How one couple turned the drama of divorce into a nurturing environment for their son
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
After nine years together, Hope Rivera and Denise Jayroe came to a tough decision — a decision couples never want to be faced with. The two agreed not to be together anymore.
But this wasn’t just a separation. After getting officially married in Victoria, Canada six years into their relationship, this was a divorce. But they would say that this was not about them at all.
“There’s always drama and it wasn’t easy,” Jayroe said. “We could have stayed together and been unhappy or be split and be happy.”
“Once you get past the relationship ending, there’s a child there. That didn’t change when we separated,” Rivera added.
After Jayroe gave birth to Zayn almost five years ago, the couple planned for a second-parent adoption so Rivera could have legal parental responsibility. It may have bonded the relationship between the two women more solidly, but more importantly, it benefited their son.
The two strongly suggest this plan of action for same-sex couples having a child.
“That was the No. 1 thing I knew we needed to do and Hope wanted it, too,” Jayroe said. “It’s one of first things a gay couple should do. It helps protect relationships, but really, it protects Zayn. That adoption solidifies the responsibility, and so Hope is now also legally and financially responsible for him.”
Although things didn’t work out for the couple, they both are proud about how much they agree on almost everything — especially when it comes to Zayn. There are no snippy tales of what one does with him that annoys the other. In fact, the family is quite happy — just in a different fashion.
“We’ve split everything 50/50, but he knows that we are both his parents and that’s not going to change,” Rivera said. “Denise and I have a good sense of each other.
That made it easy to agree on how we were raising Zayn regarding his education, his sleep time, going to church, all that stuff.
“We may have different styles in parenting, but we’re consistent and he has a foundation to work from.”
They did have some help on the terms of their custody agreement from co-parenting counselor Carrie Beaird, president of Co-Parenting Solutions. Rivera and Jayroe credit her with stabilizing the plan they needed to raise Zayn as divorced parents.
“That helped us come to agreements on some things and it let us get anything and everything out in the open,” Rivera said.
What Rivera and Jayroe have done is changing the definition of family, as gay couples have been doing for a while. Instead of letting divorce rule as a detriment, they’ve created a successful, happy family — just in two different households.
“Being a child of divorce, I’m aware of how it affects a child,” Rivera said. “We didn’t plan to split up, obviously. But we did. It’s not that parents divorce, but how they handle it. He has two families now, and we do as much as we can to convey that sense of security.”
Even when there might be contentious issues between the two adults, they make a distinct effort to step back and refocus on Zayn. They never discuss the other parent in front of him or argue when he’s around. This is their reality.
“Hope is also the mother of my child and I’m careful in the communication I have with her and our relationship now,” Jayroe said. “The way I treat Hope and my life models to him that this is how you are a human being in this world.”
Knowing the situation could be far worse, Rivera and Jayroe have created and maintained a smooth and even happy system. Holidays and birthdays are split and vacations are still taken. They make it a point to live within five miles of each other just to be close, and both make all the functions they can at his Montessori school.
Their lives reflect something more than just making it work. Although redefining family, they both bring up what parenting means for same-sex couples and the rights that do and don’t come with that. Rivera and Jayroe have seemingly taken all the steps as lesbian parents to protect their child. They hope others do the same.
“I sit here and think we want equal rights, but some people don’t want to do this stuff for each other,” Rivera said. “It disturbs me when I hear how biological mothers can be with their children and use them as pawns. And I seem to see that happen more in our community. If we’re going to ask for equal rights, what are people doing to help or hinder that?”
Jayroe added, “Gay and lesbian couples are under a magnifying glass right now with the marriage issue on the forefront. My hope is that couples doing this and having to make this transition will focus on their children and strive to be a model family. Even in different houses.”