The engagement season is just around the corner. More people get engaged at Christmas and Valentine’s Day than at any other times of the year. Shortly thereafter, the calls begin to come in from those looking for premarital counseling. Engagement should be a serious time of planning and preparation for married life. What we often find is once he slips that beautiful engagement ring on her finger, wedding planning takes over and very quickly “THE WEDDING” becomes a fast moving train the couple cannot slow down.
A reality of our generation is that 40% of married couples with children in the US are step-couples. At least one partner had a child from a previous relationship before marriage; this includes full and part-time residential stepfamilies and those with children under or over the age of 18. When children will be blended into the new marriage, our caution is to discourage haste, set aside planning a huge or elaborate wedding affair, and instead take the time that is necessary to determine if this marriage is a good idea in the first place.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that premarital counseling is absolutely critical for all those desiring to marry, and especially so when children are involved. In fact, when children will be a part of the new marriage, I recommend the couple consider pre-engagement counseling. This will help the new family begin with a solid foundation. Many couples with blended families who arrive in our counseling office wish they would have taken the time to get premarital counseling.
There are multiple issues to be addressed when those with children decide to marry and join their families together. You won’t be able to address every problem or situation, but you will certainly see the glaring ones.
Blended families are unique in many ways and bear little to no resemblance to the Brady Bunch. It takes on average 2-3 years before this new union operates or feels like a family. Topics covered in premarital counseling will help keep expectations reasonable between the children and the new spouse. Both adults learn how to support each other in parenting and discipline so the children are not able to drive a wedge between them.
The expectations the happy couple has going into the new marriage are usually dashed pretty quickly and replaced with some uncomfortable and even unhappy realities. The premarital counseling process will help the couple to understand and accept that while they are very happy, remarriage is generally a loss for children. Remarriage ends the child’s dream of parental reconciliation. Many children secretly cling to the hope that mom and dad will get back together.
When a single parent marries, the child can experience a sense of loss because the parent now must be shared with someone else, and in some cases, shared with many other people! If the new parent comes with his or her own children, this can add layers of loss from the child’s perspective.
In premarital counseling, the couple will learn how to minister to the children and how to help them understand that the pending marriage is the beginning of another relationship for them, an additional relationship for them. It is critical that children are aware that even though they won’t ever have their original family unit, the Lord has allowed them to have more people to love, support, and care for them.
It is also a good idea to bring children into the counseling process for the couple to hear what they are experiencing and to learn how to address biblically any losses their children are experiencing. For example, a discussion of Hebrews 4:14-16 may aid a child in understanding that Jesus understands her sorrow and her trials. You can remind her that Jesus was part of a blended family!
Wise parents and step-parents will affirm the role the non-custodial parent has in the child’s life (when possible). Premarital counseling will help assure the child there is no intention of obstructing that relationship with the biological parent (when possible).
To children who are fearful this new marriage and family won’t last, premarital family counseling will teach them about marriage and family from a covenantal perspective. Children might need reminders that parent and step-parent desire to honor and glorify God in their marriage, which means they will work on it, even when it is hard. This many give the children assurances that the parents are not going to give up on making it all work.
You should remind everyone that new relationships will develop over time. Help them develop habits of praying for the new marriage, praying for the children, and involving the children in prayer as together they form a new family unit.
A blended family can be a great family, but it takes a lot of work and dedication. It takes a lot of grace and understanding, because this is a journey for everyone.