Restraint is key when building a new family

2010-08-26 00:00

SECOND marriages and mixed families are so common nowadays that we have come to accept them as part and parcel of the social fabric. However, we need to remind ourselves that when marriages break down people are hurt, particularly children. We need to find ways of dealing with this because while the hurt may go underground it is very unlikely to simply go away.

A great deal will depend on the ages of the children involved. Little ones become confused while older ones get angry and non-communicative. When a youngster goes silent on you it can be difficult to deal with the problem because clearly whatever they are feeling has been internalised. They either don’t want to speak about it or they can’t.

It may be helpful to bear one or two fairly important points in mind here. Firstly, if the previous spouse lives in the same town or has reasonable access to the children, the situation is not going to go away. It might well last for decades, so you might have to prepare yourself for the long haul. Do you really need a running feud which never resolves itself, or would it be easier to swallow your pride — or whatever else needs to be swallowed — put the children first and get on with the programme? You will find it far less tiresome to maintain reasonably cordial relations with your ex and the children will find this much easier to handle.

In the second place, discrediting your former spouse in front of the children will get you nowhere. Little cracks such as “your father has never been on time in his life”, or “your mother thinks that money grows on trees”, are more likely to score against you than the intended target because the children don’t see the other parent in the same light. Driving some kind of wedge between children and their blood parents is not acceptable and it’s likely to be counterproductive anyway. You married that person once, so he or she can’t be all that bad.

As far as possible, children should be brought up to respect both parents. If one or the other has fallen on hard times the other parent should help the children, who are probably feeling it anyway, to see that people make mistakes. Sympathy is more appropriate than some kind of vindication.

In moving on, remember that when mum or dad comes home with a new partner, the children have a whole new set of circumstances to deal with. When there are children on both sides, you need to make an effort to make the whole thing come together. There will be trials and tribulations, but provided the adult partners are sensible and sensitive, these problems can be overcome.

If the new partners are so taken up with each other that they have little time for anyone else, it will not go unnoticed by the children.

The wise way to proceed is to avoid rushing things. Much of course, depends on the age of the children, but don’t underestimate the impact on their lives as they try to cope with what they probably see as quite an upheaval. If your ex is dead, then a whole new set of circumstances comes into play.

While it may take some getting used to, first names may be a good idea for a new partner. They are friendly and informal and they don’t usurp the existing parent’s place. Bear in mind that the adults in all this should be playing the senior role in keeping everything­ together. They should be leading not obstructing. Step and half-brothers and half-sisters have been known to form close bonds and parents should look to the future and do what they can to promote this.

Avoid any kind of competition with the other family or the previous spouse because the children usually see right through it. Establish your routine, do what you do best and get on with it. Older children in particular will not be impressed by attempts to outdo the other family or your ex.

Finally, leave the door open for discussion about why your marriage came to grief. Girls in particular are often curious about why these things go wrong and they need honest answers. If you can, be honest and open-minded in your explanations, because before very long they are going to go out and choose partners themselves. • Raymond Walker is a retired school master who lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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