Blending a family is a huge, complex topic and this is only going to scratch the surface … if you are dating again, thinking about getting married again then you’re going to need to help your children adjust to your remarriage.
We know that second marriages are not easy. The U.S. Census Bureau in 2006 found that 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce. It seems that third marriages are even harder, ending in divorce about 70 percent of the time.
Experts cite a number of reasons for this one of which is that the children can be a destabilizing factor. For example, you’ll almost certainly find differences in parenting styles, challenges with discipline, problems getting the children to get along with each other and obstacles to coordinating parenting schedules.
There are however plenty of people who have successfully blended families so don’t get discouraged. Instead, ask what you can do to help your child see your new spouse and their children as a positive addition to your family.
Author Maria Ashworth knows the challenges first hand. She remarried about nine years ago when her two children were aged eight and nine. Her second husband had five children, from two previous marriages, ranging in ages from two to 21. Based on her own experience, Ashworth’s latest book is Step One, Step Two, Step Three and Four (available on Amazon) and is designed for children aged between four and eight to help reassure them that in spite of the changes, a blended family can be worth it.
Ashworth joins me for this episode of Conversations About Divorce and you can click on the player below to listen in or keep reading …
Wait For Introductions Until Things Are Serious
While Ashworth’s children were aware she was dating, she did not introduce them to her now-husband until they were engaged. The shared parenting time she had with her ex gave her the time and flexibility to date on her non-parenting time and she didn’t want her kids to be spending time with her boyfriend until she knew they were serious.
Once her kids were introduced to her now-husband, she says they absolutely adored him. “He was very different from my 18 years of marriage. Even in a religious sense, he was totally different. He brought a lot of spirituality into our home which was a great additive to my family,” said Ashworth.
When asked what Ashworth would do differently, she said she would have sat down with all the children together at the same time to discuss their concerns about blending the families. She thinks it would have been helpful for the children to hear each other’s concerns directly and hearing the same responses may have helped to make the transitions smoother.
The Kids May Not Be Happy
In a perfect world, two adults would be able to introduce their kids to each other and everyone accepts everyone else and you have a happy, blended family. That was the premise of the famous T.V. show, The Brady Bunch.
That wasn’t the case for Ashworth. At the same time as she was introducing her kids to her now-husband, he was introducing her to his five children. The younger children were more accepting but Ashworth feels that the elder three had some carryovers from his second wife and that impacted her relationship with them negatively. She feels they were being protective of their father.
She recalls the eldest daughter being home one night and slamming doors. When her now-husband confronted her, she gave him an ultimatum: it was either her or Ashworth. Ashworth’s now-husband said that he didn’t want to have to choose and that he wanted them both in his life.
At the time, that didn’t work for the daughter who chose not to attend the wedding. Today, Ashworth says the relationship is still not where she would like it to be but it is much better.
Children Don’t Get To Decide
It’s difficult for many of us to choose a path when faced with objections from our children however, Ashworth believes you have to look at what you want for your life remembering that your children will grow up and they will have their own relationships.
For Ashworth, family is a core value. With 13 pregnancies and two children, she places a high value on children. She stresses that she did not want to replace anyone and rather, wanted to be a part of their lives.
While they did wait until they were engaged to introduce their kids to each other, Ashworth and her now-husband were engaged for nine months before the wedding and this was intentionally to give everyone the opportunity to adjust to the new family.
Live Where It’s Least Disruptive
Once you’ve decided to marry, another big decision to make is where to live. In Ashworth’s situation, her children were living with her most of the time. They saw their dad on alternating weekends. Her now-husband had a similar arrangement for his younger three kids who lived with their mother most of the time and were with him on alternating weekends.
That meant it made sense and would be less disruptive certainly for Ashworth’s children, for them all to live in Ashworth’s home at least to start with. Her home had a guest room and that’s where her now-husband’s kids stayed when it was his parenting time. Her now-husband’s younger three kids were all boys so that did make it easier in terms of sharing a room.
After a few years, they did move and buy a home together.
Give The Children Time To Adapt
Ashworth’s son and her now-husband’s boys connected easily. “The kids really melted like butter. It was an easy transition,” said Ashworth.
It was harder for her daughter who wanted nothing to do with the other boys. When the boys where at Ashworth’s house, they had to share a bathroom with Ashworth’s daughter and she didn’t want them touching her stuff, as you would expect with boys and girls.
Ashworth sensed the bigger picture. “My daughter was feeling that with the other kids, her mom would be taking care of them so where was her place?” Wisely, Ashworth responded giving her daughter the love she was looking for and reassuring her that nothing was going to change.
It took some time and then one day Ashworth overheard her daughter introducing the boys as her brothers. “She had realized that there was something good about these kids,” said Ashworth.
Giving children time to adapt to the new situation is about you creating a safe space for them to voice their concerns, for you to acknowledge their concerns and then to find resolutions. It’s about removing as much uncertainty as possible.
“Kids want ritual. They want to know what’s coming and they want to know that they are loved as much as they were before,” said Ashworth.
Spend Time Altogether
Getting the children to spend time together so they do get to know each other sounds obvious but with conflicting parenting time schedules it can be challenging.
Fortunately for Ashworth, her ex was flexible with his parenting time and agreed to switch the alternating weekend schedule to dovetail with her now-husband’s schedule which meant that her now-husband’s children were with them when her children were at home and they could do activities together.
Ashworth’s ex has also been flexible with parenting time over Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Spend Time Alone With Your Kids
No matter how well the blending is going, your kids are going to want to have one-on-one time with you and vice versa and it’s smart to build this into your schedule. Again, this can be highly dependent on parenting schedules. In Ashworth’s case, her now-husband had parenting time on Wednesday evenings with his children and they agreed that this would be time he’d spend with them while she and her children had their time alone.
Her kids knew that Wednesday evenings were their time. They would have dinner, go to the movies, have ice cream. Again, it’s about rituals, creating certainty and reassuring the children that there is enough love to go around.
The Parenting Is Hard
Of everything about her second marriage, Ashworth says it’s the parenting that is difficult. “He has his way. I have my way. It’s like you’re on two different ships.”
The natural tendency is for each parent to discipline their own biological children and then to take their concerns about their non-biological children to their partner. There’s also a tendency to be protective of your biological children and when it comes to different parenting styles, that can create conflicts.
Ashworth says it sometimes takes 15 minutes of heated discussion to get to the understanding that she is feeling unsupported and that the conflict is more about that then the specific behavior or event that just happened. “We’re still learning about each other and how not to step on each other’s toes,” said Ashworth.
“We argue mostly about the children. It’s not about money. It’s about kids.”
And that’s exactly why experts cite the children as a destabilizing factor in second marriages.