“He’s MY Daddy:” Campaigning For Attention in the Blended Family: New Spouse vs. Children

Posted on February 12, 2012 by

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To finish off this series on the blended family, let’s address what happens when the ones campaigning for attention of a certain parent are a child–and the new spouse.

Look, let’s face it. Your child has very little cause to be invested in your new marriage. Either he’d like things to go back the way they were, when Mom was married to Dad, or back to the way they were when Mom or Dad was single, and the child/ren operated in the new spouse’s space. Jealousy is really normal here, as this new man or woman has infringed upon what the child sees as rightfully his.

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So a few words of warning: Do not make your children your playmates. [I got that in in very few words--I commend myself.]

Do not let them stay up late at nights keeping you company as you watch movies, don’t let them study and read in your bed at night because you’re lonely, don’t take them repeatedly to fancy restaurants because you want to go and prefer not to go alone. Don’t do it–it’s bad for them, it’s bad for you–and it’ll be hell on the family when you find a new significant other.

So let’s assume you haven’t read my blog and taken my advice in this area–two serious errors. You’ve made a mistake and done everything with your kids post-divorce. Way before it’s time for your to-be-new-spouse to move in (or vice versa) you need to put a stop to this, and limit your time spent with your children so they can see your need for private time and learn to respect it. Do it before your new marriage, so that your children don’t attribute their sudden loss of the keys of the kingdom to this new spouse–and resent him or her even more than they may do naturally.

And although you of course should continue to make your love and loyalty to your children clear, you also most make it as obvious as can be that your new spouse is here to stay, and you will not tolerate disrespect to him or her.

It’s a difficult set-up, for whereas a first-time newly-married couple usually gets a few months at least to just work on the relationship and get to know each other, a newly married couple that brings kids into the equation spends most of their early time not on their own relationship, but on helping all the members of the family navigate their new places. Without watching out, soon your ‘honeymoon period’ can just deteriorate into chronic crisis control.

Scary fact: According to a number of sources, a staggering 76 percent of second marriages fail within five years. And the reasons aren’t too much of a shocker. The two major reasons that second marriages fail are:

1. The second partner is too much like the first (big oops there, right?); and
2. Combining the families and dealing with the step-children–not to mention former spouse–just takes too much wear and tear.

[These statistics, along with a whole host ofother fascinating ones on the state of marriage and divorce in this country, are included in a fact sheet on marriage and divorce in the U.S. Take a look, when you've got the time at marriage_divorce_in_america-Fact Sheet.]

The message, if you don’t want to be part of these statistics? If you don’t carve out the time to spend with your new spouse–time not spent talking about the children and their issues, and not laying blame for fault lines in the new blended family–your marriage is in signficant peril.

A social worker I know used to say that if the children in the family were acting up, the parents should go out on a date. Now, she meant that of intact families, but the point holds true for the blended family, as well. Yes, clarify to your daughter that she will always be your special little girl, and no one will replace her–but let it be perfectly clear in her mind that she won’t be replacing your new wife, either, so she’d best get that fantasy right out of her head. And you’ll kiss her good night like always–after you get home from taking your new wife out.

Hopefully by following these tips on sharing space, creating household rules, managing the step-sibling and sibling melodrama of ‘who’s-in-and-who’s-out,’ and decreasing competition between siblings, step-siblings, and spouse for your attention, your efforts at blending two families will be–well. . . just maybe not bad at all. 

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