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Moving back in with my ex was better for our kids, so I did it

Bryanne is a freelance writer who lives in Southern California with her active-duty husband and their two teenage sons. She is a passionate human-rights activist and cultural enthusiast. In between writing and family life, Bryanne spends...

I shacked up with my ex for the sake of our kids

When I separated from my active-duty military husband and moved our sons a state away for a fresh start, I never imagined a year later we'd end up as roommates. We'd had a tumultuous, sometimes chaotic marriage, but we had remained friends through our separation and, thankfully, my ex was unflinching in his support and love for our kids.

Although I'd moved pretty far to start over, he and I would often talk on the phone, sharing updates on the kids, our newly single lives and everything in between.

Eventually we even talked about the people we dated. I know, it sounds strange, but we were committed to maintaining a supportive relationship. The thing was, we still loved and respected each other, but at the time, we weren't in love or able to make our marriage work. It didn’t mean we couldn’t be friends and co-parents, and be real about our lives in the process.

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About a year after I’d moved with our boys, I experienced some financial hardships. My career was floundering, and I had no local support networks to make things like childcare or school pickups more manageable. I had also ended a relationship with a man who had come to the U.S. on a work visa and had to return to his home country — leaving little possibility for a flourishing romance.

I could have stayed where I was, looked for new work and made the long five-hour drive back and forth to my ex’s place a few times a month so our sons could get much-needed daddy time, but it all started to feel overwhelming.

“Why not move back here?” my ex said. “You could save a lot of money and I could see the boys more often. It’s a win-win situation.”

My ex had also recently ended a relationship and saw no impediments to inviting his former wife to move closer. I thought about it for two long months before realizing it would make more sense than not. As soon as my apartment lease was up, I once again packed our lives and relocated.

Our kids were young, with our oldest just out of kindergarten and our youngest barely 3 years old. While the move was certainly disruptive, they were thrilled at the promise that they would get to see their dad nearly every day again.

In the beginning, we spent a few nights at my ex’s apartment while I looked for a place to live. His rent was astonishingly cheap, and although the place was cozy, we all seemed to fit just fine.

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“I have a crazy idea,” I told my ex after the fourth day. “What if the boys and I just stayed here with you? Think of all the money we’ll save, and you’ll get to see the kids every day.” He agreed, and that’s how we found ourselves, a year into our separation, living together as roommates.

For anyone wondering if there was any nookie happening on the side, the answer is no. We never once crossed the line with each other. We were strictly platonic. Our kids had no clue things were different. They had a father in their lives daily and seemed happier than they’d been when we lived apart. We were also more financially sound, which meant more fun stuff with the boys like trips to the water park or the movies.

My ex, the kids and I lived as roommates for a year and a half. If we dated, we agreed to not bring our new person around, just to keep the waters smooth; but aside from a few bad dates, neither of us saw anyone after our living situation changed. It’s not like potential love interests would have been thrilled with our arrangement, anyhow.

We shared meals, chores, raising the kids and bills, and it just worked. It was like all the bad from our former marriage had dissolved and what was left was an easy friendship based on trust and support, which was sorely lacking in our relationship in the early days.

Things changed drastically when my ex received deployment orders to Iraq. Like every other family, we showed up the day he was set to leave, and waved goodbye with tears in our eyes. My sons were devastated that their dad had to go away. Over the year we’d lived together as friends, the kids had thrived and had come to rely on his presence. The loss was tough to manage, and when I returned to our home without him, I struggled to understand what I was feeling.

Halfway through his seven-month deployment, the unthinkable happened. My ex’s base was attacked and one of his friends, a young man who he played poker with each night, was killed in front of him by shrapnel. The realization that my ex could have been the one to die hit me hard. It was in that first “I’m OK” phone call that I realized I’d fallen back in love with him.

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Through tears of relief and fear, I told my ex-husband that I missed him dearly and didn’t want to lose him. I said through sobs that I wanted to have a second shot at our marriage, if that’s what he wanted, too. Through a static-filled satellite phone, I heard my husband say he’d never stopped loving me and that there was nothing he wanted more than to be my husband again.

Three-and-a-half months later, my ex returned from war, and we started our marriage anew.

Although our kids, who are now 18 and nearly 17, were never the wiser, I know that our decision to reunite was ultimately the best for them, too. They hardly remember the year we lived away from their dad and have enjoyed the strength and security that comes from having love and support from both parents.

While I know not many people have a story like ours, I do believe that if living together peacefully is an option for two parents who no longer want to be married, it can be the best decision for their family. For us, it saved our marriage.

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