Thank you so much to all the friends who weighed in on this discussion. Since blended families are now the norm, it’s important to treat them with great care, lest they fall victim to the even increasing number of failed second marriages.
Children are challenging. Other people’s children can be more challenging because you haven’t had a hand in raising them. In theory, you have raised your own children exactly the way you wanted to and now you have children who has been raised according to a different set of standards. However, at all times, you must remember they are children and while resilient, they are also very fragile.
- In a second marriage it is far more difficult to put the marriage first as there is a natural instinct to put your child first before anyone. In a first marriage, you were a couple first, and then there came an extension of the family so both parents are very protective of the child/ren. However, in a blended family, each parent has a difficult time hearing criticism of their own children and it can erode the marriage.
- The children who reside with their mother, are forced to live full-time with someone they may or may not like or love. The children may resent the situation and feel angry with the arrangement. This could, if not worked out, result in the child/ren wanting to live with their father. Unless of course, the father has remarried someone the children also do not like. In this case, great angst and dysfunction is generated and without therapy, could result in acting out, winding up in trouble and even running away.
- Inevitably, the step-father, if a father himself, will become resentful of the children who “get” to live with him while his own children do not. This is extremely disheartening because the children are equally resentful they “have to” live with a man who isn’t their father. If you feel your spouse is resentful of your child and treats your children with contempt or resentment, you need family counseling.
- The children who visit experience a completely different family dynamic than the one the children who reside in the home do. Likely there are less or no chores, because the father doesn’t want his children to be doing chores during their short visits. There is far less discipline because the father doesn’t want his limited time to be spent engaging in negativity. This will lead to extreme resentment between the siblings as the ones who live in the home will come to feel taken for granted and not as important or special as the visiting children.
- There is likely always going to exist the feeling that each parent is “harder” on their step-children than their “real” children. Often one parent feels the other is attacking their child. When you married, you tacitly agreed you trusted the other person to parent your child. There must be that trust in place at all times. However, if it does become apparent there is a major disparity, then counseling is likely critical.
- Often when the children visit, the father can dote on his children to the point his spouse and step-children feel completely abandoned. This will lead to resentment and anxiety about impending visits. If this truly happens and it is not a perception by the spouse or step-children, resentment will derogate all the relationships.
- It is easy for children of divorce to manipulate their parents as there is a great deal of “guilt parenting.” When parents make decisions out of guilt at having broken up the family, children are put in a position of power. A good question to ask yourself is, “would I say yes if I were still married to his/her mother?”
- When parents make assumptions about how “their” children feel instead of asking them, it can cause great tension among the parents. For example, I recently had a parent express how his sons must feel sleeping on the sun porch at the family lake house while everyone else slept inside. The message being sent was that they weren’t part of the family. When I prompted him to ask the boys how they felt, they said they thought the sun porch was cool. Like an apartment. Often we believe are children feel the way we would have felt if confronted with the same situation as a child. They are not us. They are their own little persons and have different life experiences. Be careful not to parent through your child lens.
- Asking your children to juggle adult drama can be dangerous. If you involve them in your disagreements, even “innocently” it can cause a divide to occur that might never heal. For example, an argument erupts in the car and one parent asks one of the children, “do you hear how your mother speaks to me?” In that moment, the father or step-father is asking the child to rule against their mother or step-mother in some way. They feel paralyzed to do the right thing, but there isn’t a right thing. In this case, you are teaching your children NOT to voice opinions for fear of getting in trouble or hurting one or the other parent.
- If you get involved in every squabble between the siblings, you are asking them to rely on others to solve their problems. It is important they learn to sort out their differences independently as a precursor to doing so with friends, family, business associates, other students and bosses. Further, they will be friends again in five minutes but if you jump into it, the acrimony between you and your spouse will likely be lasting.