After her divorce Debi Levenson, at right,
had to learn to get along with Monika
Levenson, second from left, who married
her ex-husband. She says she did it for
the sake of the children, Jessica, far
left, and Brittany.
Mom and Stepmom Find a Way to Cope
— When Debi and Jeff Levenson
first got married, she thought she had
met the man of her dreams. They had a
fairy-tale wedding and two beautiful
But after 12 years of marriage, things went
drastically wrong, and the suburban San Diego couple
was left on the brink of divorce.
Eleven months after his divorce was finalized, Jeff
married Monika, fueling a fire that had been raging
Second Marriages Involve Children
More than 50 percent of marriages in this country
end in divorce, and 65 percent of remarriages involve
children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And the
anger and sadness that accompany a breakup are
compounded when the "other woman" becomes
the "other mom..
Jeff Levenson said he finally decided to leave Debi
because of the children.
"It got to the point where finally I felt that
I would be better if I moved out because there was a
lot of arguing, and we were fighting and I felt that
that was being destructive to our family," Jeff
Their daughters, Jessica and Brittany, who were 7
and nearly 6 at the time, noticed it too. Six years
after the divorce, the painful memories linger.
"They'd always yell at each other," said
Jessica, now 14. "I'd be, 'Why are you guys
yelling? You're supposed to be happy. You're supposed
to be OK.' I just remember her [Debi] being really
upset and her crying a lot."
"I remember when we were little, every time
we'd go to Dad's, Jess would always cry," said
Brittany, now 13. "Because she didn't like the
Jessica said she blamed herself for her parents'
"In the beginning, I thought it was all my
fault," she said. "I really thought, I was
like, 'OK, I did something. It was all me. It was my
grades, it was something.' I thought I did it. Like I
put all of the blame on myself."
Monika Levenson says she knew from the beginning
that she was stepping into a difficult situation, and
she was worried about what Jeff's children would think
"It's very challenging to come in as that
third person and [wonder], 'Are the kids going to like
me, how is the ex-wife going to treat me or accept
me?' " she said. "That part's
Jeff Levenson acknowledges the children sometimes
got caught in the middle.
"As much as we wanted to say at the time that
we were not putting the kids in the middle, they were
smack dab in the middle every single day, defending
the territory on either side of the fence," he
said. "Looking back on it, it was horrible."
Seven years after the divorce, and after many years
of animosity, Debi and Monika Levenson, have forged a
relationship that is both cooperative and respectful.
The Levensons credit an organization called
CoMamas. Thanks to the organization's online advice,
seminars and the book Stepwives, the family was
able to turn the page and write a new chapter in their
"Last year we had a bat mitzvah for my
daughters," Debi Levenson said. "And Monika
and I were able to communicate and work together into
making this big event for the girls."
The bat mitzvah, a Jewish coming-of-age ceremony
for girls, marked a major milestone for Jessica and
Brittany and for their parents, who now realize the
keys to successful co-parenting. Most important, put
the kids first.
The two mothers — mom and stepmom — and Jeff
Levenson now attend birthday parties, school concerts
and sporting events together, thanks to the critical
changes they've made in their relationships.
The rules include: no bad-mouthing; respect rules
and routines; and empathize, don't judge. But with all
their advances, there's still some emotional territory
left to navigate when it comes to one special day:
"It is a very sensitive topic," Debi
said. "And I don't know that I ever will want to
share Mother's Day with her."
Jessica says that there should be a day to honor
" Because they do a lot, whether people want
to admit it or not," she said.
Jeff Levenson says he hopes the family can agree on
a way to honor his current wife as a mother, too.
"It is important that Monika has her day and I
have a feeling Debi thinks it's important for Monika
to have her day — it just can't be on Mother's Day
at this time," he said. "Who knows what the
future holds, but it could you know, the way things
are going, it could change."