Woody Allen's classic line from Manhattan about two mothers isn't kind or politically correct, but it does get the point across if you're a step parent:
"Most people don't survive one mother, much less two."
When he says this line, Allen's character is talking to his ex-wife, who moved in with another woman who became a step-parent to his child.
If it sounds complicated to you, imagine how it is for your kid. Or maybe it isn't? Having been cast in the role of co-parent reluctantly, I came to realize small children want everyone in the room with them, always, as long as there is love. If mom or dad brings on another mate, and the mate is loving, young children are generally OK with that.
The older they get, the more complicated it gets for them. And sometimes, being young doesn't work for them either.
My first contact with step parenting came when my son was about five. Suddenly there was a new person in his life taking on the role of a parent. How would he see her -- and how would that affect the relationship between us?
Meanwhile, a lot of garbage that was going on between me and my son's dad -- and as you might expect, that leaked into our parenting. There were days we both acted more like children than any kid would do. Fortunately, there were also days we were able to rise above it.
When I got remarried, I encountered a whole new view of family and what it meant. I saw that step parenting was really, really hard, because you're kind of an "add-on" parent and, if you have two other active parents in the mix, there's bound to be some friction.
Fortunately, my son was good natured and loved people. He managed to forge wonderful relationships with both step parents, in spite of the craziness that erupted around him at times. When his twin brother and sister were born in his father's family, my son insisted everyone say "brother and sister" and refused to use the words "step brother/sister" or "half." It was obvious he was really committed to both families, and that is always, always, always a good thing.
My own experience taught me parents and step parents don't need to be buddies (though if they are it probably helps their kids). But co-parents do need to try as hard as they can to respect each other--so children and step children will have an easier time respecting all of them.
How do you do that when you're in the middle of a web of hostile feelings? Sometimes it's about stumbling through. Sometimes it's about realizing there are going to be bad days when you make mistakes. And sometimes it's about realizing that no matter what you say or do, your child's co-parents are going to make decisions you won't like -- and you have to let go of that.
I found a few ideas for navigating some of this stuff, but the one thing I promise is there are days it will be tough. There will also be glorious days, I promise you. Just don't expect it to be easy or to happen over night. Don't think you can change anyone else, and don't keep score, because if you do that one thing's certain: you'll always lose.
But whatever you do, don't give up, because your child needs you. What they want you to know is there's no such thing as too much love in a family -- and no matter what you think on any given day, there really is enough love to go around.
Parents and Step Parents: Where is the Boundary Line?
Do You Feel Like an Outsider with Your Stepchildren?
Blended Families and Ex-etiquette for Families
Family: Leonid Mamchenkov