For single parents, it can be a moment of heavenly exhilaration and earthly anxiety. After what seemed only fantasy, hope is rekindled that love is not just for everybody else. Not all guys are losers, nor every woman crazy. Gone is the fear of dying alone. But unlike other couples, or perhaps when last in the same place, there are more pressing concerns than if it will be indoor or outdoor, local or destination. There is a whole new layer of complexity dampening the excitement – telling the kids mommy or daddy is getting married.
I have observed lots of couples go through this-while living it myself-most of us get it completely wrong; often with severe consequences. The first and most fundamental mistake couples make is believing the kids will be as equally happy about the news — they are not, even though you probably think otherwise. Kids may suddenly ignore, or outright reject, a new fiancé. That person immediately becomes enemy number one. He or she now represents a final nail in the coffin of what they have secretly hoped for years – mom and dad getting back together.
Kids may start acting in strange new ways as they go through the doubts of whether mom or dad will love them less because of this marriage. What will it all mean? Children who may have had a great relationship with a parent’s ‘significant other’ in the past, may become withdrawn and confused as they work through the emotions and questions of how this news will affect them.
I do not think this failure is for lack of desire, it’s more a lack of preparation and patience. Most single parents, divorced ones especially, understand on some level that a second marriage will be more difficult. But I don’t think we embrace that fact with the weight it deserves. Here’s a reality that every divorced parent should take as gospel truth – kids may sustain and even prolong first marriages; they can entirely wreck the second. It is one of the reasons they call it ‘blended’ families. We’re putting things together that don’t naturally fit. But all of that can change with some intention and patience.
Within a year or so of dating, the Queen and I knew where things were headed. When the time was right, we wanted to become husband and wife. That’s when we first began talking about a future marriage. Not when we knew for sure, but when we suspected. We were sharing our feelings with the kids two years before we went shopping for rings. We believed if we could start dropping little hints about what was to come; when that moment arrived it wouldn’t be as big a shock.
Kids love surprises-mom or dad getting married usually is not one of them.
Step 1 – If you and your partner believe marriage is probable, start talking about it with the kids then. You do not have to set them down in some formal way, but just drop ideas during general conversations. Maybe even ask the question, ‘wonder what it would be like if ‘X’ and I ever got married and we moved into a new house together?’ Suggest you start at least a year before any conceivable wedding date.
Step 2 – I have personally learned that it helps to let the kids be part of the engagement process. A year before I popped the question, the Queen was ring shopping with our girls. I would occasionally look at wedding bands with the boys. This was intentional. The tangible act of shopping together got everyone excited – mostly the girls.
Step 3 – Once I bought the ring and showed it to the kids, I asked them to keep it secret (even though the Queen knew all along). I am convinced this allowed them to feel like insiders to the whole thing – when she said yes, I immediately texted them with the news.
Step 4 – If you pay attention to only one thing after reading this, let it be here. Make it a long engagement. One year minimum, two years preferably. That was the length of our engagement. We didn’t have to wait that long, but it worked with our original plan and really helped get them more comfortable with the idea. We told them a year before the wedding date and kept them informed as things progressed. Having a destination wedding/honeymoon helped keep things exciting. It all paid off. When the day finally arrived, all of our kids were unanimous that it was, ‘about time!’
When your kids are saying, ‘just get it over with already,’ you have done something right.
Lastly, I am going to say this as it seems to be the default for so many couples. Do not live together. I understand we live in a world were ‘cohabitating’ is the thing. Whether under the guise of romance or finance, couples with kids are shacking up at record rates. But the reality is that for most kids, there is little difference between living together and getting married. It all looks the same to them. So just because there are no wedding rings involved doesn’t mean that un-married blended families will be spared the same problems.
I understand these steps are likely buzzkills for many. But there is a reason second marriages fail at higher rates than first marriages. But I think that can change if couples took a little extra time on the front end.
This is not to say that doing any of this will keep your blended family from having problems. The Queen and I have had and still do have our fair share of issues. But I will say this, we have avoided many of the problems other couples we know are dealing with, and I think some of it is because of the steps we took before saying, ‘I do.’