Mashonda Tifrere is in a very different place today than she was 10 years ago—and that has everything to do with the love she has for her son.
In her new book Blend: The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family, Tifrere—once married to hit DJ and producer Swizz Beatz (born Kasseem Dean), with whom she shares 11-year-old son, Kasseem “KJ” Dean, Jr.—details her journey from their painful separation and divorce in 2010 to happy and harmonious co-parenting with him and his now-wife Alicia Keys.
“Time has a way of healing things,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, “but we also had to heal ourselves.”
With a foreword by Keys and a chapter by Beatz, Blend offers advice on harmonious co-parenting for your child’s sake. “I’m using my own story as a testimony,” says Tifrere. “It’s my divine purpose.”
Back in 2008, Tifrere, now 40, was just at the start of her healing process and she had a long way to go. Then in the midst of separating from Beatz, she was struggling to stay positive for herself and son KJ as reports swirled that Beatz had ended their relationship to pursue Keys (a claim he and the singer have long denied).
Tifrere writes that she now regrets having spoken out publicly and angrily at the time about her suspicions, something she says was fueled by “ego” and “a need for validation.”
Still it was a very tough time. To write Blend, “I had to reopen wounds,” she says. “Many weeks I’d drop my son off at school, come home, hibernate, write and cry.”
Healing involved group therapy and mediation with her ex and Keys, who wed in 2010 and have since welcomed sons Egypt, 8, and Genesis, 3.
“It took two years into our blending to make it happen, but when we did it was like turning the light on,” Tifrere says. “We realized we could minimize the impact on our children by reducing the conflict we had with one another. There were never any big blowouts. There were times when we didn’t fully agree, but we were all comfortable just letting it go.”
“We did it,” Keys, 38, tells PEOPLE of their family’s accomplishment. “Mashonda and Swizz and I worked and prayed together and allowed the space for everyone to be heard. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
These days Tifrere says she and Beatz, with whom she shares custody of KJ, feel more like “brother and sister” and she’s formed a strong friendship with Keys.
Overall, she says “I wanted to lead my son toward love. My parents still can’t stand each other. I’m like, ‘You are basically senior citizens. Get over it!’”
Blending takes constant work (“We all recently had a therapy session to maintain the relationship”), but it’s worth it.
“The kids are going to graduate high school, college, get married. One day we’re going to be grandparents to the same babies, all things we want to be celebrating,” she says.
“You can co-parent with someone and completely hate them or you can do the work. It’s about being an example of love and wholeness for your child.”