The new school year can bring anxiety to any household, but for children with divorced and separated parents, the challenges can be even more daunting.
So 4-year-old Rachel, with a backpack almost as big as she is, was lucky to be able to walk into school holding hands with not just one mommy, but two. In a viral Facebook post that has over 22,000 likes and over 26,000 shares, Rachel's mom, Hayley Booth, explained that she and her ex-husband and his new wife have worked hard to make things easier for Rachel.
"Often times, I have people ask me how my ex, his wife, my husband, and I co-parent so flawlessly," Booth wrote in her post. My answer is always the same — We just love our daughter. Seriously, it's just that simple."
It hasn't always been that simple, Booth told TODAY Parents. She and Rachel's father, Caleb Quattrone, 27, have shared visitation of Rachel near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, since October of 2014. "At first, we were all still trying to work through the hurt, anger, and all the feelings that came with getting a divorce," said Booth. "It took about a year to come to terms with and be okay with my daughter being around another woman and loving her like she loves me."
Booth said that after the divorce was finalized and the lawyers went home, she and her ex and their new significant others all learned to work together and be a team. "It was just us — and we were learning how to do it on our own," she said. "Surprisingly, it wasn't hard at all; in fact, it was easier doing it on our own."
In her Facebook post, Booth wrote, "We all love her, and nothing will ever change that. No child deserves to be tossed around back and forth, used as a bargaining chip, or to be put in the middle of any adult drama. She didn't choose to be born, and she certainly never chose for her parents to get divorced. Why would we make her life any harder by making her choose which set of parents to love?"
Booth is remarried to husband Bryan, 28, and has a stepson from him, Brayden, 10. Her ex, Quattrone, is now married to Dakota Pitman, 23, whom Rachel also calls "Mommy" and Booth calls a best friend.
"My daughter calls her bonus mommy 'Mommy,' and you know what? That's okay, because that's what she is to her, she IS her mommy," Booth wrote in her post.
"She is there for her always, she takes care of her, she plays with her, she teaches her life lessons and how she should behave, she gives her hugs and kisses goodnight, she does everything any mother would do. But most of all, she loves her like she is her own. It takes a very special woman to take a child that they didn't give birth to, under their wing and become their mother."
Booth told TODAY Parents, "Dakota and I are great friends. We talk almost everyday. We don't just talk about our daughter, we talk about things going on in our lives, like any friend would."
Pitman agreed with Booth that though it took time to get to where they are in their relationships now, it is working well for them. "No blended family comes together overnight, but now we don't have any challenges," she said. "Talk to each other. Be open. We all help each other for her benefit, no matter what. If Hayley needs anything, I'm right by her side to help. I am truly lucky to be accepted by such amazing people — I would do anything for them."
Both women have advice for those in their positions trying to co-parent peacefully. "My advice starting a co-parenting journey who is not the biological parent is to keep an open heart," said Pitman. "Don't judge anyone. Work with them. The child is what matters."
Booth warned, "It's not going to be easy. After all, nothing in life is easy. It's hard, harder than anything you've ever done. To watch what your family used to be change and watch your ex love someone else, and then your child love them just as much, will not be easy," she said.
"There will be days you feel like you can't do this, there will be days you cry about it or can't seem to get it off your mind," Booth said. "But if you trust yourself and realize that it's just one more person to love your child, it makes it much easier."
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Booth also wanted to make it clear that her post on Facebook was not meant to shame anyone currently trying to co-parent with an ex and finding it difficult.
"It was meant to inspire them to think about things through their child's eyes," she said. "It was meant to bring hope to others who are struggling to co-parent — that it is possible and it can happen. Do not ever give up!"
Booth said, "I know it's not ideal for every family as some families cannot have relationships like this. But if you keep trying and giving it everything you've got, it is achievable. If you do this for your child, they will be forever thankful."