The Emhoff-Harris Clan Does Co-Parenting Right

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
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From the first time I saw Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, I was in love with their relationship. It’s clear how much they truly care about and for each other. Like the moment he found out she Googled him before their first data — my heart melted. They’re just so damn cute. On Inauguration Day, you could see how genuinely proud he was of her, and how proud she was to share her day with their family. Her step-children, Ella and Cole Emhoff, were front and center as well, which is something she’s done the entire time she was on the campaign trail and beyond. What’s even cooler is that Harris also made sure Kerstin Emhoff, Doug’s ex-wife, was with the family on that day. That’s one of the many reasons that the Harris/Emhoff clan are total blended family goals.

One of the things I find most relatable about Kamala Harris is her blended family. She is open about how much she loves and respects her step-kids, and that’s so important. They call her “Momala,” a name they gave her because they didn’t feel like ‘stepmom’ was the right fit. She says “My life wouldn’t be whole without them.”

When my ex and I split up, I knew that a huge part of our co-parenting success was going to be how well I got along with his future partner. If you can’t get along with your ex’s new partner, it complicates everything. In an ideal world, you can, at the very least, maintain a level of cordiality and respect. But if you can do more, then you absolutely should. Because whether you like it or not, you’re going to be spending time together as long as that person is in a relationship with your ex, and the main priority in these situations is the wellbeing of the kid(s).


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“We are friends. We have a very modern family,” Kamala said in an interview with Dana Bash from CNN. “It happened naturally. The thing about blended families — if everyone approaches it in the way that there’s plenty of love to share, then it works.”

It’s clear that Kamala and Kerstin, Dough’s first wife, have a lot of respect and admiration for each other, which is hugely important. Since both of them are women in high power professions (Kerstin is a successful film producer), they’re evenly matched in that regard. They likely also have a level of understanding that helps them when it comes to respecting each other’s time and commitment to being present for the children. Even when Kamala was still a Senator, she made a point to be present for her step-children, working alongside their parents to make it clear that they are a priority.

“She and I became a duo of cheerleaders in the bleachers at Ella’s swim meets and basketball games, often to Ella’s embarrassment. We sometimes joke that our modern family is almost a little too functional,” she wrote in a 2019 piece for Elle.

Being able to have a relationship with your ex’s partner isn’t always easy, of course. It takes time to get to a place where you feel comfortable with them. My ex and his significant other have been together for almost five years. It took me time to feel comfortable around her. Not because she’s a bad person, but it takes time to feel comfortable around a person who knows your former partner as intimately as you do. You have a common ground, and it’s a person who was (and is) such a big part of your life. And will now be part of your child’s life. So of course you’re going to have to get past some awkwardness. Of course, that awkwardness will be short-lived if you continue to make a conscious effort to get to know each other. Especially outside of your relationship with your ex and kids.

“Kerstin and I hit it off ourselves and are dear friends,” Kamala said in the same Elle interview.

This isn’t possible for everyone for a myriad of reasons. But it makes things better. I was fine with simply being cordial with my ex’s girlfriend. So when she asked me out to dinner to “get to know each other,” I was kind of put off. I quickly realized that her intentions were good and it was actually really awesome of her to want to get to know me outside of my relationship with my ex. And if she was making an effort to reach out, the least I could do was meet her halfway. Talking to her and getting to know each other made me feel a lot more comfortable with her being around my son. I no longer saw her as my ex’s girlfriend, but as someone I can be friends with. After that, spending time together became a lot easier, and co-parenting became less stressful. And much like Kamala and Kerstin, we’ve become good friends.

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It’s clear that Kamala really has respect for the relationship her husband had before her. And because she loves Doug so much, she is willing to make the effort to have a good relationship with his family. Her relationship with his kids is really beautiful. Since they were older when she and Doug got together, she knew it was going to be hard to gain their trust. And she did the smartest thing by forming a close relationship with their mother. Even if they have a close relationship with their dad, they’re going to look to their mom for guidance and affirmation too. So by having a good relationship with Kerstin, she knew that Ella and Cole would be more at ease. In an interview with CNN, she explained that Kerstin was “one of the keys” to her relationship with her step-kids.

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“To know Cole and Ella is to know that their mother Kerstin is an incredible mother,” Kamala told Elle. As a woman whose also co-parents with an ex, I know how hard it can be for a woman to come into that shared space. By extending that extra level of kindness to Kerstin, she is establishing that she cares for the family unit. She clearly has a lot of respect for the mother of her step-children, which is really beautiful. And she really loves Cole and Ella, and clearly knows that the fundamentals of what makes them good comes from how their mother and father raised them.

Having a blended family isn’t easy. And it’s even harder when you’re the second family of the United States. But it’s clear that the Harris/Emhoff clan is killing it, and that’s why they’re the epitome of co-parenting goals. The friendship between Kamala Harris and Kerstin Emoff is something to admire, and it shows what having a blended family can be like, if all parties are willing to make the effort.