“Cruel and unusual” – MAFS Zoe on the agony of break-ups and co-parenting

Posted in Relationships.

MAFS alumni Zoe Hendrix has just shared some of the nitty gritty of navigating her breakup with her daughter’s father – and managing co-parenting – and it’s guaranteed to strike a chord with other mums.

“Reality TV doesn’t work like this, does it?”

Married At First Sight’s Zoe and ex Alex Garner announced their separation back in April, and the pair share a daughter – one-year-old Harper Rose. Zoe just spoke to Julia Hasche, host of the podcast the Single Mother Survival Guide, about what life looks like now.

The mum-of-one said she’s still grappling with feelings of failure after her reality TV happy ending veered into painful territory, and the relationship – to her surprise – broke down. 

In the beginning, Zoe says, “it was magical. It was like a fairy tale. We genuinely fell in love. We had a really good time together. Beyond the show, we built a life together. There were moments when I thought ‘is this right? I can’t believe this has worked. Reality TV doesn’t work like this, does it?!’ We had four years together and we have our daughter as well.”

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“I can’t look back and regret anything”

She’s inspiringly philosophical about where things have landed and what the future might look like.

“That is how she was meant to come to me. Her and I were meant to find each other in that way. Even though it hasn’t worked and we’re dealing with the heartache of separation … I’ve got my daughter. I can’t look back and regret anything,” Zoe says.

As a legion of Australian reality TV fans rooted for the couple, Zoe said the pressure was immense. When things didn’t work out – she says Alex blindsided her, ended the relationship and asked her to leave – the usual awful and complicated feelings were dealt with in the spotlight.

“That was embarrassing. It was overwhelming. I felt a massive amount of shame and failure. I was thinking I had let people down. I had failed in the fairy tale that a lot of people were invested in … It was intense. It was really hard.”

“He decided to end the relationship,” she said. “So I still won’t go into the hows and whys of how it went down, because it’s still too fresh.”

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We had our Maternal & Child Health Check last week and it was great to discuss Harpers progress and development with the Nurse. My baby doll is growing into an active, strong willed toddler and I certainly had some questions. Including the challenges I am still having when I lye her down for nappy changes. It feels like a wrestling tournament with me desperately distracting her with my phone or toys etc whilst she twists her body like a circus gymnast ??not fun! One of the great takeaways from my conversation with the nurse was the importance of picking your battles with toddlers, and letting them grow and show independence wherever possible. It is a vital component of their development. It’s also about minimising the stress for yourself where you can, especially if you are a predominantly solo parent or caring for your child full time. So I’m thankful for Huggies Pull Up Nappy Pants and the fact that Harper even helps me pull them on. Turns out we make a fabulous team! ? ?‍?#huggiesau #huggiesmum @huggiesau

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“I wanted to be this supermum”

Those difficult days trying to adjust to a new normal provided some unexpected lessons. Zoe said she was pretty keen to run as far from her feelings as possible because she was trying to be a positive parent for her daughter.

“What it taught me was the importance of letting myself feel a wide spectrum of emotions, so in the initial stage – and I’m a real practical person, so I’m like ‘get this done’ ‘achieve this’ ‘do that’ – so for me, I was like wanting to stay positive, I wanted to stay in control. I wanted to be this super mum and say I can do this, it doesn’t matter. But I found that always trying to be in control and positive was in the end dangerous for my mental health.”

“[Alex] asked me to move out, so I was running around with Harper on my hip, looking at places. I was suppressing my emotions and trying to think practically.”

But one night alone in her new home with baby Harper, things came to a head and Zoe found herself breaking down and trying to come to terms with this new ‘life plan’.

“I had suppressed all those emotions and it wasn’t healthy. It can lead to further problems … I went to see a therapist and she said what you need to do is literally block out times,” she explained. “So you wake up half an hour early and you make yourself a cup of tea. You sit on the couch or you go and sit outside and you let you feel yourself feel all the things that you don’t or you can’t feel with children around you.”

“I kind of got to a point where I realised that pain is how we gain our wisdom,” Zoe told Julia, “and it’s the only way that we really gain our strength … In between pain and wisdom we change.”

“Cruel and unusual punishment”

When quizzed on managing her co-parenting arrangements with Alex, Zoe said it’s difficult but they’re pushing on.

“When you break up with someone, you’re meant to go your separate ways. You’re meant to be out of each others’ lives. Like fully gone,” Zoe points out. “It’s really almost like a cruel system to have to see that person so regularly. It’s not right … It has to happen but it’s cruel and unusual punishment.”

She explains that Harper is still breastfeeding on and off, and she’s just trying to ensure any arrangements are helping her daughter feel loved and secure.

“He has her one night a week and usually for a couple of hours during another day,” Zoe said. “So I’ve got 90 percent care of [Harper]. She’s still even breastfeeding and I thought she would stop by now but I’ve spoken to a psychologist and they said the last thing you want to do is try to wean her and take that away from her.”

“I want Harper to have time with her dad. I want her to have that relationship. That’s her father. But I also want to be respected … He gets to see her, but I’m not grateful or thankful. That’s the dad!”

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I opened my heart and chatted to Julia on her Podcast @singlemothersurvivalguide about the first few months following our separation and how life was flipped upside down. We covered everything from the shame that I felt following the separation, understanding heartbreak and grief, strategies to rise up again, the resilience of children, co-parenting challenge, the unexpected joys of parenting alone!! Also I shared what my goals and dreams are now, and so much more! Julia has created a fantastic platform to inspire and empower single mums and dad to take control of their lives and strive (not just survive) their best life. It was great to join her in her mission. ??? Link in bio to listen to our chat ❤️⭐️ #singlemothersurvivalguide #podcast

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“That team that you build”

At the end of the day, Zoe says that she’s feeling stronger and that these tough times have brought her closer to her daughter – and made her an even better mum.

“I feel like I’ve come into myself more. I’ve become the type of mum I always wanted to be. It’s bloody hard. I’m exhausted. I’m emotionally stressed out sometimes. But we have so much fun. I’ve never seen Harper giggle and laugh so much, because I’m not in a relationship that’s not loving. I’m a bit more free. I’m not worried about laundry or what does Alex think of this or what’s going on with his family.

“If anyone’s sitting there and wondering. Looking at going down the single parent path … for anyone that’s about to start the journey, it’s really important to acknowledge all the really beautiful things and all the joys that come with having that special bond and that connection that you have. That team that you build with your child … that new family vibe that you get together.”

You can listen to the full interview below.




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