When's the Honeymoon?
- Dr. David Swift The Smalley Relationship Center
- 2004 24 Feb
Starting a Stepfamily can quickly turn into chaos.
I will not do it wrong again. This time I know what was missing, and I know what my children and I need in a marriage. This time I will do it right, and my next marriage will last a lifetime.
Fact: The divorce rate for 2nd marriages exceeds the divorce rate for 1st marriages
Fact: Remarried couples with children are twice as likely to divorce than remarried couples with out children
Most marriages begin with some type of honeymoon. Even if the couple doesn't go somewhere exotic, there is almost always a period of time filled with fun, attention, excitement, and consideration. However, marriages that blend existing families can prove to be quite different.
Many couples begin these marriages with unrealistic expectations like the ones listed above. Let's step back and look at their courtship. At first, the courtship with their new friend goes along well for both them and their children. The kids profess to like the new friend, and all seems well when everyone is together. Although it is not uncommon for children of divorced parents to resist new relationships, most are open to someone new, as long as the adults remain in the dating stage. However, let the relationship turn serious and things can quickly change.
Most parents are caught off guard by their children's reaction to this change. By this time most divorced parents have not only put their past marriage behind them, but also their past mate. Unfortunately many parents fail to take into consideration the secret wish of not only their children, but of almost all divorced children. And that is the wish that their biological parents will someday reunite. Actually, it is not unusual for therapists to council adult children who still express the same wish many years after their parents have divorced.
Once the marriage takes place, it is common to see stepfamilies explode. Multiple unexpected issues begin to surface, and surface quickly. Problems with territory, and fairness most often top the list. New members of the family are now sharing bedrooms, bathrooms, televisions and telephones that were once private territory. Time with the live-in parent that was private and uninterrupted becomes rare or hard to get. Rules imposed by new members of the family highlight issues of fairness and change, creating resentment and defiance from the children. The list goes on as often, even small changes like a different menu can cause problems. Schedules change, attention changes, along with freedom, and responsibilities around the home. If these problems were not addressed before the marriage, they will certainly be addressed quickly after the marriage begins, and guaranteed, it's no honeymoon.
Children can become very powerful and play major roles in the upheaval experienced in the home. They will play parents against each other, become defiant toward the stepparent, fight with their stepsiblings, and manipulate situations that force parents into confrontation or arguments. The age of the child plays a big part in how these problems will appear. Younger children will use "space" as a means of interference. In other words, they will physically get between you and your new spouse. Sometimes they will act sick or use other methods to draw the attention of their real Mom or Dad. This will be most visible when you and your mate are having time together. Older children are more obvious and combative. They use their independence and intelligence to manipulate and cause difficult problems, sometimes-serious problems between family members.
The secret rests in uniting as a parenting team. This means that discussions between children and parents take place with both parents present. Problems with the stepparent are worked out with the stepparent and child working together, and that an open forum is maintained between all members of the family. Avoid secret meetings between you and your children, and discourage stepparent bashing. And at all costs, do not discuss you and your mate's problems with your children.
It's not always easy to unite. Who is to discipline, and when, can cause major problems with not only the children but between newly wedded parents. Single parents are use to working alone with their children. Think of it this way, how do you feel when other people, even relatives take the liberty of disciplining your children. Parents often report these same feelings with their new mates.
Disagreements with when to discipline, and how much discipline are common and serve as immediate problems in the new marriage. Julie (my wife) and I came from very different families. My dad served in the military for an entire career, and our family was all boys (except for mom), where Julie grew up in a comparatively lax atmosphere that was all girls (except for her dad). Our concepts about discipline and respect are very different and we find ourselves continually struggling with what discipline is appropriate and what isn't. Our system rests on these boundaries. We discuss the issues and potential discipline together, with the goal of working toward a mutual agreement. If we can not come to an agreement, the biological parent makes the call, and the stepparent reinforces their decision. However this looks, it is most important that you both appear as a united front and that all problems will be faced as a parenting team.
Honeymoons do exist with stepfamilies. However, they usually take place a lot later in the marriage. Stepfamilies are tough to deal with, and we haven't even scratched the surface of the potential issues that can arise. Remember that nuclear families struggle too, and that it is normal for stepfamilies to have more complicated and different issues than that of a nuclear family. There are answers and healthy stepfamilies do exist. Educate yourself and lower your expectations of how far and fast your new family will progress. It will help in your walk in building a healthy and happy stepfamily.
© Copyright 2003 Smalley Relationship Center