I used to say your first marriage is great practice for your second, and for my parents, that was true. Some say you learn everything you don’t want in the first marriage thereby freeing you up for a much better selection process the second time around.
I’d say the #1 reason second marriages fail is failure to integrate the blended family. It’s a hot button issue with me as I’m the product of divorce and two blended families, my first marriage was a blended family and now my second is as well.
I always say you have to put God first and your spouse second … the children truly need to be the third and if they aren’t, your marriage will not survive.
That said, entering a marriage with the assumption everything will be perfect is a recipe for disaster. In many cases, you both have children, you are both parents, it’s just perfect. If you assume you will love your spouse’s children because you love him, you need to re-evaluate that. Those children are half another person, one your spouse divorced. The DNA and the personality traits are there as well.
It is critical to look at your new “children” as their own little beings. It will be a challenge on your best days and on the worst days you will fear what you’ve done and how it will affect them. You will never see the flaws of your spouse’s ex more acutely as you do in his children, but you must make sure you don’t treat them like the former spouse- they have simply become a product of their family and environment.
Do not under any circumstances marry someone who has children you don’t like. If they have three and you like two but don’t like the other … don’t do it. It won’t work. You need to realize, your spouse sees no flaws, so if you do, he will start to consider you the enemy. You pick on his children. You are a fault-finder … you … you …
On another note, you need to understand, likely one of you has your children living in the home and the other spouse’s children living with the other parent. Sadly, this is a HUGE source of unfounded but almost unavoidable resentment toward the child who resides within the home.
Let me explain from a man’s perspective. He already feels guilty for the demise of his marriage and leaving his children (regardless of the circumstances, it’s a huge change for the former nuclear family). He adapts to making the best of his time with his children when he has them. Suddenly, he falls in love with a woman who has two children and all the kids have a blast together … let’s get married.
Getting married is one thing. Creating a fully functioning family is something else entirely. Now, the man realizes he lives with another man’s children every day. He wakes up to them and not his own children. Those children likely don’t love or like him as much as their own dad, who is absent most days due to the custody agreement. He feels unappreciated by the children that live with him, they aren’t like his kids because they were raised by someone else, so they annoy him.
He fears his own children resent him for leaving and now living with another family. He obsesses over how little time he spends with his own children compared to the ones living in his home. Everything about the kids living with him start eating away at him. He sees the negative characteristics of his wife’s ex-husband glaringly. Then, he starts to identify the aspects of his wife he isn’t particularly fond of in the children. He starts to pick at and on them. Familiarity breeds contempt.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. When his own children are there, he doesn’t want to be “hard” on them because they aren’t there very often. He doesn’t want to make them do chores, because they aren’t there very often. He doesn’t want to have to correct their behavior because they aren’t there very often and MOST IMPORTANTLY, he wants them not to go back to their mom’s house thinking being at dad’s house is a beat down.
This is where the term, “Disney Dad,” came from. Born of the mother’s resentment she is stuck with the shit detail (homework, activities, parenting, discipline) and dad gets to play. As a woman, if you DEMAND standard visitation, tough “shit detail,” you asked for it. If your ex had his children 50% of the time, he’d have to contribute to getting them to their lessons and doing homework.
There is that rare man who LOVES being a father so much, he is thankful to have little ones in the home to wake up to every day. To be that every day dad and impart his love and guidance and wisdom. When he has his children it compounds his joy that is the best, possible scenario for the health and well being of the family but I’ve never seen this in action. Sadly.
I’m happy to see 50/50 custody becoming the norm for parents who think this would be beneficial for the children. If one seeks it to avoid child support or to hurt the other parent, it is likely not the best custody situation. Based on the previous scenario, from the male perspective, one of the benefits of 50/50 custody is each parent influences who the children become equally. Each parent has an equal opportunity to shape and raise their children. After all, they both contributed to the creation of the children.
Now, we’ve given dad’s a hard enough time and frankly, their feelings are valid, but they chose to enter the relationship, so this stuff has to be worked out and communicated about or it will result in divorce.
How does mom feel. Guilt about breaking up the family (whatever the reason). In many cases there will be a downgraded life style with mom and life at dad’s house is pretty much the same, so there is major guilt about that. Most moms felt they had to do everything on their own to begin with so it doesn’t change the amount of work she has to do unless she now has to get a job. Now she feels guilty because she can’t pick her children up after school or be there when they get home. Now they have to go to before school care and perhaps some type of after care.
When she gets home it is grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, homework and there is little time to spend with her children. Then, something magical happens. She falls in love. He has children! They are near the age of her own children. He’s funny, and sweet and loves her children. His kids love her children. Let’s be the Brady Bunch!
Suddenly, she feels guilty for taking her children “away” from their father and replaced him with someone else. Now, instead of waking up to their own father everyday it’s another man, the father of someone else. Mom can see the sadness in her children’s eyes as the weight of a new “family unit” settles over them and they have to reconcile a new normal. She dreads trips to dad’s house because there will be no rules only to get them back and they resent her for being so strict.
Now, if the resentment on the part of her husband begins to show and he starts to find fault with her children she fears it will erode the marriage and the relationship between her children and her husband. Not only does he find fault and point it out directly to them, he comes to her constantly with complaints about her children. She starts wondering how he could love her if he doesn’t love the children she raised.
Mom becomes very resentful that when her step-children arrive it’s like a party. They all do fun stuff as a family and her own children wonder why they never do anything when it’s just them at home. They always have to wait until they are all together. Mom sees her children corrected at the table by her husband but not his. Mom sees her children being asked to abide by rules that his children don’t have to follow.
Negative emotions hunt in packs. They also feed off of one another and grow stronger. Soon, tensions are high and the fighting begins. Once it begins, cycles are created. Communication often isn’t enough. Blended family counseling is helpful, but both parties have to be willing to be open and honest.
Expectations for children must be the same no matter whose children they are. Chores must be equal regardless of how much time is spent in your home. The tone you use with the children needs to be painstakingly monitored to be as close to the same when dealing with your own children as your step-children (