Be compassionate and considerate of everyone involved
My fiancé proposed to me on Valentine’s Day. My self-proclaimed nonromantic guy chose the holiday of chocolate, hearts, and flowers to pop the question, and I truly wasn’t expecting it. I sat there, speechless, until the poor guy had to make sure I was still breathing. I’m still amazed that he managed to blindside me. Call me cynical, but I just didn’t think there was anything left in the world that could take me by surprise. Who knew?
The day we got engaged, my kids were visiting their father. They live with us most of the time, but they spend every other weekend with their dad. As a result, I had a whole free day to flit around the house like a lovesick maniac, admiring my ring and daydreaming about dresses before I started to deal with the reality of the situation: I was going to have to tell the kids. I’ve been responsible for telling them about every major life event in our family—from deaths to divorce—so I’ve learned that it takes some thought.
When my ex and I divorced, he moved out of state, limiting his contact with our kids dramatically for almost three years. My daughter was very young, too young, really, to remember life with dad. Her bond with my fiancé is strong: he’s been the primary father figure in her life. My son is a different story. He remembers what it was like to have his dad at home and his adjustment to the divorce has been slow, sometimes painfully so. The memories of holding him while he cried, unable to understand why his daddy wasn’t coming home, are fresh in my mind, even years later. When my then-boyfriend and I decided to move in together, we knew there would be lots of ups and downs. But a year later, the transition had gone more smoothly than any of us could have imagined, and even though my son was still guarded with my fiancé, we were finding ways to work together as a new family. Then my guy popped the question, and the whole landscape of our relationship changed.
Acknowledging that every family has different dynamics is critical, and if you’re wondering how to tell your kids that you’re getting married, my suggestion is to be compassionate and considerate of everyone involved. Some reactions may be happy, others, not so much. You may see anger, sadness, and depression, or excitement and elation. Just be prepared to talk things through honestly and answer all questions respectfully.
The path I chose
I decided to tell my ex-husband about the engagement before telling the kids so that we could work together to help the kids adjust. I told the kids shortly thereafter. My fiancé and I sat down with them and explained that we’d decided to get married. My daughter was excited. She was a flower girl in her aunt’s wedding a few years ago and was determined to rekindle her role. My son was silent. I waited patiently, giving him time for the news to sink in. I finally asked if they had any questions. My son said, “So my dad won’t be my dad anymore?” I could see the tears forming.
We spent time explaining to my son that our marriage would not affect his relationship with his dad in any way. Daddy is still daddy, and we would still be a family just the way we are now. It may sound sappy, but we explained to the kids that my fiancé was not taking their daddy’s place. He was simply another adult in their lives who would love them and help to take care of them. As we talked, I realized how difficult human relationships are to understand and how strange it must seem to kids who don’t have the experience or context. Explaining that our marriage was really just about our relationship, mine and my fiancé’s, and that everything for the kids would stay exactly the same seemed too simple. I wondered if it was really true.
Looking for some backup for the discussion, I finally came across a great picture book: When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015). My fiancé and I chuckled as we read the story of Cardell the coyote who had a perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy, but ended up with one more good thing in his life: Otis. The story seemed spot on, and, though my son has outgrown picture books, it gave us a really good platform for continuing to ask questions and explore the kids’ feelings about our marriage.
I’ve been engaged for six months, and I’ve finally starting planning my wedding. We’ve adjusted to the new state of things quite well. As a family, we continue to work on strengthening existing bonds and creating new ones. It’s a process, but that’s the story of our lives.
If you’re getting remarried, congratulations! Remember to breathe and to take things slowly. Going from Solo Mom to coparenting with a new spouse can be challenging all on its own. Everyone needs time to adjust, and creating a safe place for all of you, especially kids, to talk about your feelings will make the whole process easier.
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Amy Rivers is a writer and mother of two. She has a master’s degree with concentrations in psychology and political science, and enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction pieces about women and women’s issues. Her debut novel, Wallflower Blooming, was released in August 2016. You can follow her on Twitter at @WritingRivers and learn more about her work at her website, www.amyrivers.com.
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