"I feel like I have a split personality," said
Carla. "Marrying Jack is a dream come true. But itâ€™s not a dream for Kim
and Dan at all. Iâ€™m torn between being blissfully happy and wracked with
guilt. Carla is not along. Brides with kids often feel torn between
their wedding dreams and the complicated realities of being a mom.
One reason for this is that our images of weddings have not kept pace
with reality. A wedding in which one or both partners have children is
still often referred to as "non-traditional." Yet, in "The Enlightened
Stepmother," Perdita Kirkness Norwood points out that about 40% of all
marriages are now remarriages for one of the adults. Most of these men
and women have children. Brides with kids are our new tradition, but our
wedding culture still clings to the image of the young, innocent bride,
being given away by her parents.
According to Carla, "Getting married the second time is an entirely
different experience. You still want to be the bride, you want it to be
all about you. But when youâ€™re a mom, itâ€™s always about the kids, right?
Otherwise, what kind of mom are you?"
With a wedding in their future, Carlaâ€™s children needed some extra
attention. Yours probably will, too. Expect them to a wide range of
feelings, from excitement to fear to despondence. It is always a huge
adjustment for children to see their parents with a new partner.
Here are some suggestions I gave Carla for keeping her balance and
making the most of being a bride with kids.
Give It Time
The first thing Carla needed to do was accept that each person in her
family would experience the transition differently. She needed to give
her fiancĂ© and her kids the freedom to move through it in their own way
and at their own pace.
As a bride, your transition is relatively simple and sweet. You love
your fiancĂ©, you love your children, and you really love the idea of all
of you being a family.
Your childrenâ€™s transition is tougher, because did not choose it. Most
likely, the idea of sharing you is daunting. For many kids, a parentâ€™s
remarriage puts an end to their fantasy that their parents will
reconcile. This means that they will be facing your divorce again, in a
sense. They will be afraid that your new husband will make changes in
the household that they do not like. At the same time, they may like
your fiancĂ© and have positive feelings about your marriage. This adds up
to a lot of different feelings for a child. They need time to sort them
Carla found out that she was making one of the most common mistakes:
putting her fiancĂ© in the role of disciplinarian before he really had a
relationship with her kids. For a parent whoâ€™s been doing it all alone,
it can seem like a godsend to have help! However, it caused resentment
in the children and actually got in the way of their developing a close
relationship with Jack. They got along much better when Carla took
Developing routines, trust, and affection takes time and the timeline is
different for each family. Carla tried to make some of the household
changes before the wedding, to avoid making her fiancĂ© look like the bad
guy. For example, she planned to have Kim and Dan go to bed earlier, so
she and Jack can have some couple time in the evenings. She decided to
move the bedtimes up a couple months before the wedding.
Forming a stepfamily is a greater challenge than forming
a first-time family. Couples routinely tend to underestimate the
difficulties and then feel blindside by problems later on. The
importance of preparation cannot be stressed enough. This can take the
form of reading, going to classes, or seeing a counselor.
At first, this was the last thing Carla wanted to do. She wanted to just
enjoy her engagement and let the serious stuff wait until after the
wedding. But her kids wouldnâ€™t let her wait! They were "acting out,"
which made it hard for her to enjoy anything and so she did her
"Itâ€™s a good thing I did. Now that I know what to expect and weâ€™ve made
a few adjustments, the kids have settled down and weâ€™re all getting
along better. I know weâ€™ll have challenges but weâ€™re getting off to a
good start. No more split personalityâ€”I can be a good mom AND a happy
Resources for Brides with Kids
- Weddings, a Family Affair: The New Etiquette for Second Marriages and
Couples with Divorced Parents, by Marjorie Engel, Wilshire Publications,
- The Enlightened Stepmother, by Perdita Kirkness Norwood, Avon Books,
1999. (Great advice for all parents in a stepfamily.)
- Making Your Second Marriage a First-Class Success, by Doug and Naomi
Moseley, Prima Publishing, 1998.
- Stepfamily Association of America, Inc., 800 735-0329; email:
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