- Family and Parenting
3 Ways to Mess Up Your Blended Family
Second-chance Marriages have different problems.
I feel like my husband and I stumbled into a whole passel of problems we could have handled better if only we had a “heads up” that a disaster was coming. Very little was written to address blended family issues when we married and our church didn’t want to even acknowledge us as blended. Our pastor felt having a Blended Family Bible Study would be tantamount to accepting and encouraging divorce. That’s just silly. Divorce happens whether the church agrees or not.
It wasn’t till much later that we discovered a dozen or more blended families in our church that would have benefited from a small Bible group addressing the blended family issues. Just a “marriage” class won’t do. Blended families deal with an assortment of problems and dilemmas that a nuclear family won’t have to face. Whether the blended family is caused by remarriage after divorce or death, second chance marriages account for about 50% or marriages in and out of the church. It can’t be ignored anymore.
In my case, my ex-husband was violent, abusive man who beat me for 4 years till I grabbed the girls and ran away. In my husband’s case, his ex-wife decided she didn’t want to be married anymore and left him and his 2 children. When divorce happens, it is a very sad and lonely time full of heartaches for the adults and the children. Remarriage should be a time of hope and rebuilding, but often it is filled with pitfalls and landmines that you don’t see coming. Everything from the ex’s to the in-laws, to the child can all work against you making the second marriage work.
Here are just a few of the things you can do to mess up your blended family and drive the road to another divorce.
Feeling alone and isolated
1. Being absent from the home too much immediately after remarrying.
Too often a husband or wife will think that the remarriage has fixed everything with the kids and the home, so he or she feels it’s okay to focus more time on work or outside activities. However the home front is not running as smoothly as you may think. Remember these kids have been through a loss and are going to have trouble processing that and the “joy” of having mom or dad replaced. They don’t know how to emotionally engage; they are kids. So they will act out. Often. If you have left the new spouse alone for long periods of time with these little people that are virtual strangers to him or her, there is going to be trouble.
In our case, my husband wanted me to stay home with the kids to raise them and homeschool them. To make this happen, he had to take on 3 jobs; 1 full time and 2 part-time. He was away from home a lot. His two children were wonderful and really loved me for the most part but my two girls resented him telling them what to do before he left the house, and they rebelled often. It was up to me to enforce what he said, and I hate to say it, but I mostly failed at it. What happened was that my indifference caused a larger rift to form between my girls and him. Also there were more than a few problems with his children that I didn’t quite know how to handle. A couple times the arguments his son and I had lead to the boy running away. Not far, thankfully. He would run up the road and sit in a ditch to think. But it scared me nonetheless. If my honey had been home more, he could have headed these problems off at the pass.
Boys... who knew?
I wasn’t used to boys and wasn’t aware that arguing is what they do and do well. I did and still don’t know how to ignore that. One day we got into an argument about the color of a girl’s hair. I merely wanted to describe a girl I saw at church and ask if they knew here. I said her hair was auburn, he corrected me and said her hair was red. I had a red-headed cousin and this girl was not a red-head. I wanted to just leave it but he wouldn’t stop. He wanted to win this debate and kept following me around the house hoping I would agree with him. In the end it was a yelling fest, which I stated in the whole scheme of things with people starving in China, what did it matter what color her hair was? That’s when he ran away. Now, retelling this story seems harmless and even a little laughable, but both of us were so heated at the time that it was anything but harmless. He was a kid; albeit a mouthy kid, but a kid nonetheless. As an adult I should have been able to take the highroad but I let him get to me. I predicted he would be a lawyer someday and drive poor judges and defense attorneys crazy, but at 12 he was just driving me crazy.
We lived through that phase; I even let the boy live. Needless to say, it could have been a lot easier if the boy’s father had been more available for situations like these. Not that I’m mad at him at all. He made it possible for me to be home with all the kids: his and mine.
Do all boys argue like that between the ages of 12 and 16?
2. Giving your new husband or wife too much authority with their new stepchild in the early stages of the relationship.
The rule of thumb here is that for the first couple of years, the natural parent should do the disciplining for their children. Stepchildren greatly resent this new person in their life acting like their mom or dad. It's no picnic for the new mom/dad either. It’s a very shaky position to be in and I have seen second marriages go under over this. I mean, of course, you had the children before you had the spouse here, so which will you stick up for? Naturally for the child.
Believe me, children can be devious and set up situations where they look like victims. They don’t mean to be evil, really. They just want things to go back to “normal” and for them normal is when the natural mom and natural dad were together. They don’t know that in most cases this just cannot happen, but they hope for a utopia. They are kids. You really can’t blame them for that.
My oldest daughter was only 9 when I remarried. She remembered only vaguely a life with her father, because I left him when she was only 3. We had spent more time alone than with him. But she still resented a new man, father, usurper in her home. There were times when we would all go out and have a great time, where even she enjoyed herself. However the next week she would be an absolute monster. I realized later that she would actually feel guilty for having a good time without your real father and make up for it afterward by being monumentally unhappy. She wasn’t cognizant of what she was doing or why, she only knew she felt badly for feeling good. As an adult, I wasn’t even able to process what was going on while it was going on but later looking back it made sense.
What can be done? Short of trying to explain to the child, not much can be done. Lots and lots of understanding from the adults must be exercised because the kids really don’t understand what they are feeling. This is where good books or support groups come in handy. If only there had been one when we were going through all this, I wouldn’t have been so mystified by her all the time.
Not always the angels you would wish.
3. Not spending quantity time with your child after the remarriage.
A few things helped. Knowing my children as I do, I knew that my oldest daughter responded best to gifts. I would leave a small chocolate kiss on her pillow with a note that said I noticed she had “tried” that day and I thanked her. She was an angel for days, all for the price of one chocolate kiss. My #2 daughter responds to acts of service so I did her chores with her one day, and she was my devoted advocate for weeks after that. A little effort goes a long way.
Taking them out occasionally, one-on-one was also helpful. I would plan an outing only twice a year with each child to be alone with them and touch base with their heart. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. I took my oldest camping overnight and we got to talk about lots of things she had been thinking about. I took the younger daughter to dinner and we got burgers and walked in the park. She didn’t usually hold grudges or act out but it paid to really find out what was on her mind. My husband took his two out one-on-one also, to get a time when they could talk and bond. This was a really important thing to do for each of them to feel like they were still valuable as individuals.
These were things we mostly stumbled on unwittingly. We noticed how much it meant and how things went smoother when we tried them so we incorporated them into our routines. Today, there are lots of support groups and authors writing on the subject that can help. Each is expressing opinions and sharing things that worked for them like I am. The truth is that every family and every child is different, and what worked for one may not necessarily work for all. You have to try them all and keep what works. Throw out all the rest. Your child is a unique individual and you alone know him/her best.
I did find Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages to be of great help when finding why some things made my kids (and my spouse) excited while others didn’t. Those love languages came in real handy when leaving little chocolates on pillows and sharing chores. It is well worth the time to read, believe me.
Take your honey out!
Spend time together
Also, I would like to say that it is easy to get so bogged down in the problems with the kids that you forget to get away and spend time with your new spouse. The marriage has to be given time to bloom and grow if you want it to last. It isn’t easy either. Unlike a first marriage where there is a “honeymoon” period, second marriages just don’t have time for that. Boom. You immediately have kids to deal with. So stay strong in your marriage and don’t allow the kids to form a wedge to separate you. When the last kid leaves home, you will actually get that honeymoon time. You just need to make sure you still like each other once you get there. When the last kid left for college and the last dog died, we looked at each other and couldn’t believe our luck. It was an awesome time where we kicked up our heels and went places together at the drop of a hat. Those are the days you are working for.
Now I feel like a roadside flagman, waving my red flag at new remarried couples to say, “the bridge is out ahead. Go carefully.” Or more likely, “Storm’s a’coming. Take shelter.” I don’t think I would have changed my course or not married if I had known the problems ahead. If only I had had a flagman to let me know the potholes were so deep I would at least have been less surprised or at least braced when I fell into it. So for those of you, like me, who are going to make this jump or who already have, Careful… deep potholes ahead!
Good luck in your blended family. Remember that it doesn’t happen all at once. Just because you said, “I do” doesn’t mean that the blending is done. It is a process and will take time to make the blend work. My success is that my stepkids are grown with kids of their own and they still love me. I don’t know why. I made lots of mistakes. But, bless them, they love me anyway.