FamilyLife Blog

We Made the Kids Our Top Priority. That was a Mistake.

by | Jul 29, 2020 | Blended Family, Marriage

I never thought I’d find myself in a blended family as an adult. Both my parents and my husband’s parents separated when we were kids, so growing up was complicated and messy as a child — not something either of us wanted to repeat as parents. But that’s exactly what happened. 

When we married, we both had kids from our previous relationships which ended in divorce. Divorce wasn’t the path we would have chosen, but there we were: both remarried with three kids between us. On my husband’s side, the children were going back and forth between homes (and both homes had stepparents). On the other hand, I had full-time custody of my daughter, so she always stayed with us. 

Having lived through it as kids, we could understand their pain, so we were confident we could tackle this. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we survived our childhood, didn’t we? And we didn’t turn out that bad after all. 

So we made a plan! My husband would be the main provider for his kids. They would be his priority and my daughter would remain my priority. Then as spouses, we would come after the kids. After all, they had suffered loss and were sad and hurt after the divorces. They each needed our attention and focus — for us to help them adjust to new family dynamics they did not choose. 

The thought of putting someone new ahead of our children seemed totally unreasonable. Even unthinkable! Our children had been in our lives much longer. How could we put this new person ahead of our children after all the children had gone through? To me it made perfect sense: we had remarried and the bio family was no longer in its original order as God had intended it, so the children had to come first and my spouse second. As a result, our house became a child-centred home.

And that was a mistake! 

Within the space of three and a half years, we ended up separating so we could each focus on our children and stop fighting. We fought about almost everything when it came to parenting — discipline styles, the nature and frequency of extra-curricular activities, the favouritism we’d hear the children express — and that was only the tip of the iceberg.

How did we find ourselves once again in a broken marriage? Where did we go wrong? 

It took a few years, but we finally realized that a child-centred home, even within a blended family, creates an imbalance, which in turn brings destructive consequences for a marriage. This illustration shows why it’s so easy to allow one’s blended family to become child-centred.

In a blended family, the natural order is automatically out of sync. The children are already present before the newlywed couple starts their new life. It may seem reasonable or even virtuous to make the children a priority ahead of our spouse, but a child-centred home, even in a blended family, is unhealthy and will cause major issues, maybe even separation or divorce. 

It might seem futile or impossible to re-order the family structure of a blended family more into that of a traditional family, but we are living proof that it can be done. Radical change isn’t the goal. Rather, what’s needed is a realignment of priorities and values. Once we got back together after over a year apart and realized where we’d gone wrong, my husband and I committed to making each other the top priority. That’s made a huge difference. 

The children remain very important and we make sure to be present to them, but we check in with one another before changing our schedules or making plans when they wish to do something with their bio parent. We respect that they each need that time, but we also recognize that we need time together as a blended family, and first and foremost, with each other as a couple. 

Our lives were (and still are) complicated. Things aren’t perfect. We still have to work at making each other the top priority, but realigning our priorities has rejuvenated our marriage and provided security to our children. A spouse-first home reduces conflict, creates stability, and teaches the kids to become more selfless and happier. 

We know how complicated and messy blended family dynamics can be, so here are four practical ways to reorient your marriage and home to be spouse-centred. 

1) Establish Household Rules Together

Together with your spouse, discuss and agree on a set of the rules for all the children. Then gather all the kids at the table, go over the rules, and allow them to ask questions. Explain that the consequences of breaking these rules will be enforced by both the bio parent and the stepparent, at either one’s discretion. We posted some of the rules on our fridge as a reminder.  

If communication between ex-spouses is healthy, consistency in these rules across all households is ideal, but we recognize that this is not always possible. In any case, having unity between you and your spouse in determining and upholding household rules should be a minimum goal.

2) Parent As One Team

Commit to not take sides, no matter what. If a child brings up something against their step sibling or stepparent, talk to your spouse about it first before answering. Take time to get the full story and to discuss the issue together before deciding how to proceed. This will avoid reactive decision-making and show the kids that you’re working together as a team. 

A common behaviour in any family is for the kids to attempt to divide the parents into separate camps in order to get what they want, but this dynamic is multiplied in blended families. Therefore, your teamwork as parents is especially crucial. The kids need to know that it won’t work to play on the loyalty of their biological parent.

3) Plan Regular Date Nights 

Let’s be honest. We all need a break from parenting from time to time — a chance to step away from the chaos of the week, focus on each other, and just enjoy some quiet time alone. Schedule regular date nights with your spouse. If the kids are very young and finding a babysitter is difficult, have date-nights-in. It could be a movie night, with popcorn or wine, or order in and enjoy dinner by candle light once the kids are in bed. Get creative. You can make it fit your budget. The goal is to have undistracted time with your spouse.

Date nights also show your kids how important your spouse and your marriage is to you. Modeling this value makes it a great long-term investment for all family members. Be intentional. Mark it on your calendar and only postpone it for emergencies. This will help you stay connected and grow your relationship as a couple, not just as co-parents. It’s so important not to lose sight of each other as husband and wife amidst the busy pace of parenting.

4) Schedule Quality Alone Time With Your Kids

The children may miss having their biological parents together and find themselves feeling jealous, sad, or angry about the new arrangements. Their world has been turned upside down and they did not ask for this new family. Therefore, it’s so important that each child still feels like a priority in their parent’s life. Schedule regular quality time alone to have fun together. Get them talking and just listen to their feelings. This will bring some sense of normalcy to their lives. They’ll know they are treasured, heard, and valued.  

Having a blended family isn’t easy. It takes a lot of intentional communication and hard work. But it’s worth it! It may always feel complicated, but as you make your spouse your top priority and become a united team, your home will become more peaceful, stable, and loving.