Picture this: My partner and I have a daughter. That's two moms. I also have a son with an ex-partner. That's three moms. I happen to also have two mothers. So, technically, that makes this a story of a mother with two mothers who is raising children with another mother and an ex-partner mother. That's a heck of a lot of mothers!
Combine these admittedly confusing family dynamics with the start of the school year and you've got a situation that's complicated at best and excruciatingly painful at worst. That's because teachers, parents and other baffled onlookers are trying to sort out who are these kids' moms, and who are these other mothers.
Here's what I mean: My partner is the back-to-school mom. She's completely responsible for, and even excited about, getting our daughter ready for the first week. In this instance I happily take the back seat; shopping is not my forte. But along with my partner's responsibility come all the rights and privileges of the primary mom, such as getting the welcome packet that includes the name of our daughter's new teacher, info on how to sign up for school lunch, and descriptions of afterschool activities.
I admit it: I dread the new school year. That's because I am the other mother both for our daughter and for my son (you know, the one with the ex-partner). Yes, I hate shopping. And yes, I allow my partner and ex-partner to sign our kids up for school lunches and afterschool activities. And yes, I understand that ceding these duties to my kids' back-to-school moms immediately places me in the passenger seat in teachers' eyes. But then if I'm not the back-to-school mom, and I'm not the stereotypical-but-easy-to-conceptualize shopping-phobic father, who am I? Well, I'm the other mother.
This is something I try to explain to my kids' teachers. Typically I start the year by asking my partner for our daughter's teachers' email addresses and trying to coax my son's teachers' email addresses out of his school counselor (let's just say the break with my ex wasn't exactly amicable), and then I write and send a note letting all these teachers know that my kids have a lot of moms, and that it can get complicated. In my son's case, I politely introduce myself and try to somehow explain that he has two mothers and a stepmother, in two homes, and that we therefore need two of everything, including copies of homework assignments and school communication.
It just works better this way and equalizes the playing field between and among the mothers operating out of separate homes.
And then, of course, there are the school forms. Which mom gets to claim the "mother" space on the form, and which must put her name in the spot next to the scratched-out "father"? Oh, and then there's school treats on his birthday (always right at the beginning of the school year!), and who hosts his birthday party? So we get creative. My partner and I bring treats that kids can take home in case my ex ends up bringing birthday snacks too. And my partner and I typically host a birthday party for my son with the understanding that my ex could always host her own too, and so on. Some of these are the challenges of any divorced family, and some of them are the Machiavellian creations specifically of households with other mothers.
Are the kids doomed? Are we? Not even remotely. A statement this year by the American Academy of Pediatrics attests:
Many studies have demonstrated that children's well-being is affected much more by their relationships with their parents, their parents' sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents.
But it's tricky.
We are not the other mothers as in an it-takes-a-village community of neighbors and friends' parents who open their homes and refrigerators to our kids. We are not fathers. Yet we don't fit in the box of "mother" that schools and other parents expect. In subsequent blog posts I will explore the challenges of being the other mother, both from the perspective of this outside mom and from the perspective of those fleeting times that I feel like the insider and see my partner and ex-partner looking in from the outside. This is a great source of pain for me. I hope this blog will be a source of strength, information and insight for the many other other mothers like me.