Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Wife, ex-wife share kids' parenting with laughter

Blended families: Two moms are better than one

By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Beverly Brookbank and Tori Maddox are typical best friends. They talk on the phone a lot. They do each other's nails. They volunteer together at their kids' school.

They even have the same exuberant laugh, which they unleash whenever anyone asks how they met. The story goes like this: Maddox is married to Brookbank's ex-husband. She is the stepmother of Brookbank's 8-year-old twins, who happily refer to the women as "our two mommies."

"We get weird looks constantly," Maddox says, laughing.

"We do it to shock people," says Brookbank with a grin. "We have such a good time."

One expert's reaction: Wow. Go moms.

About 64 percent of today's families are involved in divorce or step relationships, says the New York-based Stepfamily Foundation. With so much blending going on, some ex-spouses have started simplifying their lives by celebrating holidays together.

But best friends with your husband's former wife? That's something, says Jeannette Lofas, president of the foundation.

"It's wonderful what they're doing," she says. "Kids need to see that the family is working and not bad-mouthing each other."

Like values, similar interests

When they met six months ago, Maddox and Brookbank formed an instant, breezy bond. They come from similar backgrounds. Neither is the type to hold a grudge. Both tend to joke - instead of complain bitterly - about what they perceive to be the annoying habits of men. And both put their children first.

Brookbank's twin daughters, Amanda and Natalie, had been spending a few weeks each summer with their father, Scott Hunter, who then lived in Oklahoma with Maddox. This year, the couple came to Northern Kentucky to visit the girls. They had such a good time they decided to move here permanently.

"The minute I walked in this woman's door, she was nothing but polite and hospitable," says Maddox, 24, of Brookbank, 32. "I knew then that I was going to like her."

This summer, the women coached Natalie and Amanda's Little League team together. Both were surprised by the intensity of other parents. Isn't baseball supposed to be fun?

"We were the only coaches out there saying, 'Go team go!'" says Maddox, a hairstylist by trade. "That was the extent of our coaching."

"We had fun," Brookbank recalls, laughing.

Children's welfare foremost

Together, the women also serve on an advisory council at Thomas Edison Elementary School, which Natalie and Amanda attend. Several weeks ago, they went together to a seminar on getting other parents involved.

Both Maddox and Brookbank were raised by busy, single moms, and both are determined to be more present in their own children's lives. (Besides the twins, Brookbank has a toddler, and Maddox has two boys of her own.)

To that end, the women back each other up on household rules. On weekdays, for instance, Amanda and Natalie don't spend the night with their dad's family, because that would disrupt their 8:30 p.m. bedtimes.

"They will finish school," says Brookbank, who earned a GED at 30. "The dating, I don't see that happening through high school."

"No," says Maddox. "No doing drugs, no smoking."

Then, being the kind of people who admit their own faults, their gaze falls ruefully on the cigarettes in their hands. Every night, they say, Amanda and Natalie address this situation in their prayers.

"Please help our mommies and daddies stop smoking," the girls say.

Dads approve

What about these daddies, anyway? What do they think about the bond between their women?

Hunter, who does auto body work, figures they talk about him occasionally. But he doesn't mind, he says, because parents getting along is good for kids.

"There's no animosity, no telling lies, everything's out in the open," Hunter says.

Brookbank's husband, Chris Brookbank, is less enthusiastic. His own parents went through an acrimonious divorce, so the women's camaraderie seems weird to him, like living in an episode of Friends, he says. He recently nixed the idea of a giant family portrait with both sets of parents.

"This is a TV show," says Brookbank, who builds and repairs elevators. "This isn't supposed to be happening in real life."

But happen it has, and the kids figure they've gotten a pretty good deal.

"This is the fun part: We have two moms, two dads, two sisters and two brothers," says Amanda, referring to her half-siblings

This Mother's Day, Maddox took Amanda and Natalie to pick flower bouquets for Brookbank. They were beautiful, and Brookbank was touched.

To the girls, it was the most natural gesture in the world.

"If other people have a stepmom and a mom," Natalie says, "I'm sure they could be friends."



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