Understandably, the emotional terrain of the evolving and changing family can be fraught with fears, concerns, unresolved feelings, and anxiety for all adults. As the co-parent who has moved on, you’re often in the position of trying to smooth the waters, to create a path forward for your children — building a relationship with your new partner when your children’s other co-parent remains upset, resistant, judgmental … maybe flat out angry. Meanwhile, your new partner has his/her own fears about your loyalties, whether your ex will be “in control” or whether the new partner will have a voice on what happens with the children in your shared home, and wonders how much risk is involved in becoming part of your complicated family. You end up straddling two important relationships (your co-parent and your partner) in a seeming “no win” situation. You just want everyone to get along and get on with your life… parenting your children! Not so fast … not so easy.
Think of this dynamic like a three-legged stool. One leg is your ex’s ability to accept your partner. Ideally, you’ve chosen someone who is capable and loving — and you hope your ex will see that your children are actually lucky to have another invested, caring adult in their lives. You know, and you hope your ex knows that your partner will never replace him/her as a parent, but rather will augment your children’s experience of caring and guidance by a step-parent.
The second leg is your partner’s ability to gracefully and respectfully enter an existing system of two primary parents with children. Hopefully he/she has the maturity and confidence to gradually integrate into the children’s lives — as opposed to jumping in and establishing dominance, to initially defer to parents for decision-making, to trust and support you as you re-stabilize your co-parent relationship in a way that can include his/her role, and to maintain a cordial/respectful attitude toward your ex.
Lastly, the third leg has to do with you! Your primary allegiance regarding your children is with your co-parent — you two are the executive team for your children’s lives. How you implement decisions and care of the children in your home is between you and your partner. Differentiating between old “spouse roles” and new “co-parent roles” involves learning new boundaries, new protocols and respect for your working relationship for your children. Supporting your partner to know his/her secure place in your life as you work with your “ex” as a co-parent requires leadership, clarity, and reassurance.
Co-parenting and step-parenting are unique and highly skilled roles. Read, learn, get coaching … beat the odds. Second marriages with children are up against tough statistics — 75% end in divorce. Conflict and unresolved relationship issues plague the new couple to the point of exhaustion. You, your co-parent, and your partner can do better! That’s what’s best for kids.