When I started getting serious with a man with a child from a prior marriage, I needed help. I asked women who had married men like this to give it to me straight. They all said the same thing, “Do anything you can to avoid marrying a man with children from a prior marriage.”
So I did what people do when they get advice they don’t like. I ignored them.
If you’re reading this, my guess is you’re in a similar situation, eager to figure out what you don’t know you don’t know, and looking for a way to make it work.
Buckle up, buttercup. This is a wild ride.
- He is divorced from his ex; you are getting married to her. Depending on the custody agreement, you’ll now have a third party in your marriage, who may have a voice in your life choices. In the early days of a marriage this can feel like a big leash on around our necks; and you’re dependent on the kindness of the person holding it.
If you want to go away for a couple weeks, you’ll have to ask her first, as that may have an impact on your custody arrangement. She may say yes or no, she may make a fuss because she can. Shared custody is built that way. She will be a large presence in your marriage.
- Your husband has a child with another woman. This is an indelible, lifelong connection. They created a human being together. If the child has an emergency, and needs to go to the hospital, both parents will be there. When the child gets married, and for every holiday and birthday between now and then, there will be a conversation. Does the child want you to drop them off at college, or would they prefer just mom and dad? Who makes that decision? They are the birth parents, and you are a stepparent. You may grow into an important role for the child, or you may be sidelined.
- You will need to come first in your relationship with your partner. When adults get divorced, they focus on the needs of their children, making sure they’re safe amidst the split. That’s good. But when a divorcee gets serious about a new partner, that partner’s needs have to come first. This is the key partnership in a family.
This can be difficult to wrap your head around, as children are vulnerable. However, no one wants the children also to go through another divorce, and putting your partner’s needs first is key for a healthy relationship. Children feel safety from the strength of the parents’ partnership. That’s the strength of the family, the roots that enable the growth of the family tree. That partnership needs nurturing and prioritization. Period.
- You will feel disempowered by the situation, and need to find your strength elsewhere. There’s no baby shower when you become a stepmom. There’s no welcome wagon from the PTA when you move to town. Culturally, we don’t know what to do with stepmothers. We malign them, and we generally side with the birth mom.
Which means you need to shore up support for yourself. Find other stepmoms in your midst, and have a safe place where you can go when unfamiliar feelings and issues arise. You will feel pain, rage, sadness and maybe even joy. It will come, and you’ll need to connect with others who “get it”.
I am not going to tell you not to do it; I’m just going to throw some tools in your backpack so that you’ll be equipped.
If you chose to do this, and you make it through to the other side, you will become powerful and strong. You will need to dig through emotions you didn’t know you could have to find a strength, calm and power you didn’t know was there.
This challenge has the capacity to strengthen you and your marriage. Will you rise to the occasion?
Allison Task is a career and life coach who helps clients move from insight to action. She has been coaching for more than 10 years, and sees local clients in her Montclair, NJ office and global clients virtually. She is a speaker, best-selling author and on-camera host. Contact Allison for a conversation to establish your goals, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.