You married for love. You married forever. But you never expected your marriage would involve having to choose between your new spouse and your children. But here you are, torn between your parental instinct to protect and put your children first and your desire to make this marriage work by forming those ties that bind – and quickly!
One of the toughest choices I hear about, working with stepfamilies, is the painful decision biological parents have to make when their children from a former relationship take sides against the new spouse. What you had hoped would become a beautiful new family is suddenly a living nightmare of demands, hurt feelings, and having to settle battles between the people you love equally.
In fact, this conflict between spouse and children is at the root of most stepfamily divorces. Whether it’s a straight challenge of “them or me,” or another battle that comes from the tension caused by that conflict, the parental urge and confusion tears hearts apart. It’s just more than many parents can stand, so they quit on the marriage. Or the stepparent surrenders to the feelings of being chosen second after the kids.
Where Should Your Loyalty Lie?
There is a link between a parent and their child that transcends location or frequency of time together. The love between you and your children will continue throughout your and their lives. Although my own mother has been gone for ten years now, I still love her and think of her almost daily. She will always be in my heart.
You will never lose that connection with your babies, not even if you remarry, when they marry, or if they move across the country. Your hearts will forever be linked. They say parents and children are “blood relatives,” and that makes sense in more than one way – your hearts beat out your love and concern with each pulse.
The same should be true for your loyalty and connection to your spouse. You may not be connected by blood or DNA, but the vows you made when you married are as binding.
When you wooed and won your sweetheart (can you remember that time?), you demonstrated and spoke guarantees that were part of the reason they accepted your proposal. Whether your particular vows included traditional statements such as “for richer or poorer,” “in sickness or in health,” or “til death do us part,” you were making that age-old promise to remain faithfully loyal to your partner no matter what.
Unless your vows included exceptionary clauses, such as “unless my kids get difficult,” or “but only as long as it’s fun and easy,” you placed yourself in a position to either be true or to be a liar. And you did this with your full conscious mind and will. No one made you get married. No one coerced you into stating and signing, in front of God and many legal witnesses, your sacred promise to remain married for the rest of your life.
Now, in most cases, becoming a parent was not such a considered, consciously determined, publicly committed-to situation. (Of course, some of you did adopt or take extraordinary measures to become pregnant, but for many, it just miraculously happened.) The beginning of your relationship with your baby was probably one of surprise and on-the-spot determination to love them. And, while this does not lessen your commitment to your child, it does place the two issues — your relationship to your child and your relationship to your spouse — on different levels.
Ask yourself, the next time you’re feeling pulled between your spouse and your children, which one of these two did you beg, bargain, and make great promises to in order to get them to be yours for life? The answer is, certainly, your spouse. You have a pledge of loyalty to him or her. You laid your reputation and your good name on the line in your guarantee that you would never turn your back on them.
I’m not suggesting that you should not take the greatest care possible of your children – far from that! I am, however, suggesting that you show your children how seriously you take promises and vows. That you teach them to be honest and true by your example. That you keep your focus on your commitment to love til death do you part, no matter what.
Where should your loyalty lie? Where did you swear it would?
God bless you as you struggle with these issues. I fully understand the difficulty in it. If you need help in making your marriage relationship more reliable and more enjoyable, I’ll be happy to help you. But whatever you do, give it your all. Your spouse, and your children, deserve to see your commitment daily.