Step Families: Easing Into One
After the transition following a death or divorce, many single moms eventually fall back in love and want to remarry. But many times they underestimate the effect the remarriage will have on her current single-mother home. Even if the children like their potential stepfather, everyone involved will go through major life changes once the marriage occurs.
Like many single mothers, you may be wondering if you should remarry and if so, how to best incorporate your new husband into the lives of your children. Step family expert and therapist Ron L. Deal advises single mothers to stop and think through the challenges of stepfamilies before deciding if remarriage is the right choice for them.
Deal lists the following stepfamily challenges that you should thoroughly think through before committing to a new marriage.
Even if your children get along well with your boyfriend now, expect difficulties once he becomes their stepfather. Your children may become more jealous of your time, may feel displaced, or may not understand their new situation. Don’t be blinded by Hollywood’s version of the instantly-happy blended family. The bottom line: keep your eyes open about the realities of stepfamily life.
Avoid the Rebound Effect
Deal warns that the average person requires as many as five years to heal from the emotional and spiritual wounds of a death or divorce. Don’t rush into a new relationship, no matter what voids you may be feeling. Many times single moms feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities and financial struggles and understandably seek the support of a new husband. But if your heart and soul are still clouded by unresolved emotions, you may not be able to make the wisest choice in your second husband. Or if you are fortunate enough to choose wisely under the emotional strain, you may not be able to give your new husband the full attention and love that he deserves.
Be Willing to Change your Priorities
As a single mom, most of your attention has been focused on your children. You may be seeking to compensate for their pain by spending every moment with them or overindulging them. But your loyalties must change once you remarry. If you put your new husband second to your children, the marriage will suffer. And a failed second marriage will be more stressful on your children than if you had never remarried. So if you are considering remarriage, you must be willing to put your new husband first, above your children. It may seem contrary to what you think is right, but you cannot create a stable home for your children if your marriage isn’t strong.
No matter how great of a mom you are, or how great of a husband and father your mate is, your new blended family will take work. And things will not run perfectly and smoothly — especially in the first few years. Don’t force your children and stepchildren to become instant best friends. Don’t force your children to spend all their time with their stepdad. Don’t try to cut your ex-husband out of the children’s lives because they have a new father figure. Blending two families takes patience and teamwork. If you want to remarry, especially if the man has children of his own, be willing to put in the work and exercise plenty of patience.
Whether your children have voiced it or not, they are more than likely harboring a small hope that you and their father will reconcile. And no matter how great of a guy your new boyfriend may be, he is no replacement for their own dad. So while a remarriage may benefit you greatly emotionally, socially, and even financially, it will be most difficult on the children. They may experience more anxiety, a renewed sense of loss, and other fears they had kept hidden. Be prepared to help your children work through their emotions, and if necessary, enlist the help of a counselor.
Expect a Change of Tune
As stated before, children who seem supportive of a boyfriend may completely change their support after the wedding. Whether they had not truly believed you would marry him, or they hadn’t stopped to think of the reality of the situation, once your new husband moves in, the entire dynamic changes. Don’t think that because your children seem happy with a current boyfriend that they will necessarily accept him in a father role. This is not to say all children will turn on their stepfathers as soon as the honeymoon is over, but expect new tensions, emotions, and concerns to surface once he becomes family.
Develop a Plan
You may currently have a “let’s wing it” approach to parenting, but that mentality won’t work in a stepfamily. Even if you think you understand how to parent your kids, you will have a whole new dynamic once you remarry. And though you might expect a new husband to step right in and provide nurturing and discipline, in reality it may take a few years before he can truly assume these roles. In fact, Deal explains that in the beginning, the stepfather may serve in a role closer to a babysitter or uncle rather than a parent. Plan a gradual change of roles and responsibilities for your husband before you marry him. And make sure you both know that him building a relationship with your children (and you with his children) will take years, not months.
Work with the Ex
You may not like him. You may not want to see him. But it is imperative for the sake of your children that you work together with your ex-husband as a co-parent. Your ex will still play a part in your children’s lives and cooperating together will make parenting them from two households much easier. And no matter how you feel about your ex-husband, allow your children to love him with no conflicts of loyalty. If you are still fighting the aftermath of a divorce with custody battles or heated arguments over the children, then now is not the time to bring a new husband into the situation.
Watch for Dangers
According to Deal, “The incidence of stepfamily incest is eight times greater than in biological families. Stepsiblings in particular are often confronted with sexual thoughts that lead to shame or inappropriate behavior.” In some cases, the lack of blood relations can create awkward situations for stepsiblings. This is not to say that most stepfamilies involve abuse, yet it is something to be on guard against when considering remarriage and deciding on a potential spouse.
Every couple will benefit from premarital counseling. But couples who are considering blending two families together are particularly benefited from the help of a counselor. At the very least, purchase books of effective stepparenting or attend a stepparenting seminar together. You may have experience as a wife. You may have experience as a mother. But being a mother of a blended family and being a stepmother are two completely new roles. Prepare yourself and your husband as much as you can.
While these challenges may have overwhelmed you, they are meant to give you a realistic picture of the unique issues that stepfamilies face. Don’t allow your own needs for companionship blind you to the difficulties you will face.
If you have carefully considered each of these challenges and believe you are ready to remarry, Deal encourages that happiness is attainable: “Stepfamily life is not impossible. Indeed there is a ‘Promised Land’ of marital fulfillment, family stability, and shared spirituality. But for most stepfamilies finding these rewards requires intentional effort and a keen understanding of how stepfamilies work best.”
Sources: Successful Stepfamilies: www.SuccessfulStepfamilies.com.
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