Seven “essentials” before marrying someone with children?

by Rod Smith

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1. Plan several sessions of “hard” talking with your potential spouse. It is essential that you temporarily forget the romantic elements of your relationship to talk business. Blending families is one of life’s most difficult challenges, which is further compounded when both parties have children.

2. Don’t try to be the stepparent before you legally occupy the role. Prematurely playing a role will create problems once you legitimately occupy it. It is essential you do not assume roles you don’t occupy. If a child (or future spouse) treats you as a parent, it doesn’t mean you are one. Troubles brew when people push themselves, or are pushed by others, into roles they do not occupy. (This is true even beyond families!)

3. Bridges are best built before they are needed. It is essential that you insist on multiple meetings with both parents of ALL the children before you consider marriage. These meetings will focus on methods of co-parenting in order to secure everyone’s best advantage. If implementing such meetings seems overwhelming to you, you are probably heading for a minefield of countless unexpected, unwelcome complications – that will seem (believe it or not) even too large for love to overcome! What is avoided (denied, glossed over, minimized) pre-wedding will rise like a rabid monster quite soon after the wedding.

4. Financial integrity is as important as sexual fidelity! It is essential that you look into every detail of all financial records of your spouse-to-be and offer your own finances for similar scrutiny — before you plan a wedding. Persons who cannot responsibly handle money are unlikely to be able to handle the pressures of thriving within a blended family. If a would-be spouse suggests information* about his or her finances are off-limits to you, wipe the dust off your feet and depart, no matter how much love you may feel. Authentic love, apart from having many other facets, is also measured in the degree of financial partnering* (not necessarily blending) is established between lovers. Resilient love seeks the wise, open use of combined resources. Because blending families also often involves complex financial arrangements (child support and so forth, divorce costs, education bills for children of a former marriage) hiding the details from a would-be spouse is exceedingly unfair to all involved.*

5. Flee “blamers.” An adult who blames their former spouse (or parents, or childhood, the new political order) for everything will also, before long, blame you for everything.

6. Avoid people who cannot engage in civil conversations with an ex, with their parents, or their children.

7. Getting Johnny (or Mary) a stepparent will not ease his dissatisfaction with the divorce, school, or his craving for a “real family.” It is essential to understand that getting married will not solve any but the most superficial current family issues. Blending families is likely to unveil and exacerbate more problems than it solves.

This said, and so much of it sounds negative, blended families hold the potential to enrich and empower all the people involved. Some of the healthiest, happiest families I have met in many years of meeting with families (in all manner of circumstances) have been blended families!

* A reader kindly pointed out that my column suggests finances ought to be blended. I do not believe this is always wise or necessary. I do believe the couple MUST be OPEN about the details or all financial matters. See comment here:

12 Responses to “Seven “essentials” before marrying someone with children?”

  1. Tammy, wherever you are, contact me through, please, Rod

  2. Thank you so much for these seven essentials before marrying someone with children. I am in what seems to be a no win situation. Last February I married a very loving man and although we are still happy, its been very challenging for me. I (until this last August) never had chidren (I am 40), I now am the mom to our 5 month old boy. I was only married once before 8 years prior to my husband now. Back to the story. My husband, lets call him Dan, has two older sons – one is in college (almost 20 years old) and the other just turned 17 years old and in high school. They were kicked out at their mom and her husbands house so for the past two years they have lived with Dan full time.

    The problem I have encountered is the boys thinking they can run all over me because they have lived at their dads house longer than I have, they say smart ass comments about how their dad does all the work (not true) around the house, etc. now he does do all the cooking, but not all the cleaning and laundry. I do a lot of that…..anyway, I get a lot of sarcasium and to be honest, I am just sick and tired of being treated like a step monster. I am nothing but nice to those boys all the time and I try to show them love and care, but they think daddy is it and step mom and baby brother are just along for the ride. It really makes me mad that they have such bad attitudes toward me. Should I just start acting cold / non-loving to them like they are to me or should I keep trying to be nice even though I am getting slapped in the face by them all the time?? Just wondering. thank you Beth !

    • My hearts goes out to you. I also married a man with two chidren, If i only knew then what i know now ……….I WOULD HAAVE RAN ………………GREAT HUSBAND ………..AWFUL KIDS..

  3. I have been in a relationship with a man 8 years my junior. I am 44, he is 37. My children have moved away and have a child of there own; which makes me a grandma X 2. His children are with us every other weekend and then several weeks during the year with holidays and vacation time. They are now 11 and 13 and (to be expected) I am seeing attitude towards Dad. Testing the water as could be said. He does nothing which almost puts me into a defensive state because my children were never allowed to disrespect me as their mother. In the past few months, conversations between myself and boyfriend has been talk of marriage, living together and a future. Initially I was okay with it but after a couple of months of getting my house ready to sell. Well I guess I started to freak out and questioned if I wanted to take this on. Honestly I’m really not sure that I want to raise 2 more teenage girls and deal with an ex-wife for the next 7 years. I love him and there is no doubt in the fact but after being in an abusive marriage prior to this relationship for 18 years and finally obtaining my independence and self again. Honestly I’m a bit freaked out and scared. Any suggestions or is this something I’m going to have to sole search and come to terms with or just leave the relationship. Thanks, CONFUSED.

  4. Dear Penny:

    I’d suggest you listen to your gut feeling and go with the internal warnings you are feeling. If he doesn’t take a stand for you NOW (while dating) you know full and well he will not do so once you are married.

    Go well,


  5. I have been married for 8 months with the father of a 15 year old, child of teenage pregnancy. My husband was always very adamant that his daughter would not meet any of his girlfriends before the one he would marry, and I never questioned that, until I had left everything behind to move to another country to marry him, and met his daughter just a couple of weeks before the wedding. She was lovely the day I met her but already the second time she had a lot of “attitude”. My husband has no authority over her as she and her mother pull away (and there would be less chance for him to see his daughter) if he contradicts her in any way.

    Now I question if I want kids with him for seeing the kind of upbringing she gets. It’s been a bigger challenge that I have ever imagined.

  6. I have been dating this guy for just over a year. He has two kids. I have not met the kids nor ex. I have suggested that I meet the kids but he said its too soon as the kids are still coming to terms with their divorce.

    The ex keeps on sending him sms’ about the kids that upset him and then it turns out to be a lie, i.e. the kids are sick or the kids have seen us together. When he confronts her she laughs and says she is getting him back for when she cheated on him years ago and he used the kids to get her back.

    This is just plain crazy of her to do such things. Sometimes I feel I will be able to handle her and other times I feel like running away. Thoughts of running away comes up more than the staying.



  7. I have been dating a guy for about 4 months now, he is newly divorced, but separated for over a year. He is 25 years old, has two adorable little girls (4 and 2 1/2). I personally come from a step parenting situation, despite the struggles, which turned out amazingly well. Except, the difference is my father remarried because my mother died when I was eight. In my boyfriend’s situation, the mother of the two girls is still involved (the main reason for the divorce being infidelity on her part), and actually gets along with me very well. She doesn’t have a problem with me watching the girls and being with them, but I guess my worry is the unknown, the future…the girls love me, and are thrilled every time they see me, they respond to me very well, and I never shy away from talking about their mother, because of course they love her. I, having a background in childcare, am one who really loves children. So I guess I am asking if anyone has had experience step parenting with children of such a young age?? It’s a very weighty decision to make, and I am only 24, and I do know other people who have done it, but just wondering what other advice I might get…..

  8. Hi Rod,

    After reading all of the above and quite some other pages online, I cant find anything close to my situation, and I need help. I am 25 and my fiance is 33. He has 2 children, 4yr old girl who is easy to get along with, and a 7yr old boy who looks at me as if I am stealing his father from him and ruining his chance at a “normal” family. In saying this, this particular little boy is gorgeous, intelligent and just like his father, wonderful from head to toe, a rarity in our time.

    My fiance was not married to the mother of his children and they split for unclear reasons, I guess they grew apart but had some quite awful times in between as the split happened when she was just about to give birth to their 2nd child. I know she behaved badly towards him, but it bothers me that he could leave her at such a time, regardless of her behaviour (I’ve studied medical science, naturopathy, so I know that she would have been quite out of balance at the time.

    5 years on, she still loves him desperately, which makes it also, very difficult for me…..I feel like a home wrecker or something. She is 36 and although a bit nutty sometimes, I certainly understand why. She must have so much pain. I think when she left him, she didn’t expect that he would let her go.

    This brings me to my main concern. I fear that he loves me the best he can, but that love for him, is not what love needs to be to survive the challenges of life, specially including the step mother bit!

    My fiance is wonderful, super intelligent, caring, loving and supportive of me in everything that is good. However, it startles me that he doesnt seem to think this situation should be challenging. He doesnt see when his son is rude to me. I have to point it out, listen to him tell me it’s all in my head, and then get an apology after he speaks to his son, who openly and shamefully (poor kid) admits he doesn’t know why he is like that to me. It breaks my heart to see these kids, mostly his son, have to go through this, and have to keep up with us whilst we figure out how on earth to get this right.

    My fiance says that non of his ex’s have ever had an issue with him having children and that it’s only me. I will say, that I feel ill when I think of him with his ex, making children, which I feel is such a sacred thing that what he has done in the past, makes me not want to share having my children with him as it feels like it wouldn’t be as special to him or something. Having children has always been, to me, the most important thing in life, and the thought of it being just the next time around for him, makes illness in my soul. I guess the fact that he has had so many girlfriends since the split with the mother of his children, all unstable WAY to young for him and very good looking girls, makes me again feel as if I cant take his love for me seriously, because he told all of them that he loved them also.

    Obviously he says this is different, as they were all troubled girls and it was almost like he helped them learn about how to cope with life and then left them, they were not equal relationships. I dont know, I just dont believe that I am any different. I feel like if I left, he would cry a bit and then move on to the next. Probably it’s true that I would be of a special place in his heart, as we are engaged, but that doesnt change the fact that would let me leave. Just like with the mother of his children. I feel that when you love someone, you don’t take no for an answer. I guess Im scared that if being a step mother gets too hard at some stage and I freak out and leave him, (which I probably will cos I know myself and I will need to break free and refresh the “choice” to be ther) by the time I work through the processes and come to my senses and come home, he’ll do the same he did to his ex, and he has said to me, “if you break up, you only do it once with me.”

    Im scared that being a step mother will push the boundaries, specially because I know he is blind to his sons feeling towards me, and he thinks that even if his kids are not nice to me, its my fault because they are a reflection of my own energy, probably true, but then how can I shake this dirty feeling I feel about his previous relationships? Only then can I give the children the right energy to reflect on. It will take time for that to happen, but I feel he thinks my feelings of negativity are stupid and a waste of energy, which is probably true and I should rise above it, but I cant do it ….at least for now, I cant help the way I feel.

    Probably should add that we live in Holland, and I dont speak dutch (not enough anyway), so it’s very hard to build any kind of relationship with these children. Yesterday, his son sat on the back of my bike crying, because he had to sit on the back of MY bike. It makes me feel like a monster. Kids usually love me and I love kids. I rode down the street with tears falling down my face and thought “what on earth am I putting myself through this for!? Ok, for him, but he doesn’t even see that I’m putting myself through anything” He’s all about positive energy bla bla bla, which I agree, but im only human and I really struggle with this.

    I understand how his son feels because I also have a step mother, who it has taken 15 years to build a healthy relationship with. My fiance tells me that the reason I feel negativity about the situation is because of my own experiences. I admit, I do behave badly around the children. But I try to just get some support by saying “oh god that was horrible, ur son hates me”, Then instead of giving me a motivating rub on the back, he yells at me in front of the kids and tell me “how will you feel when you have kids and somebody says they’re being horrible” By that time, I feel so humiliated by the way he has spoken to me in front of his children, that I cant drag myself out of the rut and the rest of the time the children are over I barely say a word.

    I know I can stay and go through all of the hell of step parenting, but I dont know if I want to, you only live once. My step mother said to me once “if I knew what I was getting into, I wouldnt have done it” Not very encouraging. But I feel that I know very well that if am not with this man, I will not find happiness with any other, at least, i may be happy, but I’ll know It could have been better if only I could get over my own insecurities about his past relationships.

    After reading over this, I see that there are a few things that need to happen, first, we need to sit down and talk about what I have written. If we cant figure out our own problems, we will have to see a counselor. After we have our own thing a bit more in order, I think we should sit down with his ex and her partner, although I’m not sure if she will, ill try. But Rod, can you help me with these feelings I have of jealousy and insecurity? The feeling of not feeling that my children will be as special to him as they will be to me? My fiance treats me like a princess, except when he raises his voice at me in front of the kids, I guess it’s also really difficult for him to see me feel so negative towards his children who he loves dearly. How do I shake this feeling that there is a big shadow over my life? Like people are looking at me differently, like im the other woman, or a home wrecker. I dont want it to feel dirty to make a family. help me please.

  9. My situation is a little different. My boyfriend has a 6 year old daughter who is a wonderful little girl. She likes me and we get along great… Doing girly things together. However, my bf seems to have a horrible relationship with his daughter’s mother and I’ve witnessed cursing battles while he was on the phone with her. He says he NEVER gives her any money and instead, buys his daughter things she needs (most likely from a bad experience where he felt the money wasn’t going to the child.) My bf’s daughter lives with her mother and older siblings in a “bad neighborhood” and my bf has mentioned gaining custody of his daughter. I don’t wanna seem like a terrible person but, I’m not ready to be mommy to a 6 year old. Btw, I’m pregnant with my first baby which would be my bf’s second. I know that our new baby and his daughter will be bro and sis and should develop a relationship but I’m just not ready for her to move in. We’re considering marriage in the next 2 years and I’m mostly worried about finances. It would be better to me if he was paying a steady regular child support payment than for his daughter’s mother to call and interrupt our financial stability with costly “things” that could “pop up” that his daughter might need. We agreed that when we move in together, we would combine our income, but would I be harsh if I asked him to keep a separate account from which he handles his daughter’s expenses? That seems like the easiest way to do things to me. Any suggestions?

  10. Hellow, I’m going through a hard time deciding my story is a little different, I’m in love with a man out of my cast.. If my family find out I will be disowned.he loves me truely and I do the same, his family don’t want him to be wth me either.. His going through a separation with his wife, they have 3 kids together, 2yrs old twins girl and boy, and an 8yr old boy. His wife still loves him tremendously but he has no love for her and has clearly told her. I feel so guiltyfeeling that I’m the cource of everything but he won’t let me go, he says I’m the reason his living and that his marriage was long over before I came into the picture, we have been dating for 5months now and planning on marriage. I have a 5yr old son whoi will have to leave along with my entire family.. My fear is if I’m making a right future path for my self and my boyfried.. Please please please help me any one. I desperatly need advice


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