Fitness trainer Heidi Powell motivates people to get moving, drop weight and improve their lives on the ABC-TV show Extreme Weight Loss. But she's also providing inspiration on social media—not about fitness, but about co-parenting.
Heidi posted a photo in January of 2016 that went viral. It wasn’t an image of the tall blond doing a cool yoga pose or hitting a weightlifting benchmark. Instead, it featured her ex-husband, Derek Solomon, snuggling with the former couple’s two children and Heidi’s two younger children, born with her second husband, fitness trainer and Extreme Weight Loss co-host Chris Powell.
Heidi tagged the photo: #LoveMyBlendedFamily.
All three parents are active on social media, often sharing photos of group activities and captions about co-parenting. Heidi has written about her appreciation for ex on her blog, and dedicated posts to him on his birthday and Father’s Day.
In one 2013 photo, Chris and a then-pregnant Heidi help first-husband Derek do butterfly pull-ups.
Second Husband Chris wrote, “When Heidi and I got married, I inherited an amazing new friend—her ex husband, Derek Solomon.”
Derek responded: “Thanks brotha!! Much love and respect. Thanks for the love and respect you’ve always show me. It works (well) because we’ve made the choice to put the kids first. Thanks!”
Comments on the most recent family photo included:
“Truly amazing example of how to rock a blended family!”
“This is your ex? I LOVE this so much! Cash is laying on him just like his biological children!? I wish so much all divorces ended up this great. What an amazing gift to give your children!”
The road to this seemingly idyllic modern family was not always smooth. When Chris entered Heidi’s life, he and Derek spent time discussing the role Chris would play in the children’s lives. Now, both men are active with all four kids.
Earlier this year, Heidi told In Between magazine that she and Derek went through some hard times after their divorce. But by checking their egos at the door and putting the kids first, they were able to rebuild their friendship and create a healthy new family structure. “Derek has flaws, I have flaws, Chris has flaws. But if we choose to focus on the fact that Derek is an incredible dad and a good person in general, our relationship is just going to be that much better. Derek will feel appreciated and he’s going to work with me and I’ll want to work with him.”
As Derek put it in the comments section of the snuggling-with-four-kids photo: “It has taken so much to get us where we are today and continues to require attention, communication, love, and no ego. Let me be 100% clear that I don’t encourage divorce … but it happens and how you handle it is a choice.”
Here’s one case in which social media sharing can really inspire good habits.
We think there’s a lot more to learn from this team than how to get in physical shape. Here are three tips to take away from their parenting style:
1. Get moving!
These three individuals may be so positive in part because they’re so fit. As Elle Woods said in Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands.” Happy people may also be more inclined to co-parent in a positive way. As research shows (and we’ve probably all experienced), physical exercise boosts mood. Running, dancing, lifting weights—whatever the exercise, it can make you feel more optimistic, creative and clear-headed. In divorce, finding a way to work in some physical exercise not only makes you feel better but also can help you take more control over the tone of your relationship with your ex.
Feeling more positive and optimistic lets us resist the temptation to respond to an offhand dig with escalatory anger, and think more creatively to challenges or conflicts that arise.
But you can’t just join the gym to get the benefits; you also have to use it. A recent study by Jim McKenna of Leeds Metropolitan University showed that among employees with work-based exercise facilities, those who actually used them during the work day were in a better mood and had better work performance on the days they exercised. McKenna linked exercise to heightened concentration and greater resilience against stress. You could go on the offensive with exercise. Are you dreading a conversation with your ex about custody? Try taking a run or lifting weights before you talk. Set yourself up to communicate well and treat each other with respect by prioritizing your physical health.
2. Drop your ego.
It’s easy to feel nervous or jealous when an ex introduces a new partner to your children. This is understandable, particularly if you don’t have a new partner yourself. But a new partner is not a parent replacement, emotionally or legally.
You are your children’s other parent forever, no matter how many toys or gummy bears Dad’s New Girlfriend might offer.
Work to focus not on the fact that your ex has moved on but rather on the benefit to your kids when both parents have a stable, healthy home life. Research shows that kids of divorce, and kids in general, benefit from the presence of other supportive adults in their lives. We’re all happy when our children have an involved coach or great guitar teacher. This new partner of your former spouse may bring benefits to your kids, if you’re open to seeing them. Maybe he can teach your child how to speak Mandarin or use Excel. Instead of feeling insecure about his qualities or skills, focus on the positive ways he can affect your child. If that is your focus, a healthier relationship with your ex will follow.
3. Celebrate each other.
If your ex is a great father, tell him that. If you appreciate her help, tell her that. If your wife’s new husband treats you with respect, thank him. You don’t have to do it in a public way on social media like Heidi, Chris, and Derek have done, but praise and appreciation will go a long way as you reorganize your family.
As Heidi told Good Morning America earlier in 2016, above all, be kind. “So much positive can come when you’re just kind to somebody else.”
Laura Brienza is the author of two nonfiction books for Globe Pequot Press: Discovering Vintage Washington, DC and New York's Historic Restaurants, Inns, and Taverns. Her writing has also appeared in Flavor & The Menu, Feminine Collective, 1st Amendment Media/IndyBuild, The Date Diaries, and she is a Weekend Reporter for Obsessed With Everything. Her plays have been produced and developed by The Lark Play Development Center, the Kennedy Center, and Luna Stage, where her most recent play Old Love New Love was hailed for its "sharp writing" and "poignant moments" by The New York Times.