Getting married is a tricky business requiring the soberest of considerations and the most delicate of care. It is a lifetime commitment that ends up being so for only about half of the people who attempt it. There is no real data on how happy the other half really is in that commitment. We all know people who have kept their marriage together because of external pressures when they likely would have been much happier splitting up. Staying together through gritted teeth is not exactly the portrait of a happy marriage.
Add pre-existing children to the mix, and you have made a complicated arrangement fraught with dangers even more fraught. The whole idea of dating becomes twice as challenging. Exactly when is the right time to introduce the children to the person you are dating? When do you trust that person to be alone with your children unsupervised? If the kids are a little older, how much should their opinion be weighed into your overall decision? Getting married with children is a daunting task, especially if you want your marriage to survive happily ever after. Here are a few more things to consider before tying that multifaceted knot:
Engagement Is a Promise to the Whole Family
When you are engaged to be married, you are making a commitment to a person. When that person has children, you are making an even bigger commitment. The engagement rings selected for a commitment with children should reflect that bigger commitment you are making.
An expensive ring is an announcement to the community that you have the resources to make good on your promise. When children are involved, you are making an even bigger financial promise. Children are expensive with or without a partner. You have to be prepared for that financial responsibility out of the gate.
Loving your partner is not enough. You also have to love the kids as if they are your own. If you cannot do that, you are not ready for the commitment you are making when marrying a person with children. If you are unsure about your partner’s commitment to your children, you should not accept the engagement until you’re sure.
Your Family Values Have to Be Aligned
It is possible for you to marry someone with whom you disagree on a variety of secondary issues. But this is not just about you anymore. It is also about your kids. Compromise on your values all you like. But you are responsible for the values taught to your kids.
If you believe in living a sustainable lifestyle, you can’t exactly marry someone who holds green initiatives in disdain. That person will be teaching your kids. That is an entirely different level of disagreement. You might be able to tolerate religious differences. But do you really want your kids brought up in a way you find religiously offensive?
Even if that wasn’t an issue, your kids would see mommy and daddy at odds all the time. That is confusing and frightening. It is even worse when you tell them one thing while your partner tells them the opposite. You need to make sure your values are aligned before taking the leap.
Both the Kids and the Marriage Come First
It is a false dichotomy to pit the kids against the marriage to see which comes first. The instinct is to sacrifice all else for the kids. But if that is your frame of mind, you probably shouldn’t get married at all. You are doing your kids no favors by subordinating your marriage for their affection. You are sending the message that one can be married or have kids and be happy, but not both. You will ultimately be setting your kids up for bad marriages.
Instead, model to the kids what a healthy and loving relationship between two people should look like. Don’t turn the kids into entitled little monsters who don’t know how to be emotionally available to someone else. Model a good marriage, and you will be doing more for your kids than if you focused exclusively on the kids.
Getting married with children already on board is a difficult road to travel. And while it will seldom be easy, it will be possible if you understand the commitment is bigger. The values have to be aligned. And you have to be as committed to the marriage as you are to the kids.