Getting married again? Take the time to sort out the issue of children first.

Despite Samuel Johnson's curmudgeonly observation that a ‘second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience', it is no longer unusual for divorced or widowed couples to take a fresh shot at a companionable relationship. Although they do so for a range of stated reasons, more often than one would imagine, at the top of their minds is the need to provide a secure and stable home environment for their children (if they have young or teenage children at the time) who have already been traumatised by divorce or death. Some wait for their children to grow up and achieve independence before they decide to look for a partner for themselves. But the circumstances of many others may not permit them to wait that long.

Second marriages do indeed have their own unique set of issues, for both partners come into the marriage with a fair number of unresolved conflicts and emotions from their previous marriages. Sometimes either or both partners may be inadequately prepared to handle another marriage since they've not quite healed from the traumatic conclusion of the previous one, and often the early years of a re-marriage are bedevilled by ghosts from the past. People who have had a fair bit of time between their marriages are perhaps able to take these in their stride for they have often introspected, reflected and understood their past better. Many of the issues that re-marriages face are eminently resolvable, provided both partners approach them with maturity and mindfulness. However, the one issue that, more often than one would hope, remains extremely thorny, is that related to each others' dependent children.

Rosy beginnings

In the early days of the new marriage, everyone is very committed to building a new family environment and things are generally very positive. Couples seem to be able to handle the resistance presented by their partners' children with patience and forbearance, and are often able to win the children over, at least initially. However, a few months into the marriage, problems generally start to surface, more often than not, on account of one partner feeling that ‘my children are not as important to you as your children'. The partner whose children are living away (usually with the ex-spouse, grandparents or even in boarding schools or college hostels) tends to experience this sort of feeling more readily, whether or not there is a basis for it. And slowly, but definitively the ‘yours vs. mine' schism starts materialising. Sometimes, this conflict may be effectively repressed until the partners have a child of their own, at which point, a ‘yours, mine or ours' conflagration can severely undermine the family.

The children too contribute their mite by engaging in manipulative behaviour. Not because they're bad kids, but because they feel insecure. Any child who's lost a parent either through divorce or death is bound to feel a bit anxious, particularly when the ‘ substitute parent' starts to play the disciplinary role even before the children have given them the authority to do so. Or they could feel threatened by the fact that they now have more siblings to experience ‘rivalry' with. In these situations, children may appeal to their biological parent's guilt to get their own way. For, most parents do experience guilt when they get remarried, even if they have the best reasons to do so.

Common phenomenon

Some experience guilt that by divorcing their ex-partners, they have put their children through all this trauma. Others experience anger at their ex-partners for having forced them into a divorce. And still others may feel angry with Life and God for having stolen their late spouses from them. Since they themselves are dealing with ghosts from the past, the second marriage is not what they expected it to be (no marriage ever is what we expect it to be, for, most of us expect marriage to be the magic pill that will solve all of our problems). They, therefore tend to feel instinctively defensive of their respective children and feel the need to protect them from their new partner. In other words, the yours vs. mine issue is really a reflection of the uncertainties and discomfitures that the partners are experiencing with each other and not on account of the children's disquiets. Some couples, in an effort at warding off such a scenario, pack off all the children to boarding schools or hostels without realising that this is least likely to relieve their guilt and discomfort.

While I have nothing against boarding schools or hostels, for, I know these can be of great benefit to many children, they should be considered only for substantive reasons. Avoidance of the yours vs. mine conflict should never be the principal criterion for taking recourse to them, for, this will only make the children feel that they're being marginalised by their parents. Fortunately, many couples do realise sooner or later that the problem is not with the children but with their own relationship with each other and make a determined effort to work through their emotions and leave their pasts behind once and for all. Only when this happens can ‘ yours' and ‘mine' become ‘ours'. Happily, many couples today are able to pull this off. Even if not with aplomb, certainly with diligence, persistence and eventually, equanimity.