There are very few easy situations when it comes to custody, visitation, child support, and blended families. It seems to me that, even in the cases that proceed fairly smoothly (or, at least, without litigation), there’s a fair amount of heartache and difficulty.
I’ve said it before, but I think it bears mentioning again. A big part of the reason that separation, divorce, custody, and visitation are so difficult is because it has to do with you being able to be the kind of mom you want to be. That can mean about a million different things to a million different people, but, for you, there’s probably a specific idea you had in your head about what this would look like, and you want to be able to be somewhere as close to that as possible.
It’s like, if there were a plan A and a plan B for parenting, you’d want to go with plan A, because it’s the first plan, it’s the best plan, and these are your CHILDREN we’re talking about here. It’s so important! You had a VISION for how this would be!
Hey, I’m a mom, too. I get it. I find myself getting worked up about all sorts of things that are much, much sillier than this. It’s important that, regardless of whether you’re separated, divorced, single, remarried, or somewhere in between (as Facebook says, ‘it’s complicated’), you still want to put your responsibilities and obligations as a mom first.
Whether that means that your goal is having 100% of the parenting time and allowing dad to see the kids when it suits him, or whether your ideal situation is more collaborative and free flowing, it can be hard when your coparent (or his new-ish partner) doesn’t fall into line with those expectations. I’ve seen moms fall on both sides. The ‘well, I’m the mom, so they should live with me’ mom, and the ‘he’s the dad, he needs to spend at least 50% of the time with them, because we chose our first first’ moms.
There’s no right or wrong; I’m not here to pass judgment (though, honestly, I’d probably qualify closer to the first category of mom), I’m just describing what I’ve seen. And, in either case, moms can be disappointed. Whether dad wants to go for shared custody even though mom wants full custody, or when dad gets loved up with his new girlfriend and can’t (or WON’T) take 50/50 custody, moms somehow find themselves disappointed.
Why? Because they had a vision for how this was going to go. They held a deep-rooted desire for parenting and motherhood to look a particular way. Because, for whatever reason, they had a plan and they believe their plan is what’s in the child’s absolute best interests, and they don’t understand why their coparent (or, again, the coparent’s new partner) don’t agree.
Again – this is not a question of judgment. I have the same ideas about my kids and how I want them brought up. It would be hard for me to tolerate or even consider something different than what I view as the ‘best’ thing for them, even though, right now, in a moment of introspection, I can sort of concede that there might be alternatives to my way – though I’m not entirely sure what that might look like.
Blending families is hard. It’s actually probably where things get hardest, because, until your coparent is romantically involved with a new partner, you two can sort of make the rules yourselves. You may not agree all the time – or ever – but there’s only two real players in the game, influencing decisions. My experience is that, for most couples, there’s a pretty contentious period, followed by one where they sort of work out a kind of peace.
A new partner can throw a monkey wrench into that peace, especially if they have children of their own – or if, together with your ex partner, they make a new child to bring into the scenario. It complicates matters. Then, you have two moms with ‘visions’ about how things should be.
In some cases, the child himself or herself creates problems. I’ve seen sexual abuse between step-siblings, or physical abuse. I’ve seen children with special needs trump those without; or dads who refuse to acknowledge special needs. I’ve seen one family’s children receive preferential treatment, while their little family “Harry Potter” gets neglected. Maybe not ‘cupboard under the stairs’ territory, but close.
There’s a million different scenarios. Blending families is not easy, no matter what we saw on The Brady Bunch.
The important thing to remember is to try to continue to work together, to coparent together. As a stepparent, trying to let your partner take the lead in matters related to his children, and allowing him to do what he needs to do to support them, is going to be helpful. At the end of the day, the only person you can control is yourself, so you’ll want to be the coparent you wish he were. Even if it doesn’t always get you what you want, taking the moral high road is healthier for you, mentally, in a lot of cases, and it’s good for the kids to witness.
While we’re talking about the kids, I’d also suggest that you get them in therapy. And, maybe, even yourself. Dealing with this isn’t easy, and you’d be superhuman if you could get through it with your mental health 100% in tact. (Who has perfect mental health, anyway? I’d like to meet this Wonder Woman.)
Remember, too, that custody, visitation, and child support are modifiable based on a material change in circumstances. The best interests of the child aren’t fixed at one particular point in time; they’re changing. What worked for the kids last year, or even the year before, might not work now. Now that dad has remarried, or you’ve remarried, or another child has been born, or whatever, it may be time to re-think the parenting plan and come up with one that works better. Maybe you’ll be able to negotiate an agreement. Maybe you’ll litigate.
But you want to make sure that you’re asking the right questions and getting the information you need to make big decisions about the care of your children. You’re in the right place, and, so far, you’re doing great.