When real estate broker Heather Rae El Moussa met her future husband, HGTV‘s Tarek El Moussa, in 2019, she was single, living with a best friend, and had plenty of time to spend with her girlfriends and film her TV show, Netflix’s “Selling Sunset.” But within a week and a half of their meeting, Heather was moving in with Tarek and his two kids, whom he shares with ex-wife and former “Flip or Flop” co-host Christina Hall. In a new interview, Heather has revealed how she’s navigated becoming a “bonus mom,” admitting that finding common ground with Hall hasn’t always been easy.
Heather Rae El Moussa Admits Navigating Co-Parenting Hasn’t Been ‘Perfect’
On a new episode of “The New Rules,” a series of conversations about stepparenting with Jill Martin on “TODAY,” Heather revealed how she and her husband of a year have tried to forge a healthy co-parenting relationship with his ex, Christina.
Early on in their relationship, Heather said she had an instant connection with the kids but admitted it was “challenging” to figure out exactly where she belonged in the dynamic between the ex-spouses.
“I’m a very happy, positive person, but I felt like I was always second,” Heather revealed. “No one ever made me feel that way, but I think when your significant other has such a long relationship with the previous spouse and a lot of love … and it was a very public divorce. And you’re coming into it, you fall in love with each other, but you always kind of think of the ex. For me, I did.”
Heather and Tarek got married in Santa Barbara, California, on Oct. 23, 2021, and are expecting a baby boy in early 2023. They have 50/50 joint custody of Taylor, 12, and Brayden, 7, with Christina and her husband, Josh Hall. Christina also has a three-year-old son, Hudson, with her second husband, Ant Anstead, with whom she’s been embroiled in a bitter custody dispute that’s playing out both in court and on social media.
The El Moussas have had their own public disputes with Christina, including a tense altercation between the two women at a youth soccer game in May, but Heather implied during her interview that things have improved since.
“It wasn’t always perfect,” Heather told Martin and the show’s other guest, Eliza Roberts. “I mean, we’ve definitely had some ups and downs. They had ups and downs.”
Heather said she feels like things got easier once Christina realized that she truly loves the kids.
“I think she realized how much I love the kids, and they are number one to me over anything,” she said. “So, any drama aside, the kids are the most important thing to all of us now.”
She added, “I think if you’re able to build a relationship with the mother, I think that’s important as well, and let her know that you’re just there to love the kids.”
Heather also said she thinks it’s important the kids remain unaware of any grievances between the parents and stepparents.
“There’s no right or wrong and everyone’s going to make mistakes,” she said. “And I think not pointing them out to the children especially, or not pointing them out to each other. It’s a kind of…learning. The kids should never know any issues or drama that’s going on in the adults’ life.”
Heather El Moussa Says She & Christina Hall Communicate Frequently
Heather said it’s taken time to establish her role as a “bonus mom,” which is the term she prefers over stepmom.
“For me, in the beginning, I was treading more lightly because I didn’t want to come in and just be, like, this (disciplinarian). I wanted to build a loving relationship and a friendship and a bond with them first. But now that I’m three years in and we do have 50/50 custody, so we have them just as much as their mom does, I’m in their life a lot.”
“I think you have your own way of how you would raise children,” she said, “so I had to navigate into their lives and kind of then slowly add my own things. But I didn’t want to do it right away because they already had what they needed. And I was just like an extra bonus to them.”
She said there aren’t any rules about how she can discipline the kids because she’s parenting the kids an equal amount of time and Tarek is open to her parenting the way she sees fit.
“I do feel like I have a good situation because he lets me parent how I want to,” she said.
Heather said she and Christina now do much of the communicating between households about the kids and their needs.
“Her and I communicate what’s best for the kids,” she revealed. “She’ll ask me ‘how do you feel about this? what do you think about this?’ Her and I are the moms, so we communicate about the kids.”
One element she’s had to figure out is whether or not to “discipline” the kids in front of Christina, whom she never mentioned by name in the interview.
“Like, I’m with the kids’ mom a lot. You know, we’re at the same school functions and sporting events. Who disciplines them in person? Do I let their mom discipline? Do I discipline? Does my husband take over and discipline, like, because I don’t want to overstep the mom’s boundaries?So like, how does she feel if I discipline the kids in front of her? You know, that was also something I had to navigate through. I do think I sometimes kind of navigate through in person a little bit different than I do at our home.”
Heather said she tends to let Christina and Tarek handle any necessary discipline of the kids in public, but it hasn’t been easy.
“I kind of let them take over a little bit more,” she said. We co-parent so well together and we communicate. But I’ve definitely kind of had to navigate myself through that. It’s kind of been a little challenging for me.”