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Modern Family: Mashonda Tifrere Gets Real About Co-Parenting with Ex-Husband Swizz Beatz & His Wife Alicia Keys

The author talks about growing through the pain and keeping kids first: “This book is living proof that people can work through their conditions and truly evolve.”

Mashonda Tifrere, Alicia Keys & Swizz Beats - Photo by Cole Cook
One blended happy family: Mashonda Tifrere, Alicia Keys & Swizz Beats - Photo by Cole Cook

There was a time when couples fell in love, got married, had kids and lived happily ever after. At least that’s what the fairy tale would have us believe. Today, we know that about half of all marriages end in divorce. And of the 1.2 million Americans who divorce each year, nearly 75% of them remarry and create new blended families.

It’s a reality that isn’t always a dream come true. In fact, it can be a downright nightmare. Mashonda Tifrere knows this all too well. Back in 2010, the singer was in the midst of a traumatic divorce with her then-husband, hip-hop artist and producer Swizz Beatz, who soon married Grammy Award-winning superstar Alicia Keys.

As a singer and songwriter who had worked with Jay Z, Eve and LL Cool J, Mashonda was an artist in her own right, but that was soon overshadowed by the familial drama that played out for all the world to see.

The bitter experience was fodder for the tabloids, but eventually Mashonda made a choice to evolve into the person she knew she was destined to become. She used her personal pain to fuel her journey to self-healing and peacefully co-parenting with Swizz and Alicia.

Those years of hard work have resulted in a new book called BLEND: The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family. Filled with deeply personal anecdotes and family photos as well as advice from family therapists and parenting experts, the book is intended to be a “toolbox” to help families pick up the pieces of broken relationships and rebuild them into something beautiful.

From the foreword written by Alicia Keys to chapter five written by Swizz Beatz, the structure of the book itself is a testament to how Mashonda and her new family work together.

As Mashonda writes in her book, the three of them have grown together on the path toward blending and it has made them better people. They are sharing their experience with the world because they know what they’ve accomplished is nothing short of magical and it can help millions of families around the world.

Homegirl Talk caught up with Mashonda (her very first book interview!) to have some real talk about co-parenting, self-healing and the importance of recognizing those “aha moments” that will lead you to a more fulfilling, happier and balanced life.

Mashonda author photo_credit Cowan Whitfield
Mashonda TIfrere – Photo by Cowan Whitfield

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me and Homegirl Talk. We are all about keeping it real, so as soon as I found out about your book, I knew we had to have a conversation!

I’m really excited right now and I’m going to tell you something very special — you’re my very first “Blend” interview! This is a moment for me, so  I might cry, I might get nervous at some point, but this is just the beginning!

Mashonda and Mar having a homegirl talk — I love it! First of all, I love the book. Even though I don’t have a blended family, I know this information is going to help so many people. How did the idea of writing the book come about and why was it important to you?

My inspiration for the book is my son Kasseem. He was really young when Swizz and I went through our separation and divorce, and I just wanted to create something that would document my journey and help other families that are going through or have gone through what we’ve experienced.

My son is my biggest inspiration in the world and I know that he’s going to grow up one day and be so proud of what we’ve accomplished and look back and smile. I came from a family that went through a bad breakup and divorce and I can still remember the hurt and pain that surrounded it and I didn’t want that for him. So yeah, Blend is a gift. It’s a gift to the world from our family.

How long did it take you to write this book?

Well, the book started out as a journal. I started journaling really early on in our separation and that was about eight years ago [in 2010]. So over the past eight years it has gone through so many changes and transformations. It evolved with me. It’s a true testimony to the entire journey.

You call Blend a toolbox not only for yourselves but for others. The problem is, some members might want to make a blended family work but others aren’t in the same place mentally and emotionally. How does someone get through that? You weren’t always in that place.

Right, right. I believe that one of the biggest tools in the toolbox is to look for the light in every situation. There will never be any blending or being cordial to one another unless you do the self-work as an individual, so truly it does start with self. And you’ll notice in the book, the first three or four chapters are all about healing yourself. That’s where you really gather the tools and the skills to blend.

You have to use patience and gratitude. You have to be in service to yourself and to others.  You’ve got to use your heart and you’ve got to be empathetic not only to yourself, but toward others. That’s really where it starts.

Not only that, but you really have to keep a child’s best interest in mind all the time. You can be going through something awful with your co-parent but you have to learn how to put those feelings to the side and really focus on what’s best for the child.

Kids have an incredible ability to put things in perspective. You might be angry about something or at someone, but how is that going to make the child’s life better?

Exactly!

How long is this healing process? People want things done now and we want the fixes to come fast. 

The thing is, you can’t put a time frame on it because everyone heals in their own time. But the one thing I can say is that you have to be consistent — you have to wake up every morning and set intentions on wanting to heal and wanting to be a better person.

And you have to be so open minded. You have to let things fly over your head sometimes. You can’t let everything that everyone says to you bother you or stress you out. You really have to choose your battles.

Once you’ve mastered that, once you’ve mastered yourself, it’s so easy. Everything else just flows. Even raising your children becomes easier.

There’s definitely not a time frame. I believe that you just have to be consistent in your actions and you have to be positive all the time —24/7 positivity! Then you’ll see change, and other people will notice that you’re changing and that will push them to change as well.

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Two more days until @theblendbook is out and I want all of you to know that WE LOVE YOU for being such amazing supporters, always so full of light and positivity! Did you pre-order? LINK IN BIO Excerpt from The Divine Ingredients “Swizz, Alicia and I have grown together on this journey toward blending, and it has made us better people. It was something we had to do for us and for our children. We’ve kept our flow private up until now but collectively decided to share our experience with the world because we know that what we’ve accomplished is something magical and that our testimony will help millions of families worldwide.” #theblendbook #creatingtheblueprinttoblend #theblendedfamilybook

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Was there a specific “aha moment” that made you realize you had to make this blended family work in a positive and harmonious way? 

Yeah, there were a few moments! Those moments always come back to my son and his reactions to things and the ways that I was acting. I’ll share a moment with you:

I was going out a lot during my separation. I was stressed out and really in my feelings — creating all these awful feelings about myself. I felt like the only way to get over that was to go out, have fun and party with friends.

Sometimes I feel that when women are going through things, we tend to do that. We go outward instead of going inward.

So I went out one night, partying, having a great time. My son was home with his nanny and when I came home I didn’t feel well. I went in my room, closed the door and early that morning, I heard this little hand knocking on the door. And he’s like ‘Mommy! Mommy!’ and my head was throbbing and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t even look at him right now.’

And then it hit me — there was this moment of epiphany where it was like, ‘You have to get your life together.’ I knew I had to start the self-work.

I say this now so candidly because I’ve watched so many of my friends go through this same thing. And I feel like you have to do that in order to see the light. But then you have to choose to wake up out of it. You have to use that pain as a guideline to quickly transform. And that’s what I did.

In those moments of transformation I was always guided by my son and that’s how I know that he came here to teach me how to be a better person. Because I will never resort to going out and drinking and partying in order to make myself feel good again. Because now I know what I really need to do.

I need to meditate, I need to read a good book, I need to go somewhere that’s inspiring, I need to step out into nature. These are the alternatives. And I would’ve never recognized that if it weren’t for that little hand knocking on the door that morning.

It’s almost like it was divine intervention.

Absolutely. Absolutely.

But you recognized it as such. You have to choose to see that because you could have easily said ‘leave me alone’ or simply ignore that moment. 

Absolutely and that’s the thing… as women, as mothers, as parents, as caretakers, we have to be in this place of full-on self-awareness because I feel like the universe is constantly sending us signs, it’s sending us red flags and signals, but we can either choose to ignore them or awaken to them.

And in that moment … as nauseous as I was [laughs], I chose to wake up to that little voice. Because that little voice felt like so much more than a little voice — it felt like my entire future and his future. That was the wake-up call.

Wow, it was literally a wake-up call. It was ‘Mommy!’

Yes, it was.

Anything is possible: Mashonda Tifrere and Alicia Keys
Anything is possible: Mashonda Tifrere and Alicia Keys

You also write about the power of a woman — the Divine Feminine, the exemplary relationship between your Mum and Auntie Anita, and the importance of building a bridge with Alicia. 

Oh yeah. I grew up with women. I was raised by two very strong libra women. I feel like libra women are some of the most balanced, strongest women you can meet. And they were by my side the entire time. I witnessed firsthand the power of unity and what was able to come from them unifying. The love was so deep you can’t compare it to anything.

The way that women love and nurture is like a superpower. Women are healers — we heal the world, we know how to heal each other and the Divine Feminine is all of that. Sometimes, as women, especially growing up in the city, we feel like we have to put on this hard shell and have this masculinity where we lose our femininity. And that’s really not healthy because we need that feminine balance in order to create the magic.

I talk a lot about that in the book because there was a point where I wanted to be tough and I felt like I needed to put on this front in order to get through my pain and not have the world look at me like some weak woman.

But I realized, in another moment of having a wake-up call, that I have to be vulnerable. I have to open myself up, I have to embrace the fact that my heart is broken in order to let light into it. That is why it’s so important to be soft and nurturing and vulnerable. There’s nothing wrong with that.

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Excerpt from @theblendbook “I knew that denying my son’s father access to him was taking away my son’s rights, more so than his father’s. Kasseem had a parenting contract with both me and with his father. It was important for Kasseem’s development that Swizz be allowed to fulfill the terms of this unspoken, divine contract. Therefore, I never used my son as a pawn to get my own way, not even in my deepest moments of anger and pain. Such behavior would interfere with the invisible but very dominant parenting contract. And it’s not worth it.” Learn more about the Parent Contract in my book Blend-The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family. Preorder Today-LINK IN BIO

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It speaks volumes that Alicia Keys wrote the foreword to your book. She says, “I’m proud because at one time we both felt misunderstood by each other, and now, here we are: celebrating each other in this beautiful book.” Did you ever imagine this would happen?

Absolutely not! There’s no way I would have imagined that! [Laughs.]

But it is proof … I mean, come on! This book is living proof that people can work through their conditions and truly evolve!

We still kid each other with ‘I am so proud of us.’ We literally end almost every meeting, every interaction with ‘ I’m so proud of us.’ We love each other and we express that to each other. I know that sounds like kumbaya, but we’re really proud of each other because we look around the world and we see the total opposite. And we know what we came from and we understand our purpose.

Our purpose is being able to give our children a positive legacy. We don’t want to be old and grey and have them looking at us like, ‘You guys went through some awful stuff and you never fixed it.’ We want them to be like, ‘Wow, our parents are real human beings and they went through some tough things, but they fixed it and they made it really good for us.’ That’s our purpose.

I mean, Alicia has been an amazing bonus mother. I couldn’t have asked for a better bonus mother.

Working together is the key to having a happy blended family
Working together is the key to having a happy blended family

I thought it was really funny that you have a name for yourself, Swizz and Alicia — you call it The Awkward Romance. It reminds us that humor is an important part of getting through tough times. It might be hard to find humor at the beginning, but eventually you can. 

[Laughs.] Yeah, and we are just that. We are such an awkward romance. Sometimes we just look at each other and just laugh. It’s like, how did we get here? But it is a romance. That’s the beauty of it. There’s love, there’s kindness, we speak to each other with gentleness, we understand each other and we respect each other. And those are the things that make for good, long-lasting relationships. And we’ve pretty much mastered it not only for ourselves but for our children.

I love that you’re keeping it real but you’re keeping it positive because sometimes things can get ugly and people’s feelings get hurt. 

Yes, that’s the key. It’s about finding the balance so that the realness can be positive. It definitely doesn’t have to be negative!

To read more on Mashonda’s journey to self-love and successfully co-parenting with Swizz Beats and Alicia Keys, be sure to pick up a copy of Blend

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Written by Mar Yvette

Mar Yvette is an on-air host, lifestyle expert, writer and editor with 10+ years of experience working with some of the world’s most recognized media companies.