenting. The only context in which it would make sense to write about it is as it affects the kids, and unless one of us gets very serious about someone, we won't introduce them to the kids.
OTOH, I can see writing about a *conversation* about dating with the kids, especially as they get older and start examining the societal messages about pairing up. We also aren't going to be airing details and grievances, because a) who cares about our petty little details? b) at a certain point getting along becomes way more important than being right, and c) the guiding principle is to not say anything that would hurt the kids.
Doug: The kids are my litmus test. If it affects them, and I can talk about it without compromising anyone's dignity, then it's OK. Right now I have a hair-trigger sensitivity about what I'll write about. If I have the slightest misgiving about a topic, it's gone baby gone. I feel very protective of the positive trajectory Magda and I currently have.
What are the biggest gripes about other co-parenting stuff on the web?
Magda: The only other site about co-parenting I read is CoParenting 101 run by Deesha Philyaw and her ex-husband. It's an amazing site, full of resources and help, and everyone who's co-parenting should jump into it and start reading and pass it along to everyone you know who's in any stage of splitting up. But it's more of a how-to site, and we wanted to do something different. We're more about the little moments and the personal experience, and we didn't see anyone else doing this like we wanted to. I'm guessing there may be other stuff about the negative sides of co-parenting on the web, somewhere, but who's got time for that?
Doug: I don't really have any, since most of my guidance came from people I knew who had been through the same wringer. And I look at WTFGU as a way to pay all of that forward while involving Magda in the conversation.
What do you hope to share with other parents in your boat?
Magda: That it's not always going to feel as bad as it feels right now. That even when it feels horrible for you, you still have the kids in common. That you're not the only ones. That you and your kids are still a family. That you have the chance now to be a better parent than you were when you were in a bad marriage.
Doug: Our story as Family 2.0. And our shared hope that the new foliage can thrive after a (mostly) controlled burn.
What's been the response so far?
Magda: The response so far from people who've actually read the blog has been extremely supportive. Lots of commenters are saying it's helping them to have another co-parenting family expose the seams a little. The response that I hadn't anticipated was from adult children of divorced parents who are saying reading about our process is helping them understand what their own parents went through and how hard they worked for them. That's extraordinary, and makes it worth facing the detractors, most of whom haven't read a word of our actual blog.
Doug: My seven years of blogging have been filled with support, and humor, and dozens of new friends, because my blog is all about inoffensive, father-based gooberhood. Reaction to WTFGU from commenters has been overwhelmingly supportive, but I've also found my first experience with detractors. I know the subject matter of our new undertaking has cocked a bunch of eyebrows out there. I can only hope that those who disagree with what we're trying will at least read a few of our posts before condemning our kids to a psych ward.
Are you coparenting? Who are your role models in the process?
Image via Carbon NYC/Flickr