When my brother started dating his wife, she already had a little girl. He loved hanging out with her but had a very hard time dealing with her daughter. The fact of the matter is that we all have our own way with dealing with children and our way might not always be the same way as the person you care a lot about, as was the case with my brother.
Usually, when you are young and meet someone you want to date then eventually marry, you do not have to think a lot about their parenting style because neither of you have children. You are able to have children with that person and come to terms with each other’s parenting style and learn and grow as parents together. When you walk into a relationship where children are already present, it creates some unique growing experiences.
For quite a few years my brother had an on again off again relationship with the love of his life. Even after they were married they struggled with parenting as many couples do when they walk into an instant family. I think that the turning point for them was when my brother made the choice to start acting like his wife’s daughter was also his daughter. Then she was no longer just his wife’s responsibility but both of their responsibility. It was a change in mindset that changed everything. He no longer felt like if he disciplined her daughter that she would undermine his decision. When they took the “his and hers” out of their vocabulary, they were able to finally start acting like one. To this day they are extremely happy and still very much in love.
Thinking back to my own failed marriage, everything throughout our marriage was “his and hers”. There was not much that was ours. I often felt like we were more roommates than husband and wife. We lived in his house, with his furniture, his bikes were in the garage, and so on. This separation never hit me so hard as it did one night when I was preparing for an interview for a part time job that would allow me to make more money than he was making at a full time job. It bothered him a great deal that I would make more money than he was so he proceeded to get very drunk and vulgar. Rather than listen to him rant and rave, I put my daughter to bed, then went to bed myself.
He finally came to bed many hours later still ranting and raving and woke me up doing so. I told him I wasn’t going to put up with it so he needed to just shut up and go to sleep. Well this upset him even more so he told me, “Maybe you should just get out and take your kid with you.” That is when I realized that I was already a single parent even though I was still married to my child’s father.
I think that in any marriage, if you label things as “his or hers”, even if it is your first marriage, you have doomed it to fail. This is even more true if you each bring children into the mix. Your new spouse, and your children for that matter, need to know that you stand united when it comes to discipline and consequences as well as rewards. I do understand that it can be hard to allow your new spouse to call your children his if your ex is still a big part of their lives. But you need to come to some agreement on a co-parenting plan that everyone can live with so that it does not destroy your relationship.
My mother’s marriage nearly ended when my step-brother moved in with us because he learned very quickly how to play two ends to the middle with my mother and step dad. If my mother told him he could not do something, he would immediately go to my dad and ask him instead. This is natural for children to do. What is not natural, or good for the relationship, is for the other parent to go against the first adult’s decision and make them feel undermined. Even though my dad did not realize he was doing it, it angered my mother beyond belief.
We laugh at sitcoms that show the dad deferring back to the mom on permission to do something when they ask, What did your mom say?” But parents that do this send a clear message that they can not play their parents against each other. That is why communication and unification is so important when it comes to parenting. You owe it to yourself and your significant other to communicate on every level. Doing so will save your relationship with your significant other and make better children in the process.
Even with the best communication between you and your spouse, you are going to run into problems and you are going to get frustrated. The trick is to be fiercely loyal to each other because there will come a day when your children are on their own and it will be just you and your spouse left at home. That is if you are strong enough to stand united.