He better be a good one.
I am going to go a step further: He better be a damn good one, because you are about to endure a lot of heartaches. If my husband were not who he is, we would not have gotten married. Period. It would have been an absolute disaster. The sobering truth is that two-thirds of marriages where children are involved end in divorce. Getting married and staying married is difficult enough, but when there is a child from a previous relationship, everything is amplified.
As with anything, there is, of course, no formula, but I do believe there are some general guidelines as to what you should look for in evaluating a future husband who has a child.
- Is he engaged? If you end up being a more engaged parent with your spouse’s child than he is, you will be miserable. The fact of the matter is: he would be raising this child whether you existed or not. Not to say you are not necessary – but to tell you to set appropriate boundaries early. It’s important to see how he parents; and to know that he takes great pride in it. Ask him why he parents a certain way; this is the beginning of a long learning process, and it will feel like you arrived late. The more you can understand his heart for his children, the better. While you certainly can (and should!) support him, you should be looking at what value you can add – not try to “fix” how he parents them. If you are consistently trying to fix his parenting, this is not going to work. My husband has brushed his little girl’s hair and dressed her for years and years – and now I get to french braid it and pick out cute clothes for her. He was capable before me. I just get the privilege of bringing my contributions to the table.
- Is he level-headed? This is vital. Blended life is often unpredictable. Emotions run high; feelings get hurt easily. Wounds from the past can come up like a drive-by. I used to think I was level-headed when I became a stepmom; I thought I was laid back. Until one day a school administrator at my stepdaughter’s school said she didn’t know if she was allowed to give me something my husband had asked me to pick up. I was, of course, level-headed to the school administrator – but I sobbed the entire drive home. It wasn’t even a big deal, and there was just some minor confusion, but these kinds of things hurt. This life is an absolute rollercoaster, and I need my husband’s hands to steady me and for his kind voice to tell me he is my family and that God is for us. This brings me to my last point…
- Does he live his life in fear?
Unfortunately, many men live in fear that their children will be withheld from them if they make one wrong move. This is often rooted in the fact that family court has not historically been kind to fathers. While many states are starting to make progress toward equal parenting time, it is still not a given. This has left millions of dads in thousands of dollars of debt from the court and still only assigned “visitation” to their children. That pain is real, and it is heartbreaking. However, that kind of fear will enslave and destroy you. Some fathers are terrified to invoke any discipline, wondering if their children will still want to come over. Even if there is seemingly no chance their children would ever be taken away, too many dads have overwhelming anxiety it could happen. If this is an issue for a man you are considering, this is normal- but he needs to get into counseling. He may not even realize how much fear he is living in.
Most of all, be prepared for surviving more in your first year of marriage than most couples will experience in their first decade. Be prepared for conversations that are impossibly difficult and for unknowns to consume you. You will be facing more than some people who are twice your age.
Marriages that include children have a much higher failure rate, until somewhere around the five-year mark. After that, your likelihood of making it is higher than a marriage without children.
If you can survive the storms that come with blended life, you’re going to make it for the long haul. Fix your eyes upon Jesus, seek the Kingdom, stay the course. You are going to make it.