Deciding to Remarry? Put Kids First.

When can widowed or divorced individuals feel ready to remarry? It’s such an individual decision, but when one or both partners already have young children, their needs should factor highly in the decision.

In the movies it seems there’s always a lonely 5-year-old living with his/her Mom or Dad just waiting for that perfect stepparent to come along and complete their family. Thankfully for many families, a second marriage can be a great blessing for adults and children. But in some cases, kids may prefer having their parent’s attention all to themselves and may fear losing that attention when a love interest enters the picture.

Unfortunately, second marriages fail at a higher rate than first marriages, with children from a previous marriage causing the most conflict. (Remarriage failure rates available here.)  Experts say more second marriages fail because so many happen on the rebound. They don’t know each other well enough, aren’t thinking clearly, and are too set in their ways, according to Robert Kirby of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Any good parent clearly wants their child to be comfortable with a potential spouse, but they may feel they have to make decisions for their own happiness as well. I would agree that children don’t always know what is best for the family. However, parents considering remarrying should know their potential spouse extremely well, and should consider the sad fact that living with a stepparent is the most significant risk factor in severe child abuse.

That fact aside, there are other considerations as well, such as siblings who may enter the blended family and their potential impact on your child. A colleague of mine (whom we’ll call Lisa) met a great guy 5 ½ years ago through Match.com. After six months of dating, they knew they were right for each other. (In addition to common values and goals, they had also been cheated on by their spouses and despite their efforts to save their marriages, both of their spouses chose to leave.)

A major stumbling block for them was joining their two households; he had custody of a 12- and 9-year old boy and girl, and she had custody of a 5-year old girl. Despite their best efforts, Lisa felt the oldest son’s difficult and jealous behavior would negatively impact her daughter. In addition, she feared the stress from the “drama” that would likely follow their wedding could make starting a marriage difficult.

So, she gave the engagement ring back. How many people would be willing to put their dreams on hold, wondering if their fiancé would move on? “It’s hard, because you want to be together, but you have to do what’s best for your kids,” Lisa says. She and her fiancé continued to date exclusively, and he understood her concerns.

Unfortunately, her fiancé’s two children did end up getting into substantial trouble (one was jailed twice for drug use), although as they have matured, they have started to straighten out. They have since chosen to live with their mother, who had abandoned them for nine years. 

Lisa recently married her fiancé, with all three children present and supportive. She is glad she waited, because “the impact on my daughter would have been horrible. I don’t think she’d be the wonderful, well-adjusted kid she is today if I had married then. It may have tainted her outlook on life or taken some of her innocence away,” Lisa says. However, she adds, “Part of me wonders if his kids might have benefited more if we had gotten married and I had more influence on them—but I’m not entirely sure I would have been able to deal with it.” Now that his kids are maturing, they have thanked her for some of the positive influence she was able to provide.

Lisa says there is another benefit to waiting to marry. “Marrying someone because you’re head-over-heels in love is easy to do, because you don’t see their flaws. When you wait five years, you see everything. You know their downfalls and strong points and have to be willing to live with all of it.”

What do you think? Should adults choose when and whom they will marry, then work on integrating the families, or if they have young children, should their needs be considered first?

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2 responses to “Deciding to Remarry? Put Kids First.

  1. I applaud your friend’s willingness to put her feelings aside for the sake of her child. We only get one chance to be a parent to our kids because all too soon they will grow up and become the independent young people we helped them develop into. Lisa found out that the love of her life was still the love of her life even through the waiting period. I would always put my children first. There will be time for me later.

  2. I agree that the children should come first. This doesn’t mean all parents wanting to wed would necessarily end up having to delay marriage. I think if parents wanting to wed are sensitive to how their child(ren) might be perceiving things, that could lead to some valuable conversations where parents have a chance to show children that the kids’ feelings and opinions really matter. I think under all of this must be a sensitivity to the child’s experience that leads a parent to be willing to delay marriage if that is warranted.

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