I know so many of you will relate with the story of how I initially found Scary Mommy. It was just after I had my first baby and I was up for maybe the 5th time in one night, mindlessly typing into Google every search term I could think of for “why won’t my baby sleep?”’ And, bam – I found Scary Mommy. For the first time since I had learned that I was pregnant, I felt all that self-judgment begin to slip away and embraced a new narrative: a perfectly imperfect, amateur parent. Scary Mommy’s founder, Jill Smokler, gave raw, honest voice to motherhood that was a breath of fresh air in this insta-world where we curate our lives to try to make people think we have our shit together more than we actually do. Jill’s candidness about navigating life at home with her kids made us laugh, cry – and more than anything, feel less alone.
Last year, Jill and her husband Jeff told their children (and the world) that after 17 years of marriage and 23 years of togetherness, they were divorcing, because Jeff is gay.
It was a secret that the couple had held close for 15 years. And it took a lot of soul searching for them to decide to end their marriage. But just like Jill helped us moms navigate the turbulence of motherhood, so too have she (and Jeff) given us a master class in how to divorce, and how to keep your family, and your integrity, intact.
From the outset, Jill and Jeff were public about their commitment to their children. On her blog, Jill wrote that “…while we will no longer love each other as husband and as wife, we remain deeply committed to one another as partners and co-parents to the three most incredible kids we could ask for. It’s our greatest hope that this experience translates into raising empathetic, caring and open-minded children who learn to embrace their differences… and respect and appreciate that which makes others different, too.” And Jeff told PEOPLE Magazine, “We want to show folks that you can do divorce in a way that not just puts your children first, but can come from a place of love,’ he adds. ‘And in our case, there has never been a shortage of love.”
I had to reach out to Jill, because I knew that she would have honest, authentic, invaluable advice about navigating divorce that we could all learn from. (And she did.)
Erin: Now that your divorce is final, in what ways have you found your overall perspective on divorce has shifted?
Jill: My heart goes out to truly single parents in a way I just didn’t understand previously. They are freaking HEROES. Once my 50% kid time is over, I’m beyond ready to hand them off to Jeff – I practically leave tire marks when I screech out of the driveway. Every time I start to feel sorry for myself, I remember how lucky I am to have an involved co-parent.
Divorcing as a public figure creates so much extra pressure. What do you wish more people had known, done or not done?
I went from never telling a single soul about Jeff’s sexuality to it being on the cover of PEOPLE Magazine within the span of a few weeks. The immediate period after our announcement is a total blur to me, but what I’ll never forget was the overwhelming outpouring of support. Strangers and friends and everyone in between blew me away with kindness and compassion. My only regret is not seeking out that support sooner.
What frustrated you most during the divorce process?
I can’t tell you how many times people tried to comfort me with “at least you know it wasn’t you” like that made the situation any easier. With a gay spouse, you’re not only mourning the end of your marriage (at least as you knew it before) but also the end of the person you love (at least as you loved them before.) I won’t say it’s harder than any other marriage, but it certainly isn’t easier.
Writing has (obviously) been such an important part of your life. How have you used writing to process, vent, or otherwise keep your head about you during the divorce process?
For the last ten years, I’ve used writing to connect with other women and have found so much comfort doing so. It’s tougher now that my kids are older, and the issues I want to talk about these days are so personal (AKA gross and mortifying to my children.) They’re already embarrassed enough of me, so I’m trying to forge ahead with my work while also respecting them as people.
It seems like you truly maintain a good relationship with Jeff. What boundaries have you set up to help maintain that good partnership?
We find that the more effort we make to stay connected, the better our relationship is. We were a team for 20 years, and in many ways still are… but it’s not always easy remembering that when you’re pissed off about the missing school uniform top or the last-minute change of carpool plans. Having regular coffee or lunch date helps us reconnect and remember that we really do love one another.
How did you approach co-parenting? What’s working well so far?
Jeff and I aren’t the best with rules enforcement, but we’ve made much more of an effort since splitting. The two big rules we have for co-parenting are simple: No ill speaking of the other spouse, and a commitment to our kids. Putting them first – and remembering to even in the most challenging times – is the glue that holds everything together.
What has surprised you most about co-parenting?
For me, the most challenging part of co-parenting is not having someone to share the day to day minutiae with. It’s comforting to feel like you’re in the mess of parenting together – side glances when the kids are being assholes and beaming smiles when the kids impress you. It’s lonely being the only parent witnessing such moments sometimes.
You’ve ventured into online dating! How does it feel, and what’s surprising you most about the process?
I met my ex-husband when I had barely turned 18, so this is really the first time I’m dating as an adult, and it’s been… interesting. The hardest part is putting yourself out there – the first time it’s unbelievably daunting (OMG where did all this hair come from and didn’t my boobs used to be higher?!?!) but it does get better, or at least a little easier, the more you do it. Man, it’s work, though.
What do you love most about this next chapter in your life?
For the first time in my adult life, I really can’t imagine how my life will continue to unfold. It’s mostly exciting… but terrifying too.
As far as I am concerned, Jill is wildly successful in both business and life. She has shown us and continues to demonstrate that real living isn’t about only cherishing those (near) perfect moments. Rather, it’s about staying present during the most painful, triggering events and courageously moving on to the next version of ourselves with childhood wonder, humor, courage, vulnerability and a lot of self love.