Have you ever noticed that falling in love makes you oblivious to reality?
A couple of years ago on FamilyLife Today®, an interview was aired in which a stepfamily couple and a single mom talk about the challenges of dating when kids are involved. The interview was very insightful.
Two years later, we invited the single mom to return to the broadcast because she had met a man online, fallen in love, and gotten married, forming a blended family. We wondered how her perspective about dating had changed. To prepare for the interview, she listened to the first broadcast to review what she had said two years previously.
To her surprise, she had missed many of the insights of the other couple—the already married couple—during the taping of the broadcast. Instead of learning from the couple who had already walked the blended family path, she didn’t prepare adequately for dating and remarriage and ended up making many of the very mistakes that the couple had cautioned listeners against.
Falling in love can make a person see the world differently for a time and skew their way of thinking. If our radio guest had listened and applied the wisdom of this couple to her situation, she could have avoided some pitfalls. But infatuation is a powerful distraction.
Four pitfalls to avoid
In my experience with blended families, I’ve seen the same patterns emerge as problem areas that could have been avoided in the dating process. I’ve condensed them here into four myths single parents have about remarriage that cause damage in the long run.
Myth #1: “If I’m happy, my kids will be happy.” For over 50 years, our culture has tried to convince us that the individual and his or her happiness is at the center of relationships. This has contributed greatly to the divorce culture (“If I’m not happy in my marriage I should leave it”) and the current dating culture (“Cohabiting is a better option than marriage because it keeps my options open”).
Single parents sometimes tell themselves that their own happiness is at the center of their children’s happiness, so they believe that their falling in love will make their children happy, too.
But the truth is, there’s no guarantee that if you find romantic love it will improve the lives of your children. In fact, your happiness can bring great unhappiness to your children. Your child’s happiness is separate from yours and should be given great consideration.
Myth #2: Your kids can’t be okay unless you are married. This myth believes that children raised in a single parent home have deficits that will be eradicated if they are instead raised in a two-parent stepfamily home. Actually, the research is clear: The outcomes for kids in either of these environments are no different. Children can fare just as well—emotionally, spiritually, and developmentally—being raised in a single parent home as they can in a stepfamily home. There’s no advantage one way or the other.
Therefore, when it comes to the well-being of your children, single parents should feel permission to stay single if they so choose. There’s no need to succumb to the pressure to marry that this myth imposes. If you meet someone who is a good fit for your children, great. If you don’t, great. Either way, God will provide.
Myth #3: Marriage repairs your home and gives children a family. Of course, parents want to restore for their children the ideal family environment that has been thwarted by death or divorce, but what was done cannot be undone. Such a loss forever truncates the family that was into the family that is. Therefore, a decision to marry and form a blended family, for example, does not give back a missing parent to children. Rather, it gives them a stepparent and a parenting team that is very different from the biological family system they were born into.
This is not to say that stepfamilies cannot be loving, healthy homes. Indeed, the ministry of FamilyLife Blended™ that I oversee witnesses this outcome for blended families on a regular basis. But blended families are not “repaired” first-families; they are different families with their own dynamics, rewards, struggles, challenges, seasons, and benefits. To date and marry with the expectation that “all will be restored” is to set yourself, your mate, and your children up for great disappointment.
Myth #4: Dating as a single parent is no different than dating as a never-married single. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before children, dating is about finding the right fit between two people. It is about building an “usness” that is centered in the Lord and motivated by love.
Dating with children is about all of that, plus, finding the right fit for all the relationships in multiple households. In my book Dating and the Single Parent, for example, I illustrate this point by noting that dating someone with a horrible, chaotic ex-spouse is to potentially bring a lifetime of chaos and ungodliness to your children’s lives. In other words, a single parent’s ex-spouse can be reason enough to stop dating someone you love. The couple fit may be there, but the family fit is not. This perspective is a challenge to accept but spares much pain to those who do.
It’s not too early
All four of these myths point to the same basic principles—remarriage is not like a first marriage, and you must consider all the relationships involved, not just the connection between you and a potential mate. Single parents and their children can successfully blend with stepparents and stepsiblings, but it doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work and wisdom.
Dating well, avoiding these myths, and learning all you can about stepfamily living greatly improves the odds. As you pray for God to bring the right person into your life, ask Him for the wisdom to avoid the pitfalls. He promised in James 1:5 that “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” It’s not too early to start laying a firm foundation for your next marriage.