It's the knife-edge I walk between parent and friend that makes it complicated for them. I live in their house, but they can see I need more personal space than mom. At the same time, there are some things that the girls, at least, being older, are more comfortable discussing with me than with Kathy. But all with the lingering awareness throughout the discussion that I am in some ways a proxy for Kathy.
It's the knife-edge I walk between parent and not-my-kid that makes it complicated for me. It has taken me until now to train myself not to defer to Kathy on every question that does not involve an established rule and trust my parenting judgment. My heart swelled when B addressed her letter for the parent-teacher conferences to "Mom and Mom." But I would be lying if I said there was never a time where I thought, "If I have to go to one more [insert child rec league sport] game, I am going to scream." Sometimes, I think that I lack the patience required to raise children entirely. Sometimes, I admit, I just want everyone to GO AWAY and stop asking me questions. Then I wake up the next day to big brown eyes blinking at me from an inch away, and short, fat arms thrown around my neck. And I'm really, really glad they didn't go away.
When Kathy and I got together, the understanding was that we'd have the kids about 50% of the time. That has eroded, and due the the numerous schedule changes between then and now, we are now in a the midst of a period where we have some child or another 100% of the time. Although it likely won't stay that way, it's a big difference. It's hard. I fully believe that the adult relationship needs to be solid for a family to thrive. We are the foundation of our little unit.
This is part of what makes step-parenthood challenging. We are trying to build the foundation for our family, but when we have issues -- not major issues, just normal adjusting-to-a-relationship issues -- they often must be discussed in pig-Latin or tabled until another time. And now that A knows pig-Latin, they almost always need to be tabled. Sometimes, this results in a minor issue sitting, unresolved, for days. Guess what happens when you leave a minor issue unresolved for days? Uh-huh. No longer such a minor issue.
However, all that being said, I see at least one distinct advantage that Kathy and I have over the so-called traditional meet-date-marry-kids timeline that seems to be the ideal. WHAT do people do when they find out that their beloved hubby/wifey is a terrible parent? Or at least, a very different parent than you thought they would be? Seems to me that would put a tremendous strain on your marriage. Not to mention the fact that, holy CRAP, you married someone who gives the kids chocolate before dinner and lets them play with Barbies and toy guns while jumping on the bed and screaming curse words. Or whatever. My point is that the reality of having kids is so different from the idea of having kids that you can't REALLY know what kind of parent a person is until you see them in action. And that I have seen some people in serious shock when they see the "parenting techniques" of someone they previously viewed as a responsible adult.
So this is our advantage: I know exactly what kind of parent Kathy is, and she knows exactly what kind of parent I am. I imagine we would not have gotten this far if we did not agree on the basics of parenting. When Kathy and I have children, we will get to do it with eyes wide open. On top of this, I think it was somewhere around our third date where I asked Kathy point-blank whether she would be willing to have more children and told her it was a non-starter for me if she wasn't. Actually, not just willing, but excited, and whole-heartedly interested in having more children. How's that for effective communication?
So, step-parenting. Sometimes, honestly, I am jealous of the other 29 year-olds who get to sleep in on Saturday (and no, sweetie, 8:30 is not sleeping in). Sometimes, it's really freaking hard. But at the end of the day, this is worth it. The step-parent/step-child relationship is some beautiful blend of parent and friend. And I get to have this special relationship with three pretty awesome kids. I also get Kathy -- to love, to fight with in pig-Latin, and to raise three-plus kids with. So I win.