Michael and Jane‘s big challenge was one that many couples in second marriages face: blending two families without diminishing the integrity of the marriage. As all too many know from first-hand experience, having to decide whether to prioritize the children of the marriage can be one of the most difficult aspects of blended families, one a disturbingly high number of couples fail to resolve.
Michael: “In the early years that we were together, our biggest challenge was our blended family. Putting our two daughters together was such an ordeal that it practically destroyed us, and it probably would have if we hadn’t been absolutely committed to making it work. The challenge of the blended family has been both hugely demanding and hugely rewarding. Our daughters were five and six years old when we got married. They were as opposite as could be. My daughter Lauren was an outgoing city slicker. She wasn’t into school at all. Jane’s daughter Emma was shy, loved school, loved books, and was the teacher’s pet. Then we had a baby together. Michael was the glue that connected us all. Everyone doted on him and adored him, and he just reflected their smiles back to them with his adorable face.”
Jane: “Lauren and Emma were salt and pepper. They were so totally different that they didn’t compete with each other. Every Wednesday, and every other weekend Lauren came to be with us, and because she wasn’t living with us, she often felt like an outsider. When she felt left out, she behaved in ways that made us want to leave her out, so it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. We were both working long and hard hours in those days and on the weekends, we were desperate to relax. So many of those early weekends blew up in our face. The blow-ups made us even more determined that we were going to make our blended family work no matter what.”
“Lauren was testing to see if she could misbehave and still be loved. Early on when our relationship was not as strong, Michael didn’t fully trust me and when I drew boundaries with Lauren and gave her feedback about her behavior, he would come to her defense and interfere, thinking I was being too harsh. But once our relationship got stronger and he trusted me more, he didn’t butt in and he let me handle things. He knew that I was coming from a place of caring, not retaliation and he backed off and let us have our own relationship. That allowed me to be more honest with Lauren about what was acceptable and what wasn’t. One time we were going on a river trip, and I told Lauren that the only way she was coming with us if she promised that she wouldn’t misbehave and ruin the trip. It seemed like a harsh thing to say at the time, but she promised and was good to her word.”
Making your marriage the highest priority is a gift to your children.
From the beginning of their relationship, Michael and Jane made their over-riding philosophy that their couple-hood would be the center of their universe, not the children. They made the decision to have every other vacation be for just the couple, without the kids, and stuck to it. Honeymoons in addition to the original one, are important for all couples, but I believe that it is even more imperative for blended families that the couple gets put first.
Lauren, Michael’s daughter wanted him to go back with her mother so that they could be one happy family under one roof. Lauren did everything she could think of to break up their new marriage in hopes that her dad would return to her mother. By taking a firm stand alongside Jane, Michael made it clear to Lauren that she was not going to break up his marriage, period. Michael came to understand that the kids are better served if the couple relationship is strong. He and Jane both worked continually to strengthen their marriage and declare that it’s a ton of work!
Jane has a wonderful relationship with both of the daughters now, who have children of their own. Lauren calls Jane regularly asking for advice about bringing up her kids. It took a long time for this couple to get to a place of having terrific relationships with everyone in the family. The state with enthusiasm that it’s been worth it. They regularly go on family vacations with all three generations together and report that they have a wonderful time. Now that is indeed hitting the jackpot!