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10 Things to Know Before You Remarry
"We're in love and we're ready to get married," they said. "Terrific," I responded. "Are your children ready for you to get married?" It was the first session of pre-remarital counseling and already Angie and Mike were caught off guard. "What do you mean?" Angie asked. "I'm sure our kids will have some adjustments to make, but that shouldn't take long. Besides, my kids are really enjoying Mike at this point-what's to be concerned about?" I could tell already that this couple was like most, they grossly underestimated the transition that remarriage has on the single-parent home. We had a lot of work to do.
Shelly's opening question was much different from Angie and Mike's. It had been five years since her divorce and she had made a concerted effort to work toward healing and create a stable home for her kids. As a result her home and children were functioning pretty well, despite some financial pressures. She met John about six months prior to our meeting and according to her it started out well. "I finally met a friend I could trust and confide in, not to mention someone who made me feel cared for. I had been craving that for some time. But now things are starting to progress and I'm afraid to remarry-not because I'm afraid to commit again-but because I know stepfamily life is very difficult and I don't want my children to suffer any more. What should I do?" Shelly was keenly aware that most stepfamilies end in divorce and she didn't want to become another statistic or put her children through more heartache. She needed some answers.
As I conduct stepfamily seminars around the country, the two most consistent questions I hear from single-parents are: 1) "Should I remarry?" and 2) "When we get married, how do we help our kids and family to succeed?" I never tell couples whether they should remarry, but I do admonish them to step away from their remarriage fantasies and consider the realities of stepfamily life. In order to make a step in the right direction for you and your children, you first must understand the challenges of stepfamily living and then make an informed choice about remarriage.
Stepfamilies, sometimes called blended families, are unique in many ways. Unfortunately, the "Brady Bunch" disguised most of those differences and gave America an artificial security about stepfamily life. If you watched that show you probably assume stepfamilies are just like biological families. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are just a few factors for single-parents to consider before stepping into a stepfamily.
1. Don't begin the journey unless you've done your homework, counted the cost, and are willing to persevere until you reach the 'Promised Land'. When the Israelites realized they were trapped between Pharaoh's army and the Red Sea, they cried out in fear and anger to Moses wishing they had stayed in Egypt. Nearly every stepfamily, shortly after remarriage, experiences a painful pinch between the losses and hurts of their past and the sea of opposition that stands in their future. Children are often heard crying, "Mom, why did you marry this guy? We were so much better off when it was just us." Truly, the journey to the Promised Land for most is not an easy one. But if you trust God and persevere, He will lead you through to better days.<
2. Make sure you're not still haunted by the ghost of marriage past. Emotional and spiritual healing from divorce or the death of a spouse takes time; in fact, the average person requires three to five years before they can be discerning about a new relationship. Don't let the rebound-bug bite you where it hurts. After his wife died of cancer Gary found himself lonely and feeling inadequate to care for his daughter. "I guess I needed a partner and I wanted a mother for my child," he said. This emptiness led him to rush into a new marriage that ended after just one year. Remember, time is your best friend so slow down the dating process.
3. Realize that a parent's relationship with their children will be an intimacy barrier to the new marriage. As I'm writing this article a stepmother came to see me hoping I could help diminish the jealousy she feels toward her stepson. Five years into the marriage and she still plays second fiddle. Yet the solution is not as simple as telling the biological parent "just put your spouse first." Biological parents can't just switch their loyalties; it feels like they're betraying their children. "After all," said one mother, "my kids have suffered enough and I don't want them to lose me, too." Despite this struggle, the couple must learn to nurture their relationship and not get lost in the stepfamily shuffle.
4. Understand that cooking a stepfamily takes time. Every stepfamily has an assumed blending style (whether they know it or not) that drives how they treat one another. For example, a food processor mentality results in parents demanding that stepchildren call their stepparent "dad" or "mom" right away. In effect, the noncustodial biological parent gets chopped up in the process. A pressure cooker mentality is used when new family members are forced into spending time together. Usually the lid blows off the pot. And finally, the blender mentality assumes that everyone will love everyone else to the same degree. Not only does this set people up for conflict it usually results in someone being creamed.
Instead, develop a crock-pot mentality that allows for time (the average stepfamily requires seven years to combine) and low heat to bring the various members of the family into relationship. For example, instead of forcing the family together, Brad and Julie spent Saturday afternoons each with their own children. Only after nearly two years did they begin to combine leisure activities. This low heat approach didn't threaten the children's relationship with their parents and made space for new relationships to develop.
5. Accept the fact that remarriage is a gain for the adults and a loss for the kids. What they really want is for mom and dad to reunite, so for them the remarriage is a loss. When you add that to the list of hundreds of other losses they've already experienced you can see why children have mixed feelings about the new family. Furthermore, loss always brings the fear of more loss. When persons start protecting themselves from more loss, walls are built. "I'm afraid my kids and new husband will turn against each other. It would be just another failure," said one mom. Her teenage son echoed her fear, "I'm afraid of getting close to anyone. With all I've had to live through I keep waiting for it to happen all over again.”