- Family and Parenting
3 More Ways to Mess Up Your Blended Family
The benefit of our experience
There are so many ways you can fail at your second marriage. The very fact that it is a second marriage indicates a loss, either through divorce or death, and that means there will be extra baggage that first marriages don’t have to deal with. Marriage is hard anytime, but second marriages are extra hard. Any time you have two people sharing space there will be occasional conflict. Second marriages with children add to the conflict possibilities by a huge factor.
When we married, my husband had two children from a previous marriage and I had two children from a previous marriage. That’s conflict by a factor of 4, and believe me we felt it. However we also had the joy of watching all them grow and become a loving family together. We had good times and bad. All the laughing and all crying happened there.
Because my husband and I fell into the sinkholes along the way, we know where some of them are located and have dedicated our lives to helping other blended families avoid as many as possible. Here are a few of the common sinkholes you may want to avoid.
1. Offering gifts to your child or stepchild to get their approval.
So you want to get in good with the mother; the best way is to get in good with the child or children, right? Bring gifts or take them out to get on their good side, and your in, right? Or your sweetheart has visitation with his child or children every other weekend, so you buy or bring presents for them. What could be more harmless? Some cookies or cakes, or better yet, their favorite video games. It keeps them busy while you and your sweetheart are able to catch some private time. It works great, right?
You can't have a happy family if you don't have a happy marriage.— Jeremy Sisto
What's wrong with that?
What’s wrong with that, you may ask. It seems harmless enough and it works… for a time. You see it is built on the false premise that it will continue after the marriage. When you bring flowers and candy to your sweetheart, you want to earn her invitation into the inner circle (a place at the dinner table as it were). When you bring gifts to a child, you want to buy their approval and compliance for your place at the dinner table. But the child (and often the sweetheart too) doesn’t realize these gifts will cease once the end goal is met. Come on, face it; you don’t really intend to bring flowers and candy to your sweetheart the rest of your life, do you?
To be honest, I liked the flower and candy phase and wished it went on longer but we grown-ups know instinctually that it had to end. Kids don’t. Kids will feel betrayed and manipulated and then the anger and acting up begins. Kids want consistency and reliability and by starting something you can’t keep up and don’t really intend to keep up, you have shown you aren’t reliable.
2. Reacting to a child's hostility with anger.
The Bible says a kind word turns away anger, and it’s true. (Actually it says in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”) But anger and harsh words, yelling and throwing things, stomping and slamming doors tend to bring out more harsh words and slamming. My husband kept saying to me, “don’t let them pull you into the trenches… keep your cool,” but without fail, I reacted to my children’s anger with anger and yelling of my own.
A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short.— Andre Maurois
What do you do when your child is mad with you?
In the trenches.
The trenches are a place where you hide from the bullets of stinging words and wait for the optimum opportunity to lob a grenade filled with deadly finality. The problem with bullets and words is that once they are shot there is no putting them back into the chamber. Once you said something in anger you can’t really take it back. You can humble yourself and apologize to your child but they still remember the words. And although the words they shot at you are hurtful, they are still children and don’t know that tomorrow they won’t even feel that way.
I can’t say how many times my daughter would puff herself up and say she hated me and wanted to live with her dad. Many years later she did move in with him and found out first hand that he hurt people, hit people, disrespected women and had little regard for her as a person. It doesn’t matter now but I wish I had kept my cool more often back then and perhaps she would not have had to go find out what a mean and disrespectful person her father really was.
Sometimes the step-children were far more respectful and careful with their words than my own daughters were. Possibly because my own children felt the freedom to express their opinions openly, which is nice but it hurt just the same. My own children’s open hostility toward me and the rest of family was one of the highest hurtles to overcome in our blended family.
The secret to a happy marriage is if you can be at peace with someone within four walls, if you are content because the one you love is near to you, either upstairs or downstairs, or in the same room, and you feel that warmth that you don't find very often, then that is what love is all about.— Bruce Forsyth
3. Fighting and quarreling with your ex-spouse in front of the children.
It is the fighting and quarreling that precipitated a divorce in the first place. If the children are going to get any real evidence of a peaceful existence, the fighting should be kept at a minimum. However I know this is not always possible. Feelings run high and hot after a divorce and the children, custody, and visitations, are right in the middle of that. Back when I was first divorced, cell phones and email were not really an option but today there seems more ways to keep certain “discussions” away from the children more than ever.
Discuss the hard stuff away from the kids.
Make a conscious effort to discuss the hard issues where the kids cannot overhear you if at all possible. Keep your cool whenever you can and make time to call back later if you have to disagree with some remark or decision made without you.
My girls would often come home from visit with their father and would be up sick all night with throwing up and with diarrhea. All this because their father would drop them off at his mother’s house and she would feed them an overdose of fruit. Nothing but peaches and nectarines, plums and watermelon, ice cream and cake, for two days. This used to infuriate me. I almost felt like he poisoned them on purpose to keep me up to two days afterward. I feel sure that’s not true now that I think about it calmly. The grandmother simply missed them and wanted them to have anything they wanted. She didn’t limit their intake of anything they wanted, and children will act like children. Gratefully, the visits with their father (and grandmother) were infrequent because he really didn’t want to be bothered with them more often than once every two months or so. However what this did for me was make me harbor poison in my heart that I was ready to spew at him with the first opportunity, on the phone or in person.
As the girls got older, it felt like they were fed poisonous thoughts, like the devil whispering words of dissent and distrust into their innocent ears, right before returning them every visit. These poison words would leak out for weeks after the visit, vomiting out hateful things to me and the stepsiblings, until finally things would calm down and the home was running again like a well oiled machine, right before time for their next visit with the poisoner.
One day, my ex marched up on our doorstep and called out my husband. He had a habit of stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble for us, and then laugh as he hopped into his truck and drove off. This time was no different. He accused my husband of behaving inappropriately toward his/my daughters. The irony in that statement was that the ex was the one that had behaved inappropriately toward women everywhere he went. And my husband is the godliest and most humble, protective man I have ever known. So naturally this accusation got him mad and right there on our doorstep with the girls watching from the window, he nearly got into a fistfight with their father. I feel sure he wanted to and for several seconds I wanted him to. But I got my head together and realized it would be very bad for the girls to see that so I went out there and made my ex leave. It was this confrontation that was the beginning of the girls wanting to leave us and to live with him. He somehow had them convinced that their stepdad was unstable. The moral here is that whenever possible, don’t let your children see any fighting or quarreling with the ex-spouse. It will go badly for you, whether you are in the right or not.
The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they're right if you love to be with them all the time.— Julia Child
A day worth waiting for.
These are just a few of the things I experienced with my ex and my blended family. The thing is that blended families have so many more dynamics than a regular nuclear family, which means more things that can go wrong and blow up in your face. I think the main key to staying together through this volatile time is to never use the “D” word with each other and determine early on that you are going to stay together and make this work no matter what. You may want to kill him sometimes but don’t discuss divorce. Also remember the kids will only be with you for a few more years and that the rest of your life it will be just the two of you.
When our kids all left home and the last dog died, we looked at each other and smiled. That’s when the honeymoon began! Those are the days worth looking forward to.