At first glance, co-writing a blog with your ex would seem like so much gluttony for punishment. But New Yorkers Magda Pecsenye and Douglas French have stepped into the breach nonetheless. The pair, who divorced in 2008, are known for their own separate blogs - hers a parenting advice site, Ask Moxie, and his a personal humour blog, Laid Off Dad.
Their new effort, called When The Flames Go Up, will share their experience of co-parenting after divorce - without the airing of grievances or ad hominem attacks. Mr. French, a laid-off teacher and Ms. Pecsenye, who works in educational software, are the parents of two boys, five and eight. In the spirit of their new collaboration, they agreed to a conference call. We reached Mr. French in Rhode Island, where he is on holiday with the kids, and Ms. Pecsenye in New York.
You write that the idea came up just a few weeks ago. Why now?
M: When I mentioned our divorce on my blog, people were asking me questions about it not because they really cared about my particular situation but because they wanted to help judge their own situation. So that's where the idea came from - that this might leave a trail of breadcrumbs for people who were in a place that they couldn't even imagine getting to a point of wanting to be in a conference call with their ex, you know?
D: I'm enjoying myself entirely. Speak for yourself (laughs).
M: Just knowing that at some point, yes, you're going to be able to sit next to each other at your kids' dance recital at school and laugh and make fun of the other parents. That's a good place to be at. I was surprised when I finally brought it up with Doug that he said he'd been thinking about it, too.
D: It strikes me to some degree as inevitable. It's in our DNA to be bloggers. We recognized there wasn't a lot of this out there, maybe because there aren't a lot of divorced bloggers out there or because it's just a really bad idea to do this. I don't know whether it's going to be great or terrible but I want to find out.
Are you going to write about why you got divorced?
D: The facile way I explain it to my friends is we were a good match, but we were a bad team. There is no bad guy here.
M: I'm imagining maybe we'll write a post about it because a lot of people are in that situation. Divorce is really easy - well, okay, it's never easy - but it's easy to justify when somebody does something horrible. When nobody does anything horrible it's sometimes hard to say, Do I have the right to get out of this? Part of co-parenting is realizing that you have the right to be the best parent to your kid that you can be and so does the other parent. Part of that is acknowledging that it's really okay and good that you're not married any more.
What do you hope readers will get from the blog?
M: I just wanted people to see that things change. And that it wasn't always going to be like it was right now. And that you get past them. And even if you can't work through it together, you can work through it individually, together. Now, after reading the comments one of the things I've realized could come out of this is from the people who said, Wow, I wish I'd know what my parents were thinking when they were sharing custody. It almost kind of seems to be healing for some people reading it. Also, it's a nice something for our kids to be able to look at when they're 25 and 28 and maybe have memories and are trying to put into context.
D: I couldn't agree more. Like Back to the Future. It's going to be a challenge. Neither one of us is looking to say "Look how great we are." But she and I are much more functional now as divorced co-parents than we ever were as spouses. That gives me hope.
You write that settlement writing is hard - and ongoing.
M: It's mind-boggling all of the details you don't think about until you have to codify it. Things like: How long is Thanksgiving vacation? Does it run over certain days in even and odd years? Who takes the tax deduction? We also have built stuff in that would trigger negotiation. If either one of us got remarried. Or work hours that changed radically.
What do your kids think?
M: They both seemed to relax once we were out of the same living space. Initially they were upset to hear the "d" word because they'd heard it before. But then once it turned out to be sort of the same thing - we weren't hanging out with them together but spending time with them apart, and both of us seemed to be happier.
D: They especially like separate vacations. One son went on holiday with Magda and one came with me. This is genius - you married should do this. They're more obsessed with each other. They've moved on, especially because they're young enough to accept a new reality much more than us calcified adults can. Have you seen Talladaga Nights? Will Farrell comes home and finds out his wife wants a divorce and to marry his best friend. He says, "You want a divorce?" Right away his two kids scream, "Yay, two Christmases!" At the moment I thought it was funny. That's how I knew I'd turned the corner.
What do you know is true thus far about co-parenting after divorce?
D: Never write anything online that you don't want your kids to read one day. That's a guiding principle for me.
M: Me too. Another thing I think and this is so obvious: It isn't all about you. But it isn't not about you. I didn't need to justify getting out of the marriage only because staying was bad for the kids. But at the same time, at the end of the day, my responsibility is to my children. That makes it a lot easier to focus and not get bogged down. We are the same people to a large degree, that we were when we were married. It would be absurd if nothing we did bothered each other.
What about dating? What might a prospective boyfriend or girlfriend think about you two working together on this?
D: That's their problem. Anybody who comes into my life is going to know that I come as a matched set: my children and my ex-wife. We are four pieces of luggage. Being unable to do this [blog]with my ex would be far worse than doing it. I'm not going to write about anything that my kids don't know about first. It only become about co-parenting when you're ready to introduce them.
M: I would hope that anyone dating us would use it as an opportunity to judge the fact that we seem to be in a relatively healthy place with each other.
Are either of you in a serious relationship?
D: It's not material to this conversation.
M: The truth comes out!
This blog binds you together in a way that suggests things might not be truly over.
M: That depends - to go all Bill Clinton on you - on what your definition of over is. We haven't been in love with each other for years and years. At the same time, we're never going to be over because we have kids.