Q. Help! This is my first marriage but my husband's second. He feels so guilty about his divorce that he spoils his children—they get whatever they want, whenever they want, with no boundaries. I feel as though they take first place in his life—and they know it! It's ruining our marriage. What should I do?
A. Guilt over the divorce, shame over mistakes made, fear over losing the kids and the resulting tendency to overcompensate by moving from parent to "pal" are only a few of the many land mines in a second marriage. Unfortunately, your situation is all too common.
The number one challenge remarried couples run into is parenting. Loving the children with tenderness and sensitivity is critical. Putting the children before the marriage is fatal. We encourage both of you to set aside an afternoon to discuss seriously these questions.
What role do each of you play in parenting the children? Is there someone you can talk to who understands the unique challenges of second marriages and can help you deal with the issues you can't resolve? What are the boundaries the children must learn to live with? How are you going to show them Christ and his place in your marriage?
Bottom line: the key to keeping the stepfamily together is keeping the marriage number one. The key to being a great parent or stepparent is by first being a great husband or wife. The worst thing you can do to the children is to put them before a healthy, growth-focused marriage.
If the children threaten never to visit again because they don't get their way, the best thing you can do is let them discover that love and loyalty don't come with a price tag. Putting the marriage first and yet guiding and nurturing the children is a hard balance, but necessary for the health of both the marriage and the children.
We've seen many second marriages become rich, vital, passionate, and Christ-centered relationships, but they didn't just happen. They took a lot of time, work, prayer, and forgiveness.