Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage…wait, that’s the wrong theme song!
“Here’s the story,
Of a lovely lady,
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls.
All of them had hair of gold,
Like their mother,
The youngest one in curls.”
You remember that song from the TV show “The Brady Bunch”, and you probably also remember how cool it was that a man with three sons and a woman with three girls get married and move in together and get along SO well. Well, you also know that is only on TV and it does not always happen like that in real life, but you can come close.
From the web site smartstepfamilies.com, statistics show that 1/3 of all weddings in America form blended families. Often, these days, people are getting married a second or third time and along with those marriages come children from the previous relationships. How those children are treated can often make or break a relationship so it is important to make sure that all parties understand what is involved before taking on the commitment. I have had the pleasure of being the wedding photographer at several weddings where the children of either the bride or the groom were involved and while the wedding day is a beautiful event, what happens after is what really matters. So what can you do during the dating/engagement process to make sure that the marriage and the blended family will be successful? One of the keys to having a successful blended family is to go into the relationship with the mindset that the kids belong to both of you – not just your kids, not just his kids, but OUR kids! If the children don’t have a sense of belonging, it can create tension in the family and that will create more tension in the marriage. I had the pleasure of interviewing some past clients and asked them some questions and I’ll share their answers and some additional insight with you to give you something to think about. As you read their answers, try to answer the questions yourself and discuss them with your mate to gain some common ground in this crucial area.
How old were the children when you met? Do you think that children should be a certain age before the parent starts dating?
1- My daughter was 4 years old, it depends on the situation
2 – His were 2 and 6, mine was 5 – and I think that the younger, the better in many ways.
3 – When we first dated he had one daughter that was 2 years old and one on the way. Fast forward 6 years he had two more daughters and the ages were 2, 4, 6, and 8. For men/women that aren’t actively in the home the kids aren’t affected as much. For men/women that live with the kids, yes, they may want them to be a certain age because it could be confusing to a child if the he/she is in and out of relationships before they can understand what that means.
Did you or your mate have any expectations about how you would get along with children?
1 – No expectations but we did discuss parenting, I think when you go into a situation with expectations you get disappointed. I feel it’s always best to just talk about things and hear each other’s responses, views, opinions and then work from that.
2 – I think everyone expects it to be perfect. You think “We love each other so much, our kids just have to love our partner too.”
3 – In the beginning I thought he had his affairs completely in order with the women. Therefore my belief was that we would get along great and I’d be a wonderful stepmother and have a great relationship with each of the girls. WRONG!!! Try again….LOL
Did your children like your mate? If not, why not?
1 – Yes, and I feel that she did because he made her feel a part of the relationship. If she didn’t like him, I would have been concerned and tried to figure out why. A lot of times when this occurs, we get so caught up in what we need or how the relationship is benefitting us that we don’t care to focus on the whole picture.
2 – My son was – and still is – fairly indifferent, but he’s also autistic. J
(This is a valid concern. Accepting a child is one thing, but accepting a child with special needs is a whole ‘nother ball game, but when it comes to children with special needs, make sure you are able to “enter their world”)
Did your mate have to “buy” your child’s affection?
1 – No, when you have to buy someone’s affection you’re looking for a quick fix and not a long-term solution.
2 – Definitely not. A shared interest is a much more effective bonding strategy.
3 – I don’t think the children wanted me to buy their affection as much as the mothers wanted to test their limits and then call it using me. I felt at times I was doing what was best or right to help my husband. It brought about a liking from the children because they were not used to receiving things from their father prior to our marriage and now they felt like they were getting the world.
If your children didn’t like your mate, did that raise any “red flags” for you?
2 – No – because of the autism, and because my partner is a stellar dad to his own kids.
While dating, were the children the priority? If you are married now, have the roles changed?
1 – When dating, yes the child was a priority and it continued even after we were married.
2 – Kids were and still are the priority – and they wouldn’t let us have it any other way.
3 – His children were priority to me, but I don’t think as much him. The relationship was so weird with the mothers that when it came time for him to do the right thing it was hard for them to adjust and now three years into marriage they’re still adjusting. As of now of the three children I only directly deal with one of them. Unfortunately, the others aren’t allowed in my home. Women can be very catty and I feel it’s best not to deal with them until they’re older and we can all mature. It’s not in the best interest for me to have a woman’s child in my care that I don’t get along with and that I can’t trust. You never really know a person’s intentions.
Did you do anything to convince your children to like your mate?
1 – Didn’t have to convince to her it came natural. When things come natural it works out better. If you have to force it, it’s not worth it.
2 – Nope – I’ve always made private time for the two of us and I repeatedly ask him how he feels about my partner. My son needs to know that he and I will always be a unit.
3 – No
Did the children think you or your mate was “replacing” the missing parent?
1 – Yes, at one point she did think that we were trying to replace her biological dad. We sat and explained to her that would never happen. We told her what a special blessing it was that God had given her two dads instead of one.
2 – No – and as a step-mother I’m always very careful not to try to replace their mother, and I only ever say positive things about her to them.
3 – My oldest step-daughter struggles the most because she doesn’t understand the parent child relationship. She doesn’t interact well with her father and she wants her parents together so I can’t replace her mother, but she is going to give me a hard time until her parents are back together. (I broke up their home…that he never lived in)
(This is crucial as well. The child needs to know and understand that all the adult involved get along and communicate and be respectful of one another for the child’s sake so it does no good to talk bad about the other parent)
If you met someone with children, how did you get along with the children?
2 – Very well.
3 – Prior to this relationship I ran from people with children. Don’t ask me how I got involved in this.
Who disciplines the children? Do you agree on discipline when it comes to your child vs. “their” child? Do you discuss discipline or do you trust your mate and/or does your mate trust you to discipline their child?
1 – We both discussed discipline, and we both disciplined. If your mate (whether it’s male/female) are helping provide for the welfare of this child then they should be able to discipline also.
2 – We do it as a partnership. We always say “There are two parents in this house.” When his kids are with us, I’m the mom of the house. When my son is home, my partner is the dad of the house.
3 – He doesn’t have to discipline them because they listen without him repeating himself. When I keep my one stepdaughter her mother wants me to discipline her as needed, but I don’t unless she’s getting completely out of hand. I mostly deal with her by talking to her mother and father and allowing them to handle the situation.
How do you handle disagreements regarding the children either now or while you were dating?
1 – I think disagreements should be discussed between the mates and not in front of the children. You should be able to come to some common ground where everyone that’s involved will benefit. There will ALWAYS be compromise.
2 – PRIVATELY – after the kids are asleep!!
3 – In the beginning I would go back and forth arguing with the mothers (2 specifically). In three years I have learned to just let them be and not deal with them or the children. It was too much of a headache for someone with no children. As for dealing with him we seldom disagree on them. In our last fall out it was because my mother-in-law is very close with the women and she wanted him to stay at her house on his weekends to spend time with them, but that wasn’t going to work for me so we’ve left it alone for now. We are seeking a counselor currently to help us deal with how we can manage these relationships going forward to raise children and have healthy co-parenting relationships.
(You need to agree on discipline! Even with both biological parents, kids will try and play one against another so you can imagine how it is when a step parent is involved. Make sure you communicate so that you don’t turn out to be “the mean one”)
Please share any additional advice for a parent couple that you wish someone had shared with you concerning children in the relationship….
1 – If you’re entering a relationship and children are involved, get to know the person first before bring the children in. See if the person would be worthy of you and being a part of your child’s life. So many times we get so caught up in “I” and what “I” need and how this person make “me” feel and how this is going to benefit “me” that we forget about how this new phase of your life is going to affect your child as well. Most importantly, ALWAYS consult God and seek His guidance when making this type of decision. Make sure that this is someone that God has placed in your life to share this very important role. Parenting is the most important job you’ll ever have in your life.
2 – ….It’s so much harder than you think it will be, and it never gets any easier. Vet the in-laws well, because they can be a deal killer!!
3 – Be sure the parents are being parents before you become involved. When they aren’t doing their part you will walk into a world of chaos that will wear you out trying to fix their issues.
Of course there are other great resources out there for blended families (Focus on the Family, Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson are a couple of starters) so please check them out and make sure you start and stay on the right course –