In the news recently has been the unabashed tweet-war going on between biological parent, Brandi Glanville and stepparent, LeAnn Rimes, who appear to be arguing over ownership rights to their children. Who gets to use the words, “my or our” when referring to the children versus who must always insert the word “step, his or her” as a prefix? Really ladies?
The controversy is not so controversial if you set aside your own personalities and focus, instead, on the children. As a family law mediator and divorce coach, I counsel my clients to consider the interests of their kids first, when trying to settle an argument with a former spouse. Going through the exercise of setting aside the emotions and focusing only the issue itself, allows the warring-parents to regroup and resolve the issue by contemplating alternative options. When the discussion comes from a place of love, instead of threats, insecurities, and pure hatred, co-parenting really isn’t so hard. The same methodologies are used when mediating disputes between biological parent and step parent.
Choose your perspective: Are you looking at the situation through the eyes of the children or the biological and step parents? Are you considering the childrens’ feelings of receiving love from multiple sources, or, are you looking at this through the eyes of the biological parents, who may feel threatened that the step parent will somehow usurp their parental role and “steal” the love of their children away from them?
Engaging a family law mediator or divorce coach to assist in resolving co-parenting disputes is an easy way to put neutrality into the conversation while all parties work together to resolve their issues. Some things to consider before or during this process are as follows:
1. “Parent” is part of the phrase “step parent,” meaning that the intention is exactly that: to parent. This is not reserved only for biological parents. According to Wikipedia, “A parent (from Latin: parēns = parent) is a caretaker of the offspring in their own species. In humans, a parent is of a child (where “child” refers to offspring, not necessarily age). Children can have one or more parents, but they must have two biological parents. Biological parents consist of the male who sired the child and the female who gave birth to the child. In all human societies, the biological mother and father are both responsible for raising their young. However, some parents may not be biologically related to their children. An adoptive parent is one who nurtures and raises the offspring of the biological parents but is not actually biologically related to the child. Children without adoptive parents can be raised by their grandparents or other family members.” So, parenting comes in many different shapes and sizes, and may even include two daddies or two mommies. Biology plays an important role in parenting, but it’s not the only criteria for being a caretaker of a child … a parent to a child.
2. To the biological parent: How do you think you are being perceived in the eyes of your children? Have you embraced their step parent? Do your children witness your appreciation to their step parent, when something is done for your children? Or, do you trash-talk the step parent in front of your children and make them feel like they need to choose between you and the step parent? Do you think you seem petty or look insecure? Do you know whether the step parent acknowledges your role to the children? Is the step parent inclusive and deferential in decision-making with the children? Remember that the relationship to be considered in a co-parenting relationship is NOT that of the parents … it is the relationship between the children and the parents (all parents) that is key.
3. Consider the care being rendered to the children. Is the step parent actually parenting your child? Is he or she providing homework assistance, meeting with teachers, or providing food, shelter and clothing? Is he or she taking an interest in the well-being of your bio baby? If so, is that really such a terrible thing?? Or, is the fact that a step parent does all these things make you feel like less of a parent? Would you feel differently if these “chores” were being performed by a grandparent? Nanny? Au pair? Try to distinguish whether the step parent is intentionally trying to make you look bad or whether your own behavior is actually doing that on its own.
4. To the step parent: Always remember your place in this family unit, and know that it is not your role to replace the love of a biological parent. You are an “extra” parent … an “extra” dad or “extra” mom. You step up to the plate, when another parent is unavailable. Or, you take the lead in an endeavor and invite the other parents to join along. You love unconditionally, but do not love more or less. You are equal, but different.
5. It takes a village. Instead of fighting the availability of a step parent to actually help the family unit function, realize that you now have an additional pair of hands to help you out when juggling your schedule just to get to a soccer game!
6. Appreciate the financial savings. As most parents do, the step parent is also likely taking the kids for school supplies, buying birthday presents for other kids’ parties, picking up clothing, making lunches, going to movies, etc. and picking up the tab. Instead of thinking that these gestures are geared only to make you look bad, why not consider how lucky your children are to have someone treat them so nicely?
Before you bash your ex’s new spouse for “adopting” (pardon my use of the word, you insecure bio-parents!) your kids, ask yourself why it is such a problem for you. If the answer has “I or me” in the response, please reconsider and open your mind to an opportunity for your children to be loved by more than just you. And, consider the help you receive and be gracious when doctor appointments, parent teacher conferences and birthday parties are attended by another competent adult, who has your children’s best interests at heart.
Lastly, a word of advice to Rimes and Glanville: ladies, unless you are desperately seeking attention and affirmatively want to keep yourselves in this unattractive spotlight, stop using your children as pawns in your petty arguments. We all get it: you don’t like each other. Is it really that important for your children to know it, too?