Married- With His Children

Last week I blogged about when a woman with children marries, and when a couple with children marries.  I received quite a bit of positive feedback, and several requests to produce more on the topic.

It is an increasing situation where a single woman with no children marries a man who has children from a previous relationship.  She understands from the beginning that being with the man she loves means being with the kids. Very often, the children are a part of the couples early dating relationship as the man wants to be sure the children like her and that she is interested in them.

He is looking for a wife who is willing to assist him in raising the children, and sharing in the parenting responsibility. His hope is to find a woman who will nurture and care for his children in a loving way.

A woman’s reasons for accepting a man with children vary. She may desire a family but be unable or unwilling to bear children, a man with children may represent stability to her, she may be a “rescuer” and think he and the children need her. Some women have a very clear idea of what life will be like as a wife and stepmom/co-parent and others have no earthly concept in what they are getting involved.

Once again, the importance of pre-engagement counseling cannot be overstated.  It is unwise to become engaged or even consider marriage before going through biblical counseling to determine if engagement and marriage are advisable. The reason this is so important is because what affects the couple will also affect the children.  It may be devastating to the children if an engagement is announced and the couple determines through the premarital counseling process that it is unwise to go forward with marriage. Pre-engagement counseling brings His expectations and her willingness to fulfill them. The common issues such couples face are brought to light and this gives them both the opportunity to question and clarify roles and expectation prior to the emotional investment and excitement of an engagement.  

Unfortunately, few couples take advantage of such resources, and because of this, we routinely see a variety of problems in our counseling office.

Some women who take on the job of stepmother or co-parent to children find their role has changed after the wedding. Occasionally a woman will complain her husband expects her as his new wife to “replace” the old one and assume a similar role to the one she had in his life and the home. She may marry thinking they will have much more time as a couple and much more time for romance and fun than is reality. A woman in such a situation finds herself disillusioned and angry because she didn’t marry the kids (although she accepted them as a part of marrying him) she married the man. She didn’t sign up to be his maid and their chauffer, she wants to be his wife.

If the expectations were not clarified beforehand, she may find out there was more to it than she expected. “Assisting” him in raising the children and “sharing” the parenting responsibility looks much more like she completely takes over, and the children’s father becomes a passenger. If she is unprepared for spending the whole summer with his kids, or is thrust into a form of motherhood without knowing what she is doing, it can be disastrous for everyone concerned. She may not know how to nurture or how to parent. Being the girlfriend is much different from being a stepmom.

The husband will have to allow his wife time to adjust to her new role and support her parenting decisions. He should give her the time and freedom to learn the children and develop her own style of parenting them. She must agree to place herself under his authority in the home and be in agreement with how he wants the kids to be raised. When she is overwhelmed, he must take that seriously and do what he can to get her the help that she needs. He must be sure the kids understand his wife is their authority and is carrying out his wishes in his absence.  He must teach, rebuke, and correct children who are disobedient and disrespectful to his wife.

He must be her loving husband and continue to cultivate their relationship. A wise man will take the time to continue to date his wife after marriage. While this is important in every marriage, in a marriage with his children is it vital.  On the weekends that the kids are gone or with the other parent, he should be sure they are spending good quality couple time together to nurture that relationship.

Another common problem arises when reality sets in for the kids. The stepmom or co-parent is now around all the time and life becomes routine. She is now giving instructions, requiring obedience, and helping with homework. What was once a great relationship becomes an adversarial one. It is possible the kids just resent that there is another woman in the picture trying to take their “real mom’s” place. Sometimes the kids won’t give her a chance to even be a friend, let alone a new mother figure or influence.

If there is an active biological mother in the mix, this often adds a completely new degree of tension and even hostility. Depending on the circumstances, she may be hostile and angry, domineering and critical of everything the new wife does. Some women are just vicious to the new woman in their ex-man’s life, particularly if there are children involved. The new wife must be willing to work with the mother of the children if possible and to the degree that is possible. Her husband must also protect his wife from his ex-wife or the biological mother of the children. Respecting one another’s territory, wishes about and for the children is the best possible scenario.

I don’t suggest compromising values and biblical principles, but obviously a mutually agreeable relationship is what is best for everyone.