Any marriage can be difficult without all the added stress of blended families. No matter how great your marriage is, step-parenting can take a toll on your marriage.
Does Step-parenting Affect Your Marriage?
I was a single mom for years (even while I was married to my ex). For most of 15 years, I took care of everything our family needed financially, physically, and emotionally. My first marriage wasn’t a great experience. Since I never received assistance from my ex and was totally self-sufficient, I never planned to get married again. I never thought I would change my name, move out of state, combine my finances, and most of all, put my kids through another potential divorce (which is how I saw marriage at the time).
A few years after my divorce, I realized I was too young (about 39) to never be married again so I started dating again. I’m a spiritual person and I remember one night I prayed for God to pick a man for me and let me know when it was him (clearly, I was unqualified based on prior choices). I was looking online and dating a little bit from a church singles website. Admittedly, I had an aversion to men with kids. I had a stepmom growing up and we didn’t really get along. I only had to deal with her when I visited my dad, but I never wanted to be a wicked stepmonster, so I tried to date men that at least didn’t have the kids full time.
Then, I came across my husband’s profile. He was hot (and still is)! I couldn’t help myself and read his profile. He was a single dad of 5 kids, recently divorced and his wife had left him to find herself (or something). We started writing each other about our kids. He lived in Utah where my sister lived, so we decided to meet while I was visiting. (Later on he said he agreed to meet because I lived out of state, so he knew it was safe that we would never get serious). Our first date lasted 11 hours. I never kiss on the first date, but I figured that was the equivalent of three dates and gave in! I flew home the next morning and we continued to write, call, FaceTime, etc. Within a week, he openly shared his feelings with me. I couldn’t have told you what I needed to hear from the man that was my perfect match, but he said it all and God let me know it was him!
We were ring shopping a few weeks later and planned a wedding date six months after that. Somehow, I was the one putting my house up for sale, changing my name, moving out of state, and moving in with a man that had 5 kids full time! I never planned on having a big family, but there I was with the perfect man and 7 children. Since I run my own business, he had to take care of the kids during the week while I traveled back and forth for work (the condition of the move). I hated the travel, but it did give me the ability to ease into 7 children full time.
The Transition To A Blended Family
At first, my husband was very supportive and required the kids to be respectful, obey my rules, etc. We were a loving family, always hugging and telling each other that we love each other. I made sure the house was clean, the homework was done, the speech therapy practice happened, the kids had clothes for school and church, and was very engaged in being the same mom to them in the beginning as I had been to my own kids. The kids grew used to this and began to rebel. Their mom was very different (see my post on The Other Mom). It didn’t take long before my step kids started getting to my husband. It seemed like he was always taking their side on everything that they disagreed with me on. We parented very differently. I expected all the kids to do their homework, clean their rooms, do a household job, and be kind to each other and to us. He did most everything for them. He was permissive of their behavior because their mom had left them. I didn’t accept bad behavior, regardless of the reason.
Fast forward a few years, and we were in family counseling. More than one counselor said his parenting style was enabling. I was just worn down to the point where I didn’t want to parent his kids, so I stopped (against the counselor’s suggestions). My husband and I never fought…unless it was about the kids.
The Rough Road of Step-Parenting
It’s now eleven years since we married. Most of the kids are adults now and I would like to tell you that we got through it and everything is better. Unfortunately, when the kids became adults it didn’t get much easier. Around our tenth wedding anniversary, I started to see things differently. How could it be that 10 years had passed and we were still having so much trouble navigating this. Could I do it for another 10 years or more? I became hopeless. My husband and I fought more than we ever had and almost separated. He is still my prince and I will never be with another man, but being alone and visiting my grand kids just seemed so much more enjoyable than dealing with him and his kids and always feeling like the outsider, the terrible person, or the wicked step monster. I stopped talking to my step kids and never asked them to do anything. I had lowered my expectations to avoid disappointment and had to remove any reason for the kids to be annoyed with me, which always started problems. My kids had moved out at 18 years old and his kids kept living with us, and the youngest still had years before graduating. I saw it as a very long time before I was enjoying my husband without the kids affecting my marriage.
My husband has always been defensive about his kids. No matter what the issue was, if I expressed a concern about his kids, he was very defensive. I love them and I want them to do well in life, work, relationships, etc. I want them to be happy. I don’t have any other motives. Also, the kids are nice to my face, but I always learn that they are talking badly about me when I’m not around. To keep things running smoothly, my husband always seemed to side with them when I thought he should be supporting me.
Our Blended Family Now
Lucky for me, my husband’s eyes opened about 6 months ago. He started to become disenchanted with the teenagers and young adults that we had raised. He had never accepted anything I told him in the past, but the more he started to hear things directly from the kids, their boyfriends and girlfriends, and other family members, the more he started to figure out that I wasn’t making things up or being unfair. But there had to be a shift.
My husband is truly one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Even his shortcomings in supporting me were always coming from the love he had for his children. Last May, I decided to take an approach that I had never taken before that would focus more on our marriage. Some of the suggestions I’m about to present might not sound like ideas you want to try, but remember, I tried being a full-time great mom in the beginning and that did not work! I decided to stop focusing on how the kids were affecting me and decided to focus on my husband. What did he want? Here is what I did-
Solutions for Blended Families
- I stopped talking to the kids for a while, other than small talk, saying I love them, etc. Our kids had always had a way of twisting anything I said into something negative to create drama (remember, I’m the wicked step monster). If I didn’t say anything, they couldn’t twist anything. This had always caused drama and stress for my husband and I needed that to stop. I still have some apprehension of saying too much to the kids or around the kids, but at times they need me and I take the chance.
- As young adults and teenagers,our kids are not in the best stage of their life for making their dad feel appreciated, so I focused on facilitating fun family time at our house or cabin for my husband and the kids. For him. I didn’t focus on the family time that I wanted, whether I was appreciated, or why the kids weren’t helpful. I just focused on him. I didn’t ever ask anyone to help with cooking, cleaning, etc. I just stayed out of the way and served my family every time the kids were around. I prepared mentally and emotionally ahead of time to expect anything that had gone wrong in the past and was ready to diffuse it. My family enjoyment was found with the grand kids and it kept me busy and happy. Family functions were much better and any eruptions were not even associated with me because I was just serving, smiling, and loving.
- For a while, I stopped talking to my husband about the kids. If I said anything, I was very careful to keep it positive and didn’t point out anything that I was concerned about unless it was a safety issue. An interesting thing happened: my husband started opening up to me about his frustrations with the kids. It was refreshing for me to be his confidant and hear his true feelings and for me to be able to be understanding and be the one that was helping him not give up on them.
- I tried spending more quality time with my husband without the kids. I did what I could to reconnect with my husband in his language. In the past when I was feeling hurt, I avoided intimacy, as many women do when they when they feel unappreciated, unsupported, and hurt. A very close friend of mine reminded me that when I avoided this it drives a wedge between my husband and me, since this was a huge part of how he connects with me. (Stepdads in this situation would need to reconnect with their wives in their language – helping around the house, playing with the kids, romance, etc.) This seemed a bit counter-intuitive during my pain and anxiety, but I felt so much better intentionally reconnecting with him. Please be careful not to use this as a manipulation tactic. Marriages simply need intimacy to improve the relationship.
- I spent more time going out with friends, grand kids, sisters, etc. Sometimes I think we are so invested in our immediate family that we forget that we have other resources and sources of enjoyment. This has also seemed to improve my attitude, which in turn improved my time with my husband.
- When your husband or wife does support you in front of the kids, make sure you thank them and let them know what a big difference it makes for you to feel understood and supported.
After doing these things, I could see a change in my husband. He even started supporting me in front of the kids, which was not typical when untrue information was brought out as a manipulation. This was the light at the end of the tunnel.
I truly hope that my experiences and suggestions are helpful, and I would love to hear from you if you have other ideas!
What is a blended family?
According to Your Dictionary, “A blended family is defined as a family made of two parents and their children from previous marriages. An example of a blended family is a woman with two children from a previous marriage who marries a man with three children from a previous marriage.”
What are common problems and challenges for blended families?
Common problems for blended families include children not feeling loved or feeling left out, sibling rivalry, children manipulating parents, ex-spouses, dreading holidays, vacations, marital problems, finances and discipline (or lack thereof).
Can blended families be successful?
Although many stepfamilies seem doomed for failure, it is absolutely possible for a blended family to be successful. While some situations are unhealthy for everyone involved, many families can be saved if there is a desire to work through the problems
How common are blended families?
Blended families are becoming more common. According to Pew Research 62% of children in the U.S. live in two-parent households and 15% of those are living with parents in a remarriage.