Falling in love the second time around can be even sweeter than the first. But, it can definitely be more complicated. If you are heading into a second marriage, you know that there will be exes to deal with, relationships with the kids to figure out, and a whole family to set up from day one.
Even though all the statistics are stacked against second marriages—even more fail than first marriages—with lots of hard work and love, success is possible. The key is to be prepared for anything that may come your way, and also to be flexible.
Here are some tips to navigating a second marriage and children.
Keep Expectations in Check
You may be a new stepmom or stepdad, but the children may have different ideas. It may take them a while to warm up to you, if at all. They may feel resentful, or unsure of even how to treat you. Depending on how the first marriage ended, as well as their relationship with each of their biological parents, you may have the potential for a good relationship, or not. Just make sure to keep your expectations in check. Don’t come into the marriage thinking you’ll fix everything, or fill a void, or get along great with the kids. It may happen, and it may not. Just resolve to be there and try your best, no matter the journey.
Work on Both Relationships
When you get married, their family is always part of the deal—parents, siblings, etc. This is especially true if this is a second marriage and there are children involved. So from day one, there will be multiple new people in your house. So while you’ve probably been anxious to develop a deeper relationship with your new spouse, be aware that you need to foster a relationship with the children as well. They don’t know you very well yet, so spending lots of quality time is key. Find out what they like to do—like biking, going to the movies, sports, etc—and join them in those things. Or just have some one-on-one time getting ice cream. At the same time, be sure to spend plenty of quality time with your new spouse as well. Date night is non-negotiable—weekly. Also spend time together as a family unit! Dinner, yard work, Saturday activities, etc. are all great ideas.
Set Up House Rules
During a second marriage, the children may feel like they are being thrown into a new situation and everything is chaotic. They don’t know what to expect, and that can be scary. Make sure to provide structure and clear expectations from the get-go. Sit down as a family and talk about the new house rules. Make sure the children offer input into expectations and consequences so they feel like they are a part of it, too. Write up all the house rules and post them, and refer to them as needed. But also realize that they can be altered if needed. Set another family meeting in a month or so to revisit the house rules and talk about how things are going.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
You and your new spouse have to be as in sync as possible for the marriage to work, and also for the family to flow right. That means you must communicate constantly. If you keep your feelings to yourself, it won’t work. So talk about how to best parent the kids, talk about issues as they come up, and be on the same page with each other. Always have the lines of communication open.
Get on Good Terms with Exes
Unfortunately, in second marriages there will be at least one ex, maybe two, to deal with. And especially when children are involved, the ex will still be an integral part of their lives and therefore, you and your spouse’s lives. It is in your best interest and in the best interest of your family to be as cooperative as possible. You don’t have to like your ex or your spouse’s ex, but you do need to be on good terms if you can. Be pleasant, follow the law and arrangements, and be positive to your children about them. Obviously don’t let them take advantage of you; but your attitude will go a long way.
See a Therapist
Even if nothing is “wrong” per say, it’s still a good idea to sit down with a therapist as a family, as a couple, and as individuals. Assess where everyone is at, talk freely, and discuss any past issues that need to be resolved, and make goals. It’s important for everyone to get on the same page, and a great way to do that is by seeing a professional family counselor.