You’ve been divorced (or widowed) for a few years now, and you’ve been dating, going out with various men of greater or lesser acceptability and interest. Some were absolutely creepy. Some were simply boring. Many were the evenings you wished you were back home with a good crossword puzzle or popping corn to eat with your kids while you watched a movie… anything would be better than enduring a long evening with this fellow your friend swore would be ideal for you, but what on earth was she thinking?!
And then you met him. Mr. Wonderful. Mr. Ideal.
There’s just one catch: He’s actively involved in parenting his kids, and the kids are…well, they’re a horror story. The boy is a bully. He bosses around your kids and even threatens them. And the girl is a self-centered princess who thinks the world revolves around her and who resents your intrusion into their family life.
Or maybe that’s not the catch. Maybe the catch is that your Mr. Wonderful is not quite so wonderful with your kids. Maybe his parenting style and yours are miles apart. Or maybe he’s never had kids, and he doesn’t begin to know how to parent. But he’s making an unholy mess of trying to learn. And you wish he wouldn’t go to school on your kids.
Whichever is the case, the fact remains that a marriage at this stage of your life is a package deal. When you were single the first time around, it was just you and him, whoever the “him” of the moment was. Now you have kids…and quite probably he does, too. Is there any hope for these families ever blending seamlessly?
Seamlessly? Probably not. That’s the stuff of fairy tales…and TV shows. The question is, Can you make a go of it at all? Are you and your kids going to be able to blend successfully with him and any kids he has? The answer isn’t always a rosy Yes.
Let’s look first at the problem of marriage when parenting styles differ. This need not be an untenable situation. He can learn to bend a little…and so can you. (Or is either of you so rigid that a change is not possible? If so, that’s a distinct red flag!) But even assuming that you both bend a little, are you starting from positions so far apart that meeting in the middle is a hopeless cause? If you’re extremely permissive and he’s exceedingly strict (or vice versa), not only are you going to be sending mixed signals to the kids, you’re setting yourselves up for a lot of friction between the two of you that will seriously impact on your own relationship. It may be that, no matter how perfect this man is for you in every other way, this is a relationship that ultimately cannot work out because you’re not getting married “in a vacuum.” It’s not just the two of you. There are kids in the picture.
Now, what if the problem is his kids? What if you find them so unlovable that you can’t bond with them at all? Of course, they could just be putting their worst feet forward because they resent you. If you give them time, they might warm to you and show you their better side. You do need to give them a chance. Remember, in their minds, you’re an interloper. And if they still harbor fantasies of their mom and dad getting back together, they’ll see you as the obstacle to the completion of that dream. If their dad marries you, he’ll never remarry their mom. (Of course, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of his remarrying her anyhow, but they’re not being realistic; they’re being childishly hopeful.)
So you give them a chance to get to know you and to take off the armor with which they’ve protected their emotions. But maybe it turns out that they really are spoiled or bratty or impossible, that this isn’t just their initial reaction to an interloper but, rather, that they really are exceedingly difficult kids to get close to.
What do you do now? Can you in good conscience marry this man, knowing that not only is it highly unlikely that you’ll ever learn to love his kids, you don’t even like them?!
Or maybe the problem is between your kids and his kids. Maybe you get along tolerably well with his kids, and he gets along OK with your kids, and your parenting styles are reasonably close…but your kids and his don’t get along at all. At first you hoped it was just a period of adjustment, but you’ve been dating him seriously for several months, now, including your respective kids in a lot of your activities, and the two sets just don’t mesh. It’s not just that they haven’t yet learned to be good friends. There is active hostility between them. Maybe his son bullies your son, or his daughter is consistently bratty to your daughter. And though your new gentleman has had endless talks with his kids about their attitude and behavior, you’ve seen no improvement in the way they treat your kids
What are you going to do now?
Whether the problem is your relationship with his kids, his relationship with your kids, or his kids and your kids and the way they treat each other, the fact remains that this is a package deal—you and he inescapably have children, and they have to be figured into the equation. It’s no use saying, “Things will work out in time.” Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. You can try postponing any marriage till you see if his kids mellow, or his parenting style softens. You can try family therapy, especially if it’s his kids who are the problem, and if they’re not basically spoiled or bratty or bullying, but rather are acting this way out of resentment or other divorce-engendered issues. But you’d better not proceed to the altar till you’re sure you have a compatible package. I don’t mean a perfectly stress-free blend. That’s asking the impossible. But a situation with a reasonable hope for success.
Because remarriage when there are kids involved—on either side of the equation, yours or his or both—is a package deal. And the most ideally suited couple in the world still won’t be able to make a go of it if the stepkids and stepparents can’t foster a respectful and happy relationship with each other, or if the parents are going to severely disagree on how to raise the kids, or if the kids from the two different sides of the family simply cannot get along at all. This is real life, not a fairy tale or a TV story. So don’t blithely assume that love will conquer all. Sometimes reality conquers love. That can happen when a relationship is a package deal.
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Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 100 books, many of them for parents or kids, many of which help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens, The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family, all in print, and such e-books as Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way. Learn more about them at Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiamacgregor.com.
Cynthia is available for copywriting, ghostwriting, and editing. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.
- Solo Parenting: Does Your Life Revolve Around Your Children? (dangerouslee.biz)
- Solo Parenting: Change – It’s Not What You Get From a Dollar (dangerouslee.biz)
- Solo Parenting: Celebrations and Occasions (dangerouslee.biz)
- Blended Families: The Legal Rights & Responsibilities of a Stepparent (blogs.lawyers.com)