Here’s an eye opener: while the divorce rate among couples married for the first time is slightly over fifty percent, it’s even higher among those with second marriages. And because nearly three-quarters of those who end their first marriages in divorce marry again within three to five years, there are a lot of kids going through not one, but two divorces.
The entire process of divorce, remarriage, and step-parenting is one that needs to be carefully examined by those who are thinking about committing themselves and their kids to life as a step-family. Blended families are the largest growing family sector in the US, and it’s up to the marrying couple to understand the complex set of realities awaiting them when the honeymoon is over.
Divorce leaves the children of a first marriage already having to cope with separate parents in separate households, and trying to relate to each natural parent in a new way. Remarriage means step-mom or step-dad is thrown into the mix, and the children have to learn how to cope with an entirely new set of expectations from someone who may not have any understanding of the existing family dynamic.
Step-parenting, therefore, means that step-mom or step-dad will have to find a way of relating to the kids without usurping the authority of either of the kids’ natural parents, while becoming involved in their lives in a healthy honest way.
Divorce, remarriage, and step-parenting also mean that the newly married couple, in that first year of marriage when they should be devoting most of their emotional energy to learning how to live together in harmony, will have to direct most of it to the stepchildren. There is no such thing as instant family, and for children of divorce, learning to trust the person who is replacing a missing parent building bonds with the new step parent can be very difficult.
Step parenting is really something which both adults should discuss at length before they decide to tie the knot. They may find that their parenting philosophies are completely incompatible. In cases both parents are bringing children to the new family, having one set of children being ruled with Mom’s iron hand while the others are allowed to help themselves to Dad’s wallet at will can be a recipe for disaster, and is sure to prevent the children from developing warm feelings for each other. Resentful step-siblings and parents at odds about how to handle them can be a big factor in the high second marriage divorce rate.
While divorce, remarriage, and step-parenting can be done successfully, it requires parenting of exceptional patience and commitment. Good step-parenting, in particular, is an art, and means allowing the step-children to proceed at their own pace in establishing a relationship with the new authority figure in their lives. The best step-parenting is really nothing more than role modeling, and understanding and respecting all the confused feelings the children in a blended family will have to sort through before the blending is complete.