With the rise of divorce in the Jewish world, and in the Beit Shemesh community as well, there has also been a rise in second marriages, or, as known in Hebrew, Perek Bet.
Blended families can be families created by widows or widowers marrying each other. They can also be formed by people who have been through a divorce, as well as combinations of both. One spouse may never have been married. Very often we have families where children on both sides are involved. Sometimes the newly formed couple will also have their own children.
In all the different scenarios, there are many challenges that have to be met. The new couple is focusing on their new relationship. If the spouses have been through a divorce, they can be entering the marriage with some trauma. In addition, they may have been through abuse which has its own range of feelings and recovery process. Or, they may have feelings of failure, guilt about putting their children through a divorce, pain about dashed hopes, questions about their own abilities to form a lasting relationship. On the other hand, they may be filled with hope about this new relationship and the resolve to do everything to make it work this time.
In any case, the couple has a lot of building and bonding to do regarding their own relationship. If there are children involved, a whole new set of challenges come into play. No matter how horrible their parents' marriage was, most children still fantasize that one day their parents will get back together. When their parent announces that they are getting married, that fantasy is finally put to rest. There may be a tremendous amount of resentment towards the new person.
Children who have a good relationship with their other parent, may not have any interest in having a step-parent. In addition, children who have been living with one parent may have developed an especially close relationship with that parent. The rules in the house have probably been a little looser. They have gotten used to having their parent all to themselves. All of a sudden there is a total stranger taking the beloved parent's time and attention. The newcomer might even be disciplining them.
If there are step-brothers and sisters involved, they may resent their parent giving attention to other children. If moving houses is involved, that is another adjustment the children have to make. If one parent and children moves into the home of the new step-parent, that also entails one set of children feeling resentful that they have to share their belongings with the newcomers. The newcomers may feel that the children living there are too possessive of their belongings. They may feel resentful about being uprooted from their former neighborhoods and homes to be "guests" in someone else's home.
Children who have seen their parents divorce have learned that relationships can end. Why should they believe that this time the parent and the step-parent will stay together? If they start building a relationship with the step-parent, is there any guarantee that he/she won't walk away from them?
People who get together with two sets of children might have very different ways of dealing with them. One set of children might have very strict rules and the other set might have a looser style of discipline. One set of children might go to one kind of school and the other might go to a different school. This could cause conflict between the new couple.
When children are hurt, confused, afraid or worried, they react. Most children will not express their feelings but will act them out. There might be a lot of testing of the parents. Will our parents get divorced if we drive them crazy enough? Not that they want the parents to get divorced, but they need to be reassured that the parents will do everything in their power to stay together.
Will our parent still have time for us?
Children may be preoccupied by so many thoughts causing a drop in their school functioning. They may threaten to move in with the other biological parent or may actually move in with the other biological parent. They might use the animosity between their own two biological parents to play one against the other. This is not done out of malice, but out of pain and confusion.
Is there hope? With all these feelings coming into play, couples may ask themselves: why bother trying a new relationship when we will be causing so much pain and upheaval to our children? From my experience of working with blended families, I am convinced that there is hope for success.
Most children really want their parents to be happy. They also long for a "normal" family life with two parents running the household together. It gives them security and a sense of belonging. Children are extremely resilient and with the proper approach the family can really thrive.
If you are contemplating marrying for a second time, in my opinion, the most important challenge for a successful second marriage is to be aware of what you and your children are feeling and thinking. Observe their behavior and speak to them. Explain to them what you are planning to do, allowing them to express their feelings, even negative ones. Reassure them that you will always be there for them no matter what. Use your own strengths as a family to encourage them that the problems will work out.
Be patient. Know that it is a process. There will be ups and downs, but with sensitivity and consistency you will see success.
Find time to spend with your children. This will give them the feeling that with all the changes they will be experiencing, you will be a constant for them.
Get professional help if needed. Family therapy can really help the children express themselves and bond with their new step-parent and siblings.
Most important to remember: You have gone through a lot, you've gotten your children through difficult times and you deserve happiness. Yes, with the happiness comes other challenges, but, in the end, you and your children will only grow from this experience.
Nancy Chernofsky, director
Emunat Rachel Family Counseling Center