Statistically, 75% of single parents will re-marry. Another statistic is that 60% of these marriages will themselves fail within two years – 75% if it is a third marriage (includes long-term cohabitation) for either of you! The toll this takes on your kids is devastating to their ability to have successful marriages of their own.
Good news!: Once you know how this dynamic works, you will know how to avoid causing upset in your “Home of Honor” that not only keeps the kids from harm, but also gives you a real chance at a permanent and healthy relationship. There is a future out there for you if you seek it with your eyes wide open. Here are some tips that can help you understand this difficult issue.
When will we be ready to “move on”? On average, you will be ready to have a meaningful relationship in about two years. The kids, however, usually take longer. Depending on their ages and the extent of the emotional damage they may have suffered during the breakup of “Mom n’ Dad”, it can take three to five years for them to be able to handle seeing you start dating.
Why do the kids seem to be so upset or hostile to my meeting someone new? You may meet the “right person” who will make your household a much better place for you and the children. He or she might be “the perfect choice” and you would be right in assuming this is a real gain for your family. But, looking at things through the kids’ eyes, it is another loss. Remember, they have already lost “Mom’n’Dad”. Now you want them to share you with someone else? Great.
How soon should I introduce someone I’m seeing to my kids? We often jump the gun in this area. It is a legitimate concern to want to know how the person you’re interested in interacts with your kids. You think they may be right for you, but how about the kids? The two most common problems that arise seem to be that you can best find out how someone will be with your kids by closely observing them with other kids – especially their own. Remember, during courtship we all put our best foot forward. You want to be sure that “Peter Pan” doesn’t turn into “Captain Hook” a year into your marriage. The other problem is that the kids have a “Mom’n’Dad” shaped hole in their hearts. They are likely try filling that void by attaching themselves to whomever you think enough of to bring into the home environment. “Mom’n’Dad” becomes “Mom’n’Bill”. They then have to detach themselves when that relationship doesn’t pan out. Then its “Mom’n’Danny”. Attach – detach. “Mom’n’Fred”. Attach – detach. And so it goes. Eventually, they become like Velcro that has been used a lot. They no longer have the ability to attach to anyone – even the person they eventually marry! This is the “divorce gene”, isn’t it?
We have been exploring six building blocks to creating a stepfamily that lasts. Stepfamilies are complex. Stepfamily members experience unparalleled levels of stress and relational overload.
Family members must learn to overcome numerous barriers, including grief and loss, guilt and shame, loyalty issues, poorly-defined rules and roles, differing parenting styles, relationships with former spouses, and the list goes on.
It takes courage to be a stepfamily; it takes hard-work and commitment to stay a stepfamily. One thing is certain, you will be stretched.
Below are the six building blocks we have been discussing.
The fourth building block is to encourage family commitment. Family members need to “buy-in” to the family and the family-making process.
This is no easy task and happens only when every family member feels that their concerns, issues and needs have been heard and acknowledged. This is difficult, because family members are not close, communication is awkward, rules and roles are ambiguous and at least some of the members are uncertain if they even want to be part of the new family. Teenagers are the most difficult to get on board.
The fifth building block is to create an atmosphere of mutual accountability. Clear expectations and buy-in by family members leads to accountability interactions.
Accountability is the willingness of family members to be respectfully confronted by one another. Accountability allows others to speak into our lives and our beliefs; creating the possibility of real change and real growth.
Members enter a stepfamily with closely-held unrealistic expectations that must be respectfully exposed if the family is going to survive and thrive. Again, this must be a top-down process. The adult couple must work to resolve interpersonal discomfort, but they must also model a willingness to have difficult conversations.
The stepcouple must continue to emphasize the value and benefits of family buy-in.
The final building block is creating a sense of family that acknowledges that individual members may be a part of several families.
Healthy stepfamilies actually exist across two or more households. Families that accept this reality seem to thrive; those that insist on loyalty to “one family only” do not. Again, this is no easy task; family identity can be confusing in a stepfamily—boundaries are not clear or distinct.
Building a stepfamily that lasts takes about five to seven years. . . so be patient. Let me suggest that you consider joining a stepfamily support group — a safe place to share ideas and receive encouragement.