I can spot them from twenty rows away, across the auditorium and out of a room of hundreds of parents filing in and searching for seats at Back to School night. Some look a bit shell-shocked, some look like they're rather be anywhere else, and some actually look like they are really trying to pay attention. From locker details and school spirit chants to bell times and anti-bullying, the principal's voice booms across the room, bouncing off the heads of stepparents here for the ride.
Some are here reluctantly, but most are here because they are trying. Trying to be involved in their stepkids' lives and hopefully ease the logistics of joint custody school day scheduling and schlepping that is going to wreak havoc on all their lives.
The real moms may glare at the stepmoms and wonder why they are there, thinking how nice it would be to smack them over the head with one of the three required spiral notebooks. But other biological moms are grateful to have another woman's ear, so she knows that even if dad isn't tuned into the details, someone at his house is. Yet, for others, all they can think is "I can't believe he is with her."
At Back to School night, the chickens come home to roost. September can be a fresh start, or, for some, a remedial lesson, in Co-Parenting 101.
Sure, it's a class nobody ever wanted to sign up to take, but for the kids' sake, pay attention. It's in your best interest to keep the kids happy and keep them on the path to leave your house and go to college. Someday.
Spotting other blended family scenarios are easy -- three parents instead of two speeding through the halls to follow their student's schedule; awkward stumbling into the classroom and searching for separate seats before that shrieking bell; hidden glances behind the handouts, and weird introductions to the teacher. (Wait, thinks the teacher at the door -- didn't I just meet Joey's mom a minute ago?)
Most teachers in this world of 1300 stepfamilies forming daily are well-versed in stepfamily structures and family drama and don't blink twice when three or four parent email addresses for one kid appear on the sign-in sheet. (That's kind of nice; at least something is easy.)
My advice to parents, whatever their situation at Back to School night -- those happily married or remarried, those secretly wishing for divorce, the newly divorced or anything in between -- is probably not so different that what the school asks students to do. Be present. Try to learn something. Handle yourself well. Don't be a bully. Be friendly. Don't whisper behind people's backs in the classroom. Help the newbies find their way. School and stepfamily spirit starts here, tonight.