I have been divorced for a couple of years and I can’t bring myself to start dating again. My biggest concern is that I don’t want my young children to have to face a stepparent and stepsiblings. I grew up with divorced parents, stepparents, and a bunch of step and half siblings. My ex-wife hasn’t married anyone yet, so our kids are still protected from all of those changes. Is it better for me to just wait until they leave the home before I start dating again so they don’t have to experience the challenge of a stepfamily? Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.
You’re correct that living in a blended family can be complicated and stressful. The dynamic of having new parents and siblings enter a family system makes for guaranteed challenges, however large or small. I would gently challenge you to consider a few things before you decide to spend the next 10-15 years alone.
If you’re worried about making things tough on your kids, let me respectfully remind you that they’ve just been through one of the most challenging transitions a little (or big) person can go through. Creating a stepfamily will certainly be stressful, but it’s almost expected now that you are divorced. On the other hand, your divorce was probably more difficult because it was a shocking revelation to your children.
Even though you understandably want to minimize further stress and difficulty for your children, it’s also important to recognize that the stresses of single parenting may far outweigh the transition to a blended family. Each family is different, so I can’t judge which of the two would be more difficult for you. That's something you'll have to carefully consider. Seeking the counsel of trusted friends, clergy, or professionals can help you see things more objectively.
Children can adjust well to a blended family environment. Even though you had a terrible experience as a child, it’s important to recognize that there are healthy ways to make that transition that your own family may not have understood.
There are hundreds of books and programs available to help blended families navigate this sensitive territory. I recommend visiting www.smartmarriages.com to see a list of blended family resources.
Of course, taking your time to find the right marriage partner who is also committed to making the blended family transition a successful one cannot be overstated. John Van Epp’s book “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk” will give you a great head start on that process. And, remember, your ex-wife may decide to start her own blended family, which will require some adapting on the part of your children.
If you’re not ready for marriage, I hope you at least have a social life that includes some dating. This socializing and self-care will help you draw more strength to better nurture your children’s emotional needs. You have social and emotional needs your children can’t meet.
Providing a stable and healthy two-parent home environment for your children will help everyone, including you, feel less stressed and overwhelmed. Good luck as you contemplate this new direction for your family.
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