In my first post for Psych Central, Remarriage Can Be Scary, I shared a statistic that I had found rather shocking:
“A Boston University psychologist found in one study that if they had to do it again, over 75% of remarried woman would not marry a man with children.”
At the time that I first read this statistic I was surprised by how high the number was and a bit of me wondered if this statistic would ring true across the board. I got my answer when I recently stumbled on a few chat rooms and online support forums that supported the findings of this study.
In one instance a woman was asking for advice because she had found that with time the situation with her fiance, his ex-wife and the soon-to-be stepchildren was getting worse. She questioned whether or not her situation was just a bump in the road or if it was an indicator of things to come. She questioned whether marriage and becoming a stepmom was the right decision. The overwhelming response to this question, and many others I found, was to leave the relationship. The common theme from commentators was: “I love my husband dearly but if I knew then what I know now, I never would have gotten involved with him”.
Time and time again stepmoms are saying that if they had the chance to do it again, they would have avoided the marriage before it even began. Each woman echoed the same story….things were great in the beginning. There was an instant connection with the kids, everyone got along and they had the family they always wanted. With time stress and conflict crept in and created a stronghold in their family and their relationships. The main source of conflict was with the ex-wife and the up and down relationships with the stepchildren.
Personally, I find this statistic and situation to be a bit heartbreaking. It’s a challenge unique to remarriages to have so much doubt and regret lingering in the background. In a first marriage and nuclear family, this level of ‘looking back’ typically isn’t seen. In most first marriages there isn’t a constant outside presence or source of conflict that creates continual tension. And most first marriages do not deal with the same level of uncertainty in bonds.
It’s clear when hearing from stepparents that there are fundamental issues that need to be addressed. Adjusting your expectations of what you will encounter when merging families is step one. The situations that seems to throws everyone off and set them up for disappointment, is the initial honeymoon period that nearly all stepfamilies have. In the beginning everything is great, people are connecting and conflict is at a low or manageable level. It’s difficult in the glow of so much positivity to remain realistic about the path your new family will take. It can be difficult to wrap your head around the fact that things could go down hill, and quickly at that.
The second obstacle that needs to be addressed is adjusting outside expectations. This is from family and friends that mean well but who may not be aware of how typical stepfamilies function. Words of advice, encouragement or judgement are often based on traditional family expectations that don’t necessarily fit in a blended environment.
The bottom line is that we need to do better. We need to be better prepared for the road ahead when we enter a remarriage situation and we need to be better prepared to help people in these marriages. Maybe then stepparents will begin to feel more peace in their role.
Stepmoms, have you ever doubted your role or place in your family?
Have you personally had moments of doubt or regret from joining a co-parenting situation?
If you in fact wouldn’t choose this path again, where does that leave you now? As I see it, you have two options: 1) You can decided to end this journey, leave the relationship and move on, or, 2) You can decided to stay and fight to make your marriage and situation the best it can be.
Many stepparents make the choice that it’s better to cut their losses and move on. That is one reason why the divorce rate for second marriages stands at 60-70%. For many people the idea that their current situation can be helped, strengthened and brought to a place of joy is difficult to imagine.
But, have faith. Know that if you decided to stay that things can improve. A therapist who is trained in stepfamily dynamics can be a great first step at turning things around. Finding an understanding support system is step two. And lastly, having open and positive lines of communication with your partner can help with addressing unspoken expectations and needs that are not being met.
The role of a stepparent is often a thankless one. There are times of great stress, frustration and heartache that can come when merging families but it doesn’t have to end there. Many stepfamilies can, and do, move past issues to find a place of stability and happiness. It may take time and a lot of work, but it is possible.