With two kids and three moms -- my partner, my former partner and me -- the logistics are hard enough to manage among ourselves, let alone when you add schools and activities and doctors appointments and everything else that families do on a daily basis. Still, in my case, it sometimes seems like the lack of a standard way to dissolve a committed lesbian relationship that includes kids allows us to negotiate new ways of doing things that can be in the best interests of the child. Here are some ideas and examples from my dissolved and reconstituted same-sex-parents-headed family that can help parents in different households avoid feeling like one is "primary" and the other is, well, "other":
1. Work out a schedule of alternating parenting opportunities.
"You handle homework, and I'll handle bedtime," or, "I'll get her ready in the morning, and you walk her to school." I miss these small things with my son from a former relationship (and a bad breakup), but I get to share in these things as an equal parent with the daughter my wife and I are raising from her previous marriage (and a better breakup). However, it took some thinking on both of our parts to settle into routines that allow us to be equal. At first, because these parenting opportunities were automatic for my wife, she would just do them, and I would stand by, watching from the outside. Later we sat down, I explained how important it is for me to be involved in the logistics of care, we analyzed the situation, and we split the opportunities and responsibilities to care for this child.
2. Include everyone on all permission and consent forms.
Picking up my daughter -- the one I share with my wife -- from school is seamless even with different last names. Because I'm on the permission form, I am able to go in and sign our daughter out, and there are no questions asked. That wonderful child actually cemented this when she started calling me "Mom" and changed her bio mother's name to "Mama" (or the hilarious "Mom That Borne Me") and we followed suit to match her experience by sitting down and working out how we could all be included on the forms. It's simple, typical blended-family functioning, but sometimes overlooking this fairly simple step can lead to logistical and emotional problems down the line.
3. Meet others in the kids' lives as a confident unit.
My wife and I take turns transporting our kids to events, practices, parties, etc., so that we both get to know the coaches, other parents, and everyone else involved in our kids' lives. Whenever possible, we even stay to attend together and introduce ourselves as a family unit, explaining the existence of other parents and the complicated custody arrangements with affirmative humor. We get that it is complicated and that other families are not necessarily constructed this way, but we have found acceptance and curiosity as we put our best feet forward as a confident unit.
4. Educate the teachers.
This is a tricky one at times: Depending on how a child's other involved parents explain our family mechanics, the teacher's belief systems, and what messages are supported at school, helping teachers understand whom to hit up as a classroom volunteer or whom to talk to about education issues can be rocky. I have to give kudos to my daughter's school and teachers, in particular. Once, while out of town on business, I received a call from our daughter's homeroom teacher about an incident at school. She thought she was calling my wife, the bio mom, but when she realized it was me, she moved quickly into involving me in the situation, stating with a laugh, "Oh, you're a mom. Any mom will do." Yes, that's it! By educating the teachers, any mom will do. I know it is how my kids feel, so it's music to my ears.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
I am not saying this is easy. For my same-sex-parents-headed blended family, communication has taken significant work. My wife and I have had to put aside any preconceived notions about "mothering" and who is the mother of which child. We've had to learn to leave our egos at the door so that we can parent both children equally, regardless of the source of their DNA. Women can be very territorial about mothering -- the term "mother bear" was coined for a reason! Now with lines of communication about this issue open, I can sit down with my wife and explain the situations in which I feel "other" in our home, and she responds by working through possible solutions. Other times, I am able to readjust my perceptions and support her mothering when she needs to shift into a particular role. The key is talking about it without defensiveness, and being honest about our feelings. This is a hard-won skill that is critical for all couples.
I'd love to hear how you all manage mothering, other-mothering, blended families, other parents, schools, friends' parents, etc., in your families! I hope some of these tips help you think of ways to include your partners more actively; to be sensitive to the feelings of the "other mother," wherever she resides; and to build an inclusive system for your kids that mirrors their reality. Moms are great, and more moms are better!
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