“A remarriage is not like a Monopoly game: return to ‘Go,’ roll the dice, and hope for better luck the second time around. A second marriage, when children are involved, is more like a kaleidoscope where a turn of the wheel has randomly rearranged all of the pieces. There will be a lot of shifting, a lot of experimenting with different patterns, before it all feels ‘right,’ before it feels even close to ‘normal.’ The end result will be different from our traditional images of home and family.”
– Dr. Mary Ann Artlip, James Artlip & Dr. Earl Saltzman (1993, p. 39)
So you’ve decided to start a stepfamily. Now it’s important to make sure this blended family of yours gets started on the right track. Remarriages aren’t like original marriages. When you’re blending families that involve pre-existing children, going into the situation haphazardly could result in a number of problems that you may never recover from.
What to expect when starting a stepfamily
Here are some things you should keep in mind and prepare for:
- The first year can be extremely tough – most couples who later break up experience problems right out of the gate. (Artlip, Artlip & Saltzman, 1993) Which makes it all the more crucial that you go in prepared. Get started on the wrong note, and it may be hard to right the ship again. Whereas first marriages tend to dissolve after at least 5 years of marriage, third and second marriages end a lot quicker, with more than half calling it quits in under 5 years. (ibid)
- Conflict is inevitable in the beginning. You’ll bump heads within your own family and with exes and relatives as everyone is feeling each other out. People will be suspicious and antagonistic towards this new relationship at first, concerned about how it will impact them.
- Expect jealousy issues to arise, not just between stepchildren but among adults as well. Extended family may become like bickering siblings, concerned about things that seem trivial (how many days you visited, who wore whose clothes bought by which grandparent, which side of the family you visited for Christmas, etc.) in their never-ending thirst for fair and just treatment.
- Understand that custody situations change. A spouse may currently only have the kids one night a week or on a part time schedule, but this can change for any number of reasons. The other parent may die or become incapacitated; A teen may decide they want to switch homes; An arrest of the other parent may give you sole custody; in other cases, marginal parents have been known to get tired of their kids and relinquish full custody to the other parent, or simply drop them on your doorstep with suitcases after they met a new man and decided they’d had enough of being a parent. Whatever the case may be, you need to go into this situation knowing you’re marrying someone who may at some point have sole custody of his kids.
Building a stepfamily
Many parents go into a remarriage expecting to put the pieces together almost as if they were rearranging furniture in their home to make way for a few new items. It seldom works like this. Building your stepfamily is a process akin to baking a cake: Putting the ingredients together is only the first step – they then need to be baked together under just the right conditions in order for everything to turn out good.
Be sure to have the kids meet each other as soon as you know you’ll be marrying. Try to start scheduling fun outings ahead of time that will give everyone a chance to develop a relationship within a positive setting. When you do move in together, be on the lookout for (and be sensitive to) any situations where you might rub each other the wrong way. People are not pieces on a chess board, and it’s going to take some time for everyone to get comfortable in this new family unit.
Adding a new baby to the stepfamily
Many parents may wonder about adding a new baby to the stepfamily. Most families who go this route say that the arrival of a new “our baby” had overall positive effects on the stepfamily. This isn’t something you should do simply for the sake of bonding, but if either of you wants another child, it’s certainly not something you should shy away from. Young children may experience the typical jealousy issues at first, but older kids can be thrilled about it, and overall it seems to help everyone gel as a family unit.