Can you imagine a world in which you have a Mother’s Day Brunch with your ex-husband’s wife? Believe it or not, that is what one family does each Mother’s Day. They celebrate all the female influences in their son’s life, together.
I’d like to introduce you to Anika and Sean. They were married and had a beautiful, vibrant boy named Liam. While their marriage didn’t stand the test of time, their commitment to their son does. So as each have remarried and blended their families together, they continue to live up to the promise they made to be kind, open-minded and welcoming, for Liam’s sake. Granted, it doesn’t hurt that all the parents in Liam’s life are wonderful people. But that doesn’t just happen.
I interviewed the women in Liam’s life, his mother, Anika, and his stepmother, Pam. As I sat there, a little envious of their relationship, they identified three key components to a healthy parent/step-parent relationship and how they came to share Mother’s Day.
- Date with a purpose. Anika and Sean decided up front to maintain a friendly relationship and to date with the full understanding that their new partners HAVE to appreciate their desire to co-parent. Not everyone is able to be self-confident enough to manage a relationship with open communication between the homes. That can mean hard choices when dating someone you care about who cannot function well in a blended family. Sean found Pam. Pam’s dynamic personality and large family makes her very likeable. While she admitted the idea took some getting used to, she’s now celebrating girls’ nights that include Anika. Anika found Steve. Steve’s reserved manner and warmth helped ease the transition to open co-parenting. In fact, Steve and Sean get along so well that they hang out together and share lots of interests. One benefit of bringing Steve into the family is that Steve’s family also co-parented him.
- Transparency and communication reduce conflict. Have you ever tried to get the whole story from a 10 year old? Children are not ready to be responsible to manage relationships. This is why they suffer so much as a go-between or act out in ways that include manipulation. Liam’s parents understand that and work very hard to maintain open communication and transparency. There isn’t any fear of saying the wrong thing or hurting someone’s feelings for Liam. If something needs to be talked out or something happens, the adults in his life communicate with each other. In fact, they have meeting dinners without him when summer is going to start and when school is about to start in order to manage any concerns or needs. They all know that it isn’t Liam’s job. And he’s happier for it.
- Respect each other’s role. Anika remembered having to adjust to Liam’s slip of calling her “Pam.” That’s a hard thing to have happen. But it’s also normal. Who of us hasn’t called one kid by another kid’s name? Doesn’t mean we love our child less, does it? A parent cannot be replaced, and if you have the right step-parent, they should also be irreplaceable. A parent will always be the mother or father, even if the parent isn’t in the picture anymore. There’s still a connection for a child to that part of them. Additionally, Pam knows when to step back and defer to Anika for the big decisions. A common phrase in their home is, “I don’t know bud, let’s ask your Mom!” Letting each parent experience firsts in another way to show respect as a step-parent… first dance, riding a bike… first milestones of any kind.
As the relationships developed between each family member, sharing a brunch on Mother’s Day grew organically for this family. These couples like spending time together. Getting to know each other and proactively managing conflict allowed them to appreciate each family’s contributions. For some reason, our society breeds resentment between divorced couples and between parents and step-parents. While this openly warm, co-parenting arrangement isn’t ideal for everyone. Conflict and bitterness don’t have to rule the co-parenting arrangement. It can be happy and well-adjusted. And if your home is happy and well-adjusted, your children will be, too! To see how your children are adjusting to your divorce, take this quiz!
If you find yourself struggling with a blended family, get help from a trained Therapist. Teresa Petersen Mendoza, MS, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, author and owner of Family SOS, Inc. An expert in Relationships, Parenting, Divorce and Blended Families, she provides therapy and coaching to families of all types.