Emilee Player’s family in Georgia just became the poster family for co-parenting.
Last week Player, who lives in Columbus, Ga., posted a family photo to her Facebook page that captured worldwide attention.
The photo shows her 4-year-old stepdaughter, Maelyn, at a soccer game with her four parents.
The four adults are kneeling on the sidelines wearing T-shirts that identify their roles in the family: Mommy, daddy, stepmom and stepdad.
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“Because of us, I will never believe co-parenting can’t work!” Player wrote in the caption. “I KNOW through experience it CAN WORK! Choose to do what’s best for your child and everything will just fall into place.”
People have shared the photo more than 85,000 times over the last week.
“I wanted to send a message that, because of us, I know that co-parenting can work,” Player told ABC News. “I wanted other people to see it because we’ve been doing this for three years now so it’s our normal life.”
She shrugged off the attention the photo has grabbed, telling The Huffington Post that such a show of unity was “the norm” for the family.
She said she and her husband, Ricky Player (Maelyn’s dad), and Clara and Alex Cazeau (Maelyn’s mom and stepdad) try to attend the soccer games together.
“Alex, the stepdad, is in the Army and stationed in Fort Bragg, but every time he is home all four of us attend,” she told The Huffington Post. “On a regular day it is the three of us, and we make it a point to sit together and cheer her on as a family.”
Clara and Ricky divorced in 2013 when Maelyn was just eight months old but continue to parent together. Clara had the T-shirts made as a “fun way” to support their daughter at her games.
“When I was younger my brother played baseball and my mom would get us shirts made so I wanted to do the same thing when Maelyn started playing her first sport,” Clara told ABC. “I didn’t think it was going to be anything different.”
Oh, but it was. The photo has inspired very mixed public comments - kudos for a family that appears to be making a tough situation work and derision from people who say co-parenting isn’t all rainbows and butterflies as the photo might suggest.
“This may be possible for people who are cordially divorced,” wrote one man on Facebook. “It’s not possible for people who divorce in order to escape emotional or physical abuse. Just because something works for you doesn't mean it would work for everybody.”
The two reconfigured couples have stayed in each other’s lives for Maelyn’s sake, visiting each other’s homes, attending birthday dinners together and spending the holidays together. They wore matching shirts last Christmas, too.
When Emilee gave birth to her and Ricky’s daughter, Everlee, Ricky’s ex waited at the hospital until the baby was born.
“You can learn how to put your differences aside and do what’s best for your kid,” Player told the Today show. “At the end of the day your kid is watching you, and we want to teach Maelyn to love other people.”
After the soccer photo went viral, media outlets came calling, eager to know the family’s secrets to co-parenting.
Apropos to what brought them fame, the couples said it takes teamwork.
“Try to stay strong and to put your differences aside, with your ex or the new spouse,” Clara told ABC. “Everyone has to be 100 percent in or it’s not going to work.”