3 Ways to Totally Mess Up Your Blended Family
The Sinkholes of Blended Family Situations
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 just 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 usually include children, which adds to the conflict possibilities by a huge factor.
Here are a few of the common sinkholes you may want to avoid.
1. Fighting and Quarreling
1. Fighting and quarreling with your new spouse in front of the children.
As a teen in the 70’s, I embraced the whole, “honesty is the best policy” philosophy with my children. What a huge mistake! You see, children are just that: children. There are some things they cannot understand and should not know about. Conflict in marriage is one of those things.
For one thing conflict, fighting and quarreling are probably what ended the last marriage (or at the very least, what the children heard at the end of the last marriage) and it is highly possible the children still remember that time with a mixture of dread and guilt. Children often think that the first divorce was their fault somehow. You can’t really dissuade them from thinking that even by telling them it wasn’t their fault. Quarrels happen in and around parenting issues and styles and when the kids hear their names mentioned in a loud exchange, they couldn’t help but think they caused it. This is only one of the many reasons that you should keep conflict concerning the parenting issues to a minimum if at all possible. At least you should keep it out of the children’s earshot.
One way my husband addressed these issues was to have a weekly family forum. We got together in the living room and everyone was allowed to air problems and conflicts, questions and curiosities without any repercussions. This was the time we got a lot of misconceptions answered and out in the open. As the kids got older (teenagers) they didn’t want the weekly forums anymore. I guess they were too cool to talk about their feelings but we still had the family forums at least once a month just in case there was something we could address as a family.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children. But bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.— Ephesians 6: 4
2. Allowing Criticism
2. Allowing in-laws or extended family to criticize you to the children.
This one was one of the hardest issues to address. You see you want the children to visit with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., and you usually cannot control what those people feel or say about you and your new marriage. So how can you possibly not allow the in-laws or extended family to criticize and berate you or your decisions to your children? Easy. You let them know that these children are yours and that you are doing your best to raise them the way you deem appropriate. Then you let them know that they are a vital part of the family and that you want your children to continue to see them but if they feel that you are all wrong or that they just feel it is impossible not to tell your children how badly you have messed up their lives…. Then you will have to keep the children from any further visitations with them.
Tough Love Solution
In my case, it was my own mother and sister who felt I had messed up my children’s lives by remarrying and they didn’t mind telling my children so. It was infuriating and for a while, I was suffering from enough guilt from the initial divorce to let them get away with it. But my children’s attitude toward me began to get worse and worse until I had to make a decision that my mother was not happy with. I wouldn’t let them go over there anymore. What this did was force a confrontation with me and my mother backed down. We agreed to disagree but she swore she would keep her feelings to herself for the kid’s sake.
This was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I hate conflict and would rather eat dirt than confront anyone, let alone my own mother. In the end, I felt like I demanded respect and for once, I received it.
“Having children is like living in a frat house – nobody sleeps, everything’s broken, and there’s a lot of throwing up.”— Ray Romano
Have you ever criticized your ex to your children?
3. Assuming Your Child is Okay
3. Assuming that your child is okay with the relationship, even when they are not openly emotional or verbal about it.
This one is one of the many landmines I have seen in our blended family groups that is so surprising. It didn’t happen with my own children. They were openly accepting or openly hostile when things weren’t going their way. But one family we knew and mentored had a son who was seemingly fine with his mother’s new fiancé and it wasn’t until after the marriage that he became withdrawn and depressed. He hadn’t expressed any problems with the new father figure before and had even told his mom that he was okay with her remarrying.
Later in therapy, he told the counselor that the marriage made him realize that his mom was never getting back with his dad. He hadn’t really thought about consciously before that moment and so he couldn’t put it into words before. After the marriage, he knew he would never have his dad in his home again and it made him very sad and his grades began to suffer. It took a lot of work to help him pull his life back together. In the meantime, the marriage suffered because the new husband felt this was entirely his fault and the new wife spent every waking moment worrying about her unresponsive son. It wasn’t long before the marriage failed and there was a separation.
My husband and I felt this could have been avoided in the dating period by seeing a therapist upfront with the children. They need to have it spelled out that the mom and dad will not be getting back together. It is the old Parent Trap syndrome. Do you remember Parent Trap with Haley Mills? The twin girls work together to get the mother and dad back together again and it ends happily ever after. It’s unfortunate that that rarely happens but the kids will still secretly hope for it. Again, they are children. They really can’t be expected to understand that the divorce of their mom and dad is probably the end of that marriage. Sometimes, they don’t even really understand that is what they are thinking subconsciously. In these cases, you have to have a therapy that gently brings it all to the surface so the children can see it and accept it.
A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short.— Andre Maurois
If you see some blended family today, say a prayer for them. They are going through things you can only imagine. Every blended family is different with different dynamics and ex’s and in-laws, siblings and stepsiblings to deal with. Each one has its own set of happy times and terror times. Yet each one is just trying to make the best life possible for the children and the new marriage. Good luck with yours.