We’ve met the enemy, and it is small
by Linda Kazares, of Divorcettes.com
We all remember the TV show, The Brady Bunch. If only blending families from different marriages was that easy. Of course, it isn’t. What’s a new couple to do?
Recently, Divorcette Broadsheet spoke on the topic with Dr. Kevin Leman, an expert in this field and author of Have a New Kid by Friday and The Birth Order Book.
Linda Kazares, Divorcettes: What are the typical beliefs and misconceptions when two people with separate families from previous marriages fall in love?
Dr. Kevin Leman: A lot of people fall into the “tinglies.” I’m not even sure it’s love. After you’re hurt, after a there’s been a death, a divorce or what have you, and you find this special person and you have all the euphoric feelings running around in your heart and in your head, you’re telling yourself, “Ahh, this is going to be wonderful.” I think a lot of people assume it will be bliss. Yet love may not be wonderful the second time around — it’s more difficult.
And even when kids seem to like the other person, what you have to understand is that even though these kids seem like they’re on board, trust me, they’re not. They are the enemy to the new marriage. They will drive a wedge between you. If you are not shoulder to shoulder as a couple, you’re doomed.
So the misnomer of blended families is simply that. They are not blended; they collide. There are many Armageddon evenings ahead for everyone.
LK: When do the new husband and wife start to try to blend the families?
Leman: They all start. They all try. But put yourself in the kid’s shoes for awhile. Here’s another kid you’ve never laid eyes on, and he’s introduced as your new stepbrother. Now let’s assume that this little firstborn son is 11 years of age — that’s Dad’s son. And Mom’s firstborn son is 13. Does one hand over the birthrights to the other? No. You’ve got a Wolverine and a Buckeye on your hands, a Sun Devil and Wildcat in a bag shook up for good measure. So that’s why I say, “We have seen the enemy, and it is small.”
So you do try to start a relationship, but once these euphoric initial feelings begin to wane, you’ve got his kids and you’ve got her kids, and he did this, and she said that. And before long, in a very natural way, you are siding with whom? You are siding with your kids.
Now place the ex-spouse into the picture — one who can lob a grenade into your home with a simple phone call or email. Now you can see why the experts predict that it takes three to seven years to blend families. The foundation of the blended family is cemented with the mortar of jealousy, anger, bitterness and anger. Notice that I said anger twice — because everybody has a little anger inside, an emotional chip on his or her shoulder.
I hope I’m not painting too dark a picture, but you had better love one another the second time around. You had better put your husband or wife first in the relationship. Take it from me, I’m an old grizzled veteran who has been married to the same woman for 43 consecutive years. You will not make it in a marriage unless you are shoulder to shoulder.
LK: What’s the best way for the new spouses to handle ex-spouse relationships?
Leman: What’s in vogue today, especially with young children, is that kids bounce back and forth from home to home. Somebody thinks he or she is King Solomon and cuts the kid in half — not a good idea. Parents, if you’re into moving, why don’t you move? That would be my advice. It’s not advice that anyone wants to take, because it’s too inconvenient. It’s much easier for the kids to move. My biased opinion is that those kids should live in one place as much as possible. Yes, and visit the other parent.
The big thing to understand about ex-spouse relationships is to never badmouth your ex-husband or ex-wife, for any reason, at any time, under any circumstance. I don’t care if that ex-husband is a slime ball with a capital “S.” Don’t badmouth him. If you do, you will live to regret it.
LK: There are always conflicts in a blended family. How do you handle the “his, hers, mine and ours” type problems?
If you’re like most couples, they do not handle these very successfully. Let’s face it: We tend to be pretty hedonistic creatures. We tend to think of ourselves more than we think of other people.
I always ask people, “Why do you stop at stop signs?” They always say, “Because it’s the law, and I don’t want to get a ticket.” Now those are two good reasons, but the best reason to stop is so you don’t hurt someone else.
If you weren’t able to get together and solve things when you were married, how do you expect to do these things after the separation, the divorce and the remarriage? It’s very difficult. Always start with what’s best for my child, the children, and then secondarily, “What’s best for us?”
The kids didn’t ask to be in a blended family so you need to be very cognizant of them. One thing that really helps is to involve each of the kids in some of these decisions. Sit around the dinner table and say, “Honey, what do you think we should do? How do you think we should handle this? What would make you feel best? What’s the most comfortable thing for you to do?”
Now, does that mean you are letting the kids make these decisions? No. You have to make the decision, you’re the parents. But, you should get input from the kids. Just by letting them give some input, it will lessen some of the natural undercutting that goes on in the nature of blended families when it comes to just negotiating who does what and how life will work out for our new family.
Another thing I want to share is that if it’s about your son, Dad, or you daughter, Dad, then you have final authority and final say. Mom, if it’s about your son or daughter, then you have final authority. I encourage you to get the blessing of your mate. Don’t get bullheaded and paint yourself into a corner.
The key to all negotiating is that everybody wins something. And, we should negotiate with honesty and with respect.
Editor’s note: This ends part one of our interview with Dr. Leman. Part two is found here.