Q&A: toddler preference and blended families

Greeting from blazing hot San Antonio. Anon has a tough two-parter today and I hope we can help her. As painful and frustrating as this divorce process for me has been, I’ve always felt lucky that my kids’ dad is his best self with/for them. My heart really goes out to those of you with dicey father situations. I hope we can help Anon:

The talk about toddler preferences for parents really hit a nervethis week, and I wonder of some of the other single or almost-single
parents out there may be able to offer some wisdom.  I am a single
parent of an 18-month-old boy, and have been thinking about this topic
a lot lately.  My son’s dad plays with him about twice a week at my
house, but isn’t emotionally stable or organized enough to take him
anywhere alone.  We haven’t been a couple since I was three months’
pregnant, so this is all DS knows.  He LOVES his dada and is so excited
when he comes to play, and they have a great time together.  His father
doesn’t come over when he isn’t doing well, and hasn’t made an effort
to have longer or more independent visits, so DS hasn’t been exposed to
the scary temper or other issues that kept me from marrying his dad.
 As far as he knows, dada is an awesome loving wonderful presence in
his life.  Since DS was born I have worked hard to find the good in his
dad and find ways to facilitate their relationship under the
circumstances.  I know that eventually DS will become aware of some of
the problems his dad struggles with, and I can’t fully protect him from
that, but I can and do strive to keep him safe from the physically
scary stuff.  So question # 1 is, is anyone else out there in a similar
situation, and do they have any advice or thoughts about how to make
this work?  On my very best days, I can imagine that with a lot of
structure and some limits, they will have a mostly positive, joyful
relationship, and I will be somehow able to move on in my own life and
build a family around me and DS.  On my bad days, it seems impossible
to figure out how we will all get through this. 

My other, related question is about stepfathers and
how they figure into a boy toddler’s life.  I have been thinking I
would like to start dating, but I’m having trouble envisioning the role
a new man would play in my son’s life.  Another father?  An uncle?
 Does step-dad always play second fiddle when there is a bio-dad in the
picture?  My son’s father is emotionally impaired in ways that I think
will make it hard for him to have a primary care relation-giver
relationship with DS unless something drastically changes or he marries
a very stable woman who can help.  And I really feel as if DS needs
fathering his bio-dad can’t provide, but every time I try to imagine a
new boyfriend, in my mind he turns into chopped liver whenever bio-dad
shows up.  Not really a great bonding scenario for a new guy.  I am so
ready for a partner, friend and lover to share this life with, but I
keep getting stuck when I try to visualize it. Can kids really have
more than two parents?  Do they always feel like they have to choose (I
know I did)? Can step-parents be “real” parents or are they always
secondary? Is it already too late for my son to fully bond with another
parent?  If they never deeply bond, how on earth could we ever be a
real family?

Help! I want to move forward but I’m getting stuck
on this.  Can anyone out there offer me some hope for how a blended
family like this might work?

I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but you will be able to get through this. For two reasons: 1) You have to, and 2) You’re smart and resourceful and you’ll do what you need to for your son to be safe and also have as much of a relationship with his father as he can. I’m going to tell you what my mom has said to me dozens of times over the past year and a half:

“Thousands of women have done this, even when they didn’t think they could. You can do this, too, honey, and I’m so proud of you.”

I may have slightly better advice about the second half of your questions, about a hypothetical future stepdad (HFS). Kids have room in their minds and hearts and lives for all kinds of adults in all kinds of roles. Many kids grow up with two grandmothers and don’t confuse them. Some kids grow up with four or more grandmothers! Kids have room for full-time babysitters in their hearts along with moms and dads, custodial aunts and moms in jail, grandparents they never see because they live around the world, and blended families of all kinds.

As long as an adult loves your child and respects him as a person, they’ll be able to form a relationship.

HFS is going to understand that you and your son are a package, and that loving you means loving him, so you’ll be able to work it out. It may not be super-easy, but is love and forming a family ever easy? There are tons and tons of resources out there for blending families and step-parenting to help you. (I’m not there yet, but once I start dating again I’ll do some real research and report back.)

They are going to end up working out the dynamics of their own relationship, which is what you want for them to be able to have a true relationship without you as the gatekeeper, anyway.

Also, and this is merely anecdotal, I haven’t found that men (the good ones anyway) seem to shy away from a woman with a child (or two). Even long before I was even thinking about getting back out there I started getting approached by guys for whom my being a mom seemed to be part of the attraction. So don’t feel like this is going to limit the future you’re going to have.

Any advice from women who have been in either or both situation?

0 thoughts on “Q&A: toddler preference and blended families”

  1. Can’t really comment on the first part of the question (my only thought was you won’t be able to shield your son forever from his dad’s limitations and it may actually be good for him to understand them fully for his safety and to develop realistic expectations as he grows older), but on the second one I can to some extent. My first thought was to liken the second (step) dad to when a woman has two/three children. She still loves the first child but definitely finds room for the 2nd and 3rd child, without meaning she loves the 1st less. I think you could think of a step father/mom in the same terms.My situation was slightly different in that I have a step mom rather than a step dad. Might be easier for a son to accept a step mom especially if he is really tight with you. It won’t be about not liking the step dad but more about realizing he has to share you. My step mom is the most amazing lady – I was actually so thankful when she married my dad. It made visits to my dad’s place so much more enjoyable and she is really a wonderful person. She was actually the only stable influence in my life for many of my childhood years (my mom was trying to find herself and dating and my dad is not the best parent and was still bitter at my mom for leaving him). My dad married my step mom when I was around 5/6, so that was definitely not too late for us to create a nice strong bond with her.
    My only advice on the dating – do NOT introduce your new significant other until you are pretty sure he’s going to be around awhile. I distinctly remember my mom introducing us to her boyfriends, we’d get attached, and then they’d breakup and we’d no longer get to see this person we had developed a relationship with.
    Also, from someone that grew up with divorced parents from a very young age (3), I can tell you that many times I WISHED so hard that my mom would find someone and marry him so we could have a more normal family life. I did not want her to remarry my dad – it wasn’t about that.
    Good luck navigating it all. You sound like a very caring, in-tune mom so I am sure you will do wonderfully as it all plays out.

  2. I have not personally been in either situation; however, I have seen my half sister grow up calling both my mom and her mom “Mom,” calling my mom on the phone just as much as I do now that we’re adults, etc. They are very close. She loves her own mother very much, has a great relationship with her, and respects her. She’s always said that she has benefited greatly from having both in many ways. My mom and our dad have been the example of a stable marriage for her, for example.I think that Moxie said it well, and with a great guy who cares for your son, as well as time to build a relationship, you’ll all be able to figure out a healthy blended family.

  3. “Can kids really have more than two parents? Do they always feel like they have to choose (I know I did)? Can step-parents be “real” parents or are they always secondary?”YES. Sometimes. And YES.
    I can’t speak to this from a wife/mother perspective, but I can speak to this as a child of divorced parents, with the step-parents to go along with it.
    My dad wasn’t/isn’t mentally ill, but he had some “issues” (we’ll leave it at that) that kept him from being present in our lives for pretty much our entire childhood. My mom remarried when I was 8 or 9. My stepdad is a WONDERFUL man, my brother and I love him very much. He was always very respectful of his role in our lives, and always reminded us that we had a father out there who did love us very much, but he was so proud and honored to be a part of our lives as our stepdad. In fact, when I talk about my parents, I talk about my mom and stepdad. When I say “My dad….” I’m talking about my stepdad. When I talk about my bio dad, I say “My real dad”. I have made my peace with my real dad…we have a decent relationship. My brother chooses not to have one with him at all. He says all the time “I have a dad. It’s Bob.” This is a choice he has made as an adult. Which leads me to your next question about having to choose.
    Sometimes, in certain situations, your son will have to choose. When I got married I had to think about who I wanted to walk me down the aisle….Bob or my real dad? My mom helped clarify that for me by saying “Who has been there for you throughout your life? Choose that person who consistently showed up.” Which ended up being HER. Which was the easy choice for me, since I feel more connected to my stepdad, but still emotionally tied to my real dad. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Sometimes you are in positions when you have to choose and it’s hard. But we figure it out and we’re all realists about the nature of the relationship(s). My real dad has no illusions that he would be able to waltz back into my life (when I was 22 BTW) and think that he could pick up the father-role. He is grateful for the relationship we have. As he should be. So as long as everyone is clear on the role they play, that should help a lot.
    Step parents CAN be “real” parents…..if they are there, involved, show up, and love your child. If you can find the right guy (and I agree with Moxie….there are PLENTY of guys out there who are willing to join a ready-made family and make it their own) he will be a positive role model for your child EVERY DAY, in your home 24/7. And there is value in the showing up, the loving your son through his good and his not-so-good days, and then showing up again the next day and the ones after that. My stepdad was at EVERY one of my volleyball tournaments, water polo tournaments, and cross country meets……all day, all weekend. He was the one with the video camera. He was the one who called me out on some of the stupid shit that I did, and helped me navigate through my relationship with my mom when we were in that dicey mother-daughter stuff that happens from about 13-20. He is my dad and I’m so lucky to have him in my life. He is a “real” grandpa to my son and future children….and loves my son as much as he loves his bio grandkids.
    Have faith. It is out there for you. You will find the right balance.

  4. I had a step grandad and a step grandfather-in-law both of which came into their respective step children’s lives “later” (13 and 7 years.) Both of these wonderful men not only became wonderful fathers but true patriarcs in both families. I clearly wasn’t around when the details of these relationships were being negotiated but the end results were so magnificent that I could not help but comment.I guess that my advice to anon is that the right man will navigate these waters with you as his first mate, the wrong man will force you to take the helm. Don’t worry too much about how ‘you’ will handle the interaction between your future beau and your son; he will bring something to the table that you can’t anticipate.

  5. I can only comment on the first from a full-time relationship with a crazy parent. I think the most important thing is to help reflect reality when your son initiates it. I wish my father had acknowledged how crazy things were from time to time. If you are there for that, I bet it will be fine.#2 I have cautionary notes about. I am sure you will get a lot of great stories of successful steps and they are so out there.
    However I at one point sought custody of my nice and nephews because my SIL, a normally very fine parent, was so desperate to “make a family” and “create a bond” with someone, ANYONE, that she chose a partner who was at best remarkably controlling and at worst downright abusive. (Quick examples: he tied my 3 yr old nephew to a tree for ‘not listening.’ For two hours. Later he bathed him, screaming the entire time, WITH his dog.)
    My SIL now is in a step-parenting relationship with the next guy whom she has treated as an “insta-dad” and although things are nothing like they were, her parenting has again done as 180 degree shift. Her kids have been through so many changes in parenting that they are jaded on the whole thing. I really, really wish that my SIL had been content to go slowly – to look for a good date, a good person, a good romantic relationship (all while being open with kids) and then only after a lot of time had passed on those fronts, finally, a slow and thoughtful introduction into family life.
    So I guess from my lofty position of never-being-there I would say don’t look for “the picket fence life,” but look to make good and reasonably consistent and protective and loving choices at each step, and I bet the rest will take care of itself.

  6. We–humans in general, I think–are so much more resilient than I think certain factions would have us believe. And so much more able to to accept nuance in our lived lives. The reason I’m bringing this up is that, Anon, I feel certain that your child will grow to understand the nature of his dad. It will happen gradually, slowly, and with every visit he has with his bio dad. Keep him safe, as I know you intend, and I feel sure your son will grow to love and accept his dad. Your example and willingness here–that you’re already showing through your actions–will lead the way. Your son is one lucky guy to have you! You sound wonderfully centered. As for the stepdad concerns, again, I think we are much more resilient in our emotional ability to handle a myriad of relationships than we are given credit. Julie says it so well–her dad and her real dad. It’s clear to her and not complicated to her. My kids have an “extra” Grandma (I won’t go into the convoluted familial ties) and at first I thought, “Should I refer to her as Grandma Rosie, is it ok that my kids call her that?” And then I thought, well, it just means they have another person in their life that loves them so dearly. Maybe for some people this would signify a “cheapening” of the word “Grandma” but I just decided to let it be. It works for us, and contributes to my kids feeling a strong circle of family love.You really do sound remarkably centered and healthy. My best wishes.

  7. Shandra….YES. While my mom did a fantastic job of choosing, my dad did not…..which is the reason he was not in our lives as kids. I can only assume that anon will move thoughtfully and carefully, since she already has one person in her life who is not mentally stable. And that she was smart enough and strong enough NOT to marry the father of her child tells me that she will be super-cautious when choosing a life partner and second father for her son.IMO, the only way a blended family can work successfully is if all participants communicate with each other, accept and embrace their respective roles, and are flexible in the best interests of the child or children. There is no room for “me-me-me” in a blended family, so choosing someone who is willing to put your child and his/her needs first is paramount.

  8. Oh, Anon, my heart goes out to you. I wish I had advice for you, but I don’t, because I am now in a somewhat similar situation (emotionally speaking, anyway, though not in the practical details). I’ve been an occasional poster here this year but haven’t posted in while, because last month my husband of many years told me he cheated on me, one time, with a friend. She is now saying she is pregnant and I am trying to decide whether to file for divorce and get the hell out or try to somehow salvage our marriage for the sake of our two-year old. Whether I stay or go, I’m seeing a future of constant negotiations as we try to figure out everyone’s new roles and relationships and try to get along for the sake of the kids. My husband is great with our son, and DS absolutely adores him, but the truth is that husband hasn’t been there a lot for us over the last few years. I worry that in the future DS will see him even less and really feel the loss of him in his life, esp. if my husband winds up being involved at all in the life of this other child. So when Anon said, “On my bad days, it seems impossible to figure out how we will all get through this” – oh yes, I can relate.Perhaps the only thing I can say to Anon is that she sounds like a truly wonderful, caring, thoughtful mother, who obviously has the best interests of her son at heart, and a mom like that can’t help but find a way to make it all work.

  9. No time to read, deadlines are getting SERIOUS here.1) Stay positive but allow the child to experience their parent for themselves as they mature. This was my mom’s plan. She spoke positively of my dad, with rare exceptions when she was particularly hurt because his choices affected our lives (not paying child support, etc. – not that he was doing so out of cruel intent, but that he made financial and life choices that made it impossible for him to be reliable about it – and sometimes he was just unreliable period). And even in those cases, she expressed her anger and her hurt as anger and hurt and clearly struggled to keep it form being blame and judgement (not always successful, but the struggle was evident, and that counted to me).
    As a result, I did grow up to be able to have and manage my own relationship with my dad, separate from my mom’s relationship with him. I was able by the time I was seven to recognize his weaknesses, but accept that his strengths were not reduced by those weaknesses, but were just accompanied by them. I have a very good relationship with him at this point, with certain boundaries that I maintain, and some that he maintains.
    2) Step-dads. I’ve had both the kind who cannot really stay in there on the emotional front, and those who can (Okay, one of each). And step-moms, likewise (again, one of each). When given permission to make and hold my own opinions about the step-parents, I was relatively unharmed by their ups and downs. When I was EXPECTED to love them and honor them and treat them as parents fully from the start (rather than growing into it), their downsides caused more damage. My brothers both had step-dads (different ones). The quality of the relationship was definitely affected by the
    ‘bio-dad rocks’ issue. However, this did not mean that their relationship with the steps was damaged by it – the damage was done at the actual relationship level (child to step), it was just outlined in bright light by the other relationship. For the relationship that was fairly whole and healthy and normal and supportive with mutual respect, the brother didn’t grow a lot of love for his step-dad, but he considered him, dealt with him fairly, and did not create problems where none existed. Where the step-relationship was pretty badly broken, having a better relationship with bio-dad allowed a safety valve, though that also created a lot of internal pressure to go live with bio-dad (which he did, and which was a good choice for him, as well – despite the issues).
    If you work always for the health and quality of the relationship that you are involved with (that is, step-dad to child), you can’t lose – it may not become ‘you are my real father in my heart’ for every dyad, but it WILL have the chance to be a whole and safe relationship, at the natural level it can attain. Beyond that, what can one ask? I love my step-mothers, and my step-fathers, all. I have to limit my contact with one step-father (same one that was challenging for my brother), but his own son (my other brother) has no such struggles. :shrug: We each took charge of our own boundaries in the relationships, and at the very least were granted that it was acceptable to do so, at least by mom (step-dad struggled with this more than mom did).
    There’s a huge huge huge amount of resources for building step-families. It may make dating seem more sensible if you’ve already explored what issues and resources you need to address FIRST, so you have a handle on it in the lead-in zone.
    Last note. I have a sister whose son never even met his father once. He didn’t have the ‘star dad’ version at all, so it may be a different dynamic. He did have a lot of uncles, mainly just good friends of his mom and the family. When she was dating, she tended to keep it out of his ‘space’ unless she felt it was quite serious, in which case the guy was upgraded from ‘mom’s friend’ to ‘uncle’. Only one became ‘dad’ – the one she married. And he’s still maintained at a remove in the fathering, despite the marriage, because of different dynamics of parenting – just as she stayed at a remove on parenting her new step-daughters. It is an interesting dynamic, but it also works. They’re closer than uncle/aunt to their respective step children, but not as close as a bio parent. The kids understand and respect this, and know that it is a matter of honoring the bio-parents’ positions, rather than a lack of love or hope or desire for involvement. They’re all cognitively able to understand that (the youngest I think was 9 or 10 when they married?). It’s working well. It’s just another way through the maze, though – a million ways, one of which will be yours.

  10. Oh, and ‘uncle’ was established as a permanent relationship agreement between child and new man – there was to be no ‘we broke up, so I don’t care about you (child) anymore’. It meant that breakups had to be negotiated carefully and gently and as seriously as a divorce might be regarding expectations (though obviously not legal issues or finances). In some cases, the relationship did fade off eventually, but they tended to do so with a lingering affection and drifting, rather than a sudden ‘what do you mean he’s not coming back?’ The bf who was there when my nephew was small is still in his life. The (very few) others in between reliably stop by when they’re in town, and some send the odd email or letter or card as well. I think that establishing that ‘uncle’ is a relationship between the man and the child helped to clarify that the relationship was not one that was to be mediated by the mom entirely, even if that was the source of the link. Again, your mileage may vary. I thought it was particularly brilliant for someone who knew her son needed men in his life. Somehow, she managed to *make* it work – sometimes by force of will alone, perhaps, but work nonetheless.

  11. I have a little bit of experience in both of these.My husband suffers from PTSD. My kids are a little older (4 and 2 1/2) and I have tried to shield them from it where I can, but I can’t always. My approach has been to be open to (and even initiate, where I think it’s appropriate) discussions with them so they have a safe place to work through their feelings. My 4 year old tells me things like, “I don’t like it when Daddy uses an outside voice,” but my younger one just likes me to hold him and say soothing, but true things (“Daddy’s loud voice scared you. It’s OK, buddy. Daddy loves you; he sometimes forgets that a loud voice scares his favorite boy.” etc. — this, by the way, is the same tactic I use with both kids anytime they are overwrought with upset and don’t seem to be able to verbalize about it.)
    Anon, I think you’re amazing for handling this the way you are. I would suggest that as your son gets older and is inevitably disappointed in his dad, you think of good ways to address that. I have always been partial to the idea that our parents love us and care for us the best they can with the tools they have available to them at the time. Simplified for a kid: Daddy loves you the best way he knows how. Some people are better at relationships that others — I think kids understand that pretty early (though it still hurts).
    My mom divorced my biological father (who was, to put it politely, “not really a kid person”) when I was 4. When she remarried, I was 6. I have never completely lost touch with the bio dad, but he isn’t my Dad-with-a-capital-D. My Dad is the one who told me bedtime stories and taught me to ride a bike and sent me postcards when he travelled and bought me my first car. He was always respectful of my bio dad (even when I wasn’t). He walked me down the aisle when I got married and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. (I honestly couldn’t believe there was any question; he insisted on calling the bio dad to make sure he wouldn’t be hurt, but I was very clear on that one. He gave me away a long time ago, as far as I was concerned.)
    Intellectually, I know that my bio dad thought he was doing the best thing by essentially bowing out of my life. Neither of us was particularly comfortable with our scheduled visits. As I got older he took me out to lunch once in awhile, got me a pass to his gym one summer when I was home from college, took me to a few basketball games. I’ll be honest, I have processed some anger at him as I have seen MY daughter grow and realized how very much I did NOT deserve to be left like that (even though what he left me to was pretty good).
    I feel like I’m rambling, but really my point is that a step-parent can absolutely be the real deal. I hope you’ll always be able to be as positive as you are now with your son about his father, because no matter how old you get (OK, I can speak to up to age 38), it’s crummy to hear your parents criticized. But I also hope you’ll find a great partner who loves and deserves you and your son. Good luck with it all!

  12. I will go back and read the comments but I had to take the second I have at the moment and say I am in a VERY similar situation, but a few years farther down the road, as my daughter is 4 yrs 9 months. I don’t have any magical answers for you, but I can certainly tell you about our situation and what has worked and not worked so far for us. Please feel free to email me: maria AT davidgrover DOT com.Later today when I am not so hurried I will go back and read the comments and hopefully gain some wisdom and ideas myself – I’ll post if something sparks me. I hope to hear from you, Anon!

  13. Boy, does this hit close to home. My sister is in a very similar situation. After my nephew’s father caused him physical injury on more than one occasion and started threatening legal action if she didn’t allow my nephew to visit with his father unsupervised, my sister was forced to take him to court. After a year of supervised visitation and clean drug screens, he now has unsupervised visitation and it is nerve wracking.My nephew returned last night from a 2 week visit. He’s only 2.5 years old, so this was a LONG visit. He told my sister last night that he doesn’t like his daddy because his daddy is not very nice to him. My entire has a lot of anger towards my nephew’s father and we all work very hard to shield him from that.
    As I’ve told my sister several times, we have to get over it so that we can help him deal with the inevitable problems that will arise in his relationship with his father. I have no advice on how to help your son deal with it, but did want you to know you are not alone.
    And as for finding new love, you are more than entitled to do so. The more stable, loving relationships (romantic or otherwise) a child is exposed to, the better.

  14. It sounds like your son now gets to experience his dad as a fun playmate, much like my son does with our regular babysitter. I know it isn’t a “normal” dad/son relationship, but it sounds like a pretty good one, given the circumstances. Congratulations on what you’re doing so far! It sounds like you’re a great mom.

  15. Sorry to go OT, but I just wanted to say to Jan that I have been thinking of you, your husband, and your kids since you posted about the PTSD stuff a while back. Hope things are improving, and know that people out there are wishing you all well.

  16. Dear Anon,You are an incredible mother! Most moms would not work so hard to facilitate a good relationship between father and son. The work you’ve put into this tells me that you put your son’s needs first. It speaks volumes about your skills as a mom, and bodes well for the second part of your question.
    As the child of divorced parents (one of whom remarried) I would suggest three things:
    First, don’t ask your son to bond with a new man until you’re pretty darn sure that he’ll be around for a LONG time. A break-up for you is a break-up for your child as well.
    Second, communicate early and often with everyone involved. As your child gets older, communicate often about *everything*– who will attend son’s soccer game? How will the two men be introduced to teachers and other adults in son’s life? Who sets the rules and disciplines your son? How will finances be negotiated? What role will HFS play in these areas? You get the idea. Negotiate these areas ahead of time, and present a pleasant, civil, and united front to your son. Never ask your son to be a go-between.
    Finally, don’t push or try to create a relationship between your son and HFS (none of this “meet your new daddy” business). Instead, let the relationship develop naturally within pre-set parameters. For example, it’s fine to say that HFS is an adult in the house, and therefore can set rules and discipline (thus avoiding the “you’re not my dad, you can’t tell me what to do” mantra). However, your son should get to decide what to call HFS, whether to give HFS hugs and kisses, how to introduce HFS to his friends, etc.
    I’m sure you’ll pick a HFS who cares about your son’s best interests as much as you do, and who respects your son’s father and his role as much as you do. With lots of flexibility, communication, and a constant eye on what’s best for your son, this will all work out fine.

  17. I think rule #17 is you can’t have too many people loving your child.I married my husband when my step-son was 7 (and started dating him when DSS was 4). The bio-mom lives in the next time zone and from about age 2 1/2 on has been not that stable financially – going through periods of no phone number, etc., etc. Adding to it that she’s the single parent of three other girls. DSS is 14 now. So he hasn’t really known her as her “full time mom” – he’s lived with us for 9 years with only a handful of visits with his mom.
    14 is not very much fun right now, even less so if you and your partner are not quite on the same page for parenting. So I will defer my thoughts on how a step-parent figures into the child’s life for 5 or 10 more years. But I think it’s entirely possible for the child to have good relationships with both the bio and step parent. I think it’s probably pretty scary for all of the adults involved and takes a lot of hard work (You have to put a lot of trust into someone you may not like very much). But definitely possible.

  18. Thanks for your story, Anon. I had the same pregnancy situation–break-up at 3 mo preg for reasons of scary anger and drug abuse (and “hey, it’s fine to smoke pot while you’re pregnant and around an infant”). I have a best friend that I married just after the baby was born, and now we’re dealing with major custody battle–I just am so afraid about the Gene Donor’s influence, how to make sure my child is not afraid, but is careful, etc etc etc. My kid’s a few months behind yours, so I listened closely to your story to understand just how things become complicated as time goes by.My husband and I also have the dilemma how much to tell and when, how to explain things. Right now hubby is ‘dada’, and we’re wondering what to have him call the GD when visitation starts? I figure all this is part of the baby’s story–also important. Hey, people have to explain lots of hard things as their kids grow up, so I figure we’ll figure it out somehow.
    Anyway, I won’t go into my tale too much here–just wanted to say thanks for being brave and bringing this up. I’ve composed lots of letters-in-my-head-to-moxie about this. I almost cried when I read yours

  19. Can’t speak from personal experience. But, and idea – it sounds like you don’t have close relationships with people with step-parent situations to draw on? Maybe it’s time to extend your feild research and ask people you do know (not that asking here was bad) and then you could ask them what they liked or didn’t like about how they’re family handled the arrangements.From my husbands family, I’ve learned that family can be very fluid, and with love and respect you can create a lot of meaningful relationships. By example, see if you can follow along, are my husband and his siblings. There is his brother who was adopted by their parents. There is a sister who is technically a step sister by way of his step-dad and his step-dad’s first wife. Then there’s his sister who is technically nothing to him as she is the daughter of his stepdad’s first wife and the first wife’s first husband (confused?); but if you told my husband that he’d probably get seriously pissed at you.
    On his Mom’s side of the family, they solidly endorse that all else being equal once you’re in the family, you’re in, and divorce isn’t enough to get you out. Ex’s still get invites to family events.
    I know that’s not the example you’re looking for and not the help. But, when I stop to think of it, I’m always a little amazed and impressed on how fluid they maintain the idea of family and are willing to take people into their hearts.

  20. I can only comment from a child of remarried parents perspective. My parents divorced and both remarried when I was 18 *years* old, not 18 months. They approached step parenting 2 different ways. On my mom’s side they did their best to cling to old traditions on both sides of the blended families, even going as far as alternating years that we used each side’s ornaments on the christmas tree. The rules (curfew, etc.) were even different for the children of each parent. Not surprisingly, now, 15 years later, kids grown and out of the house, we may as well not really be members of the same family for all practical purposes. Mom was afraid of her divorce bringing about changes for us kids that we would resent, and it prevented her from putting all her efforts into really blending her new family and making it whole.However, on my dad’s side, they did their best to integrate family traditions… step- grandparents welcomed us and treated us like their own grandchildren, our stepmom introduced us to strangers as ‘our kids’, instead of ‘his kids’, etc. As a result, we now feel like a family, have many fond memories of our blended family, and get along with our step siblings like real siblings.
    I guess my point is that I’m a big proponent of Mom and Dad presenting a united front; being on the same page when it comes to issues that arise due to blended family situations, and moving forward with the new family.
    Does that make any sense?

  21. I can speak to this from both the position as the child of divorced parents and as a divorced mom myself (and I’m commenting without reading the previous comments b/c I’m being crawled on by #3 and want to get this out earlier rather than later… so forgive me if I’m repeating what others have already said).First, I think whatever relationship DS and father build will be one that will work for DS. I think that when a child is used to certain limits from the get-go it’s easier to accept than when limits are suddenly set. (So that if your son is used to never spending the night with dad and only ever seeing dad in controlled circumstances it won’t affect him in the same way it would if dad suddenly stopped seeing him or cut back on his visits… if I’m making sense.) I also want to add that you should always be honest with your son about his dad’s limitations in a way that doesn’t belittle him (and it sounds like you’re doing this). My father was an alcoholic and a juvenile diabetic who did his best to prove that he was like every else, translating into his being very sick for most of my teenage years as well as being very undependable anytime he was not married to one of my several step-mothers. My mother was always honest about his limitations which helped me set my own boundaries about what I would and would not accept from him as I got older. So, YES, I think they can have a loving relationship and that if you are always honest with your son and his dad that the relationship will always be healthy if not always traditional.
    Now, step-dads! That’s my favorite topic of the moment because we are in the throes of that one. I have an incredible relationship with my own step-father who married my mother when I was 3 and always performed the role of “dad” better than my father did. Yes, sometimes I felt like I had to choose or protect my father from my love for my step-dad, but I wouldn’t change my step-father’s presence in my life for anything.
    My own husband is currently working through the step-dad role with my two older children from my first marriage (they are 8 and 6). So, let me say first that YES, men will marry women with children. My husband had never been married, never been around children, and I think had no clue what he was getting into when he proposed! But I made it clear when we started dating that I was a package deal, so any and all talk of a life together included them.
    There are two big issues I see with men and the role of step-dad (and the same might go for step-moms as well). First of all is dealing with the idea that step-dad will always be second fiddle to the child’s first father. I think the older a child is when the step-dad enters his/her life, the harder it is for the child to open his/her heart without feeling a certain amount of guilt. Even when dad is not the primary caretaker, children sense that their fathers should come first (deserved or not). So, I think it’s very important for children to have the freedom to demonstrate that preference… even if the preference isn’t earned or even genuine (and what I mean by that is, if I had to quantify my love for my father and step-father, I’d say I definitely loved my step-father more because he was there day in and day out for me in a way my father never was… but at 10 yrs old I probably would have told you I loved them the same or even that I loved my father more).
    The second big issue is accepting that you, despite being second fiddle, will need to treat the child and act as though you are first fiddle. And this is where we really struggle in our house. My husband–a child of divorce himself–has real issues with playing the role of father to the older children. He’s good at “step-father” (“go ask your mom”, standing in the wings, showing up to stuff when dad can’t be there), but he has a very hard time with being “the father”–stuff like coaching teams, parent-teacher conferences, teaching new skills like riding a bike, discipline). It’s not that he doesn’t WANT to do these things, he just doesn’t want to step on my ex’s toes nor does he always want to put forth a lot of effort when the kids’ won’t appreciate what he’s done the way they would if it were their father (this is a divorced kid trick to assuage the guilt… ignore the deed step-dad does while over-praising what dad does). My argument is that all the adults need to put aside their own issues–jealousy, resentment, etc–and be there 100% for the kids regardless of how the adults feel about the situation. But that is much easier said than done.
    So, Anon, as you look for a new man, consider that he’ll need to be very patient with DS and DS’s dad. He’ll need to understand that he’s got an important balancing act… he’ll need to be a father to your son… but also be able to step aside when your ex needs to be #1. He’ll need to be patient as DS beams with pride when dad shows up at an event, despite DS’s never once having shown any appreciation for the countless times *he* has been there for him. I’m not sure any family ever gets it just right… but talking about it and through it is helping us.
    I’m going to try to get my 8 yr old’s take on this… if I can get him to say something worthwhile, I’ll report back.

  22. I can’t comment on the first part of your question, or really directly on your second, but I can share my experience as a part of a fully functional blended family. My husband has a child with a woman he did not marry, and we split the time with his daughter 50/50. It has been a HARD HARD road, but it gets better every day, and my step daughter is a happy grounded little girl (she’s four). We all (the adults, grandparents included) work really hard on our relationships with her, she knows how loved she is. Confusion is never an issue, and I’ve noticed taht one thing that has helped her talk about issues like having two houses, is that other kids at her preschool have parents that do not live together. I’m sure this is a true situation at most preschools.The best advice I can offer based on my experience is that communication is absolute key, and that all parties need to be on board with that. My step daughter’s mother and I have a very good relationship as far as communication goes, and that has made all the difference in the world.
    My heart does go out to you. Just remember that anything can work with lots of words and love.

  23. Maybe I can offer support for the first question, and have more data points for the second. My mom kept my dad around far too long (and when they separated when I was eight I was very aware of that)–he suffers from PTSD and depression and all that goes with it. What I think is wonderful for anon’s son is that both parents seem aware of his father’s limitations. It wasn’t until recently that my dad realized that he was not well enough mentally to be there all the time, and since then he’s become a wonderful “phone dad.” He loves my kids, and I’m not as angry as I used to be because I now know that it’s impossible for him to be there for us all of the time even if he wants to be. If I understand the situation correctly, anon’s DS may understand his father’s limitations from the get-go and hopefully not get so emotionally burned by them, as I was.My sister, on the other hand, is much more angry with him for something completely different–the constant flow of new step-moms or step-moms-to be. She was younger than I was and visited him much more often during the period where he was courting and divorcing new wives. And she fell in love with each one–one almost step-mom had a beautiful baby girl that my sister adored. Dad falls “in love” quickly and marries quicker, and took us for the ride. At that point I was so removed from the situation because of the previous hurt that I didn’t care, but my sister wasn’t. And she still suffers.
    My mother, on the other hand, fell in love with a “keeper.” She dated him and told us about him until she was ready to introduce him. And we loved him immediately. He treated us like gold, and still does. I can’t imagine what would have happened to us all without him. He put together a huge broken mess of a family and showed us that every personality is a good one, none better than the rest. He is my “Dad.”

  24. You sound like a super-conscientious mom, so I feel a little weird even mentioning this, but I have worked with a lot of kids from blended families and seen some hair-raising stories. My best advice is that if you’re getting serious enough with a man that you’re comfortable leaving him alone with your child, treat him like you would any daycare provider or school teacher and do your homework. Get a background check, pump his name into any database you can think of, but check him out–there are a lot of very bad people (men and women alike) who prey on single parents’ need for another adult in the home and screening as much as you can for potential sexual, physical, or emotional abuse early on is key.

  25. Okay, I asked my 8 and 6 yr olds about the problems of having two dads and both reported that it is hard. My son (the 8 yr old) said the hard part is getting to know the step-dad. He said that even two years after our marriage, he still doesn’t feel like he *knows* his step-dad. Interesting…I think we are still struggling with the “blended” part. I’ve read it takes 4-7 years for a blended family to gel… halfway there!

  26. @Amy -1. From your 8 y.o.’s response – for me, the feeling was similar to missing the first 10 minutes of a movie. It gets better with time. I can see how you could have a similar feeling from the kid side of the relationship.
    2. On the step-dad’s side – it took me a long time to start signing permission slips, etc – stuff that the “real” parent is supposed to do. I think I still give funny looks when someone tells my step-son to “go ask your mom”. Anyway, you’re right – there is so much opportunity for hurt feelings all around.

  27. Hi…just a quick response regarding bonding. It is so not too late for your child to bond!!! Children, with time and patience and a lot of love, will attach in bond in ways you never dreamed. There may be bumps in the road and age-related challenges. But experiencing bonding first hand with our little one has been the most amazing experience of our lives. It took some time, but he is very attached to us. And very attached to his grandparents (all six of them). And the same can be said for all of the adoptive families we know..some of whom have adopted much older children. So, don’t be afraid.

  28. “Thousands of women have done this, even when they didn’t think they could. You can do this, too, honey, and I’m so proud of you.”I meant to say this before, but Moxie, I love your mom. I’m so glad she’s there for you.

  29. I don’t have much experience with this, but I do think kids can love a large number of people in various different ways. Blending will be difficult, but it can also be very rewarding.My parents divorced when I was 15, and my dad dated a number of different women. He found one woman that he really loved and let her into our lives. We all adored her, and we were heartbroken when their relationship ended. I’ll be honest, I wish he would have married her. She was a good friend to all of us, and diffinitely added something wonderful to our family.

  30. If it wouldn’t have hurt my father too much, I would have had my step-father walk me down the aisle at my wedding. As it was, I walked with my husband.

  31. Oh, Moxie. And oh, everyone else. I read these comments with torrents of tears streaming down my face. Thank you SO MUCH for the hope and encouragement and loving words. I can’t think of anyone whose opinions I care about more on mothering except my sister. I am blessed to have so many of you give your time and heart to this question.And, after much thought and re-reading your comments, I seem to be able to start writing my “profile” for a dating service. Not exactly the most fun project ever, but I am feeling a bit less stuck already. Knowing that there are lots of ways to do this, and knowing some of the pitfalls to watch out for (thanks for the advice on background checks btw) gives me some strength to see where this path leads.
    Thank you all for your beautiful kind powerful words!

  32. First of all, congratulations on being such a caring and thoughtful parent. You and your son will be fine, because you are going into things with your eyes open and your heart in the right place.Second, I don’t have any practical advice for you, but I thought I’d tell you about my adult friend, whose parents split when he was 3 months old. His mom remarried when he was a kid, and to this day, his step-dad is every ounce as bit his father as his biological father is. My friend lived with his mom and had visitation with his dad and his step mother (who came on the scene later). While my friend is clearly closer to his mom and stepfather, he has a good relationship with his dad, and he now also has a half-sister, who was born when we were in college. (She is now in college herself, which freaks me the hell out, but that’s another post entirely!) He adores his little sister, and to this day, when he says “my parents”, I have to ask “which ones?”
    Anyway, my point is whatever you decide is right for you down the line as far as a new relationship, your son will be fine. His life will be all the richer for having another adult to love him. If it turns out that you decide you’d rather it be just you and your son, he’ll be fine then too. You are enough for him. Your love and guidance, combined with whatever role his dad ends up playing, will keep him happy and loved.
    Best of luck to you!

  33. I only skimmed the other comments so sorry for repetition.I had a similar situation with my son’s father. He was very disturbed and it was not safe to leave him alone with my son for many years. My son was four when we split. The first thing really is safety and you have to do what you have to do to keep your child safe. No excuses no matter how hard it may be for you or what pressure you’re under.
    Then, I always made sure that my son knew that he had been born in love and that whatever his father had to give was given to him. My husband was more weak than malicious so this wasn’t as difficult as it may be for others.
    Third, I always validated my son’s instincts. If he would tell me a story about something his father had said or done and what he thought about it, I agreed with him so that he didn’t doubt his own judgment as he grew older.
    This is the hard part: he will know one day what his father is and isn’t. He will have to work it out, with your help and the help of others of course, but through his own work. Because you are seeking advice and help now, you’ll be a great help to him. Good luck.

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