I love the show Supernanny with Jo Frost, the intuitive nanny who is much more than just a nanny. She literally brings families together by opening up lines of communication, teaching parents how to better understand their children and teaching couples how to work together. What I admire most is her “tell it like it is” approach. She’s very understanding and sweet, yet she doesn’t hesitate to put a parent in his or her place, especially when she feels as if his or her actions are negatively affecting the children.
The season premiere aired on Friday and it featured a stepfamily; husband and wife with three biological kids and the wife had a daughter from a previous marriage. The stepfather appeared to be contributing to the problems of his biological children and stepchildren by under disciplining his biological children and over disciplining his 13 year old stepdaughter. After careful observation, Jo-Jo didn’t hesitate to tell him to start acting like an adult. She told him that his kids need him to act like an adult and be the father/father figure in the household. She didn’t let mom off the hook either. She basically told her that her permissive parenting was ruining her daughter and she and her husband needed to start working together to present a unified front for her.
Jo-Jo often tells parents that their children need them to stop making excuses and to think about their futures and the life skills they need to develop to become strong, well-rounded adults. I couldn’t agree more with Supernanny and this is often my message to clients and readers when they reveal that their households are in total chaos due to all the stepfamily obstacles that many remarried couples face.
Anytime I sit down with an ex-wife who spends more time trying to develop a loving relationship with her ex-husband, but is fighting with her husband about discipline in the household; or a remarried dad who reveals that he feels obligated to fix his ex-wife’s kitchen sink, allow her to be intrusive or spend time with her and the kids because of the kids, I pose this question; “Is it more important and beneficial to your kids to show them what a healthy divorce or a healthy marriage looks like?” Their usual response is silence, followed by an “I get what you’re saying now.”
Our society has been conditioned to believe that it’s better for children of divorce if we spend all of our time getting the divorced parents to live in harmony rather than developing and nurturing the remarriage. I’m not saying that it isn’t beneficial to the children to see the divorced parents being on the same page and working together to co-parent between two households, but getting them to love and live in harmony is an unrealistic expectation that shouldn’t be made priority over everything else. Divorced parents who are remarried shouldn’t spend the majority of their time trying to show their children what a healthy divorce looks like instead of showing them what a healthy marriage looks like. Like Supernanny says and most ex-wives say to stepmothers, “remember that you are the adults and it’s time to start putting their needs above your own!” Doing so, [putting their needs above your own] means considering their future beyond the divorce. They need to see a husband and wife being affectionate with one another, working together to run their household, and disallowing external factors, such as ex-spouses and guilt to wreak havoc on their marriage. Why? Because this is hopefully the future you want for your children and because you failed to show them with your first marriage, take the opportunity to do so with your second.
Ultimately we want to see our children experience happy marriages in adulthood, and in order for that to happen, we must show them what that looks like. Additionally, working too hard to show them a healthy divorce could send the message that divorce is an option. For example, I recently had a conversation with my husband, who is a child of divorce, and he said that he didn’t think divorce was so bad because of what he witnessed with his parents divorce and how he didn’t see his remarried mom and stepdad interact. As a result, with his first marriage, he was divorced in less than 3 years, but he spent all of his time trying to make it work after the divorce instead of working on building a marriage with me. He thought he was doing the right thing because of the examples he had from his childhood. Divorce, instead of marriage, in his opinion, required the most work and therefore making the divorce work was his number one priority.
In a society where 50% of first marriages and 67% of second marriages end in divorce, we need to do something different. More time needs to be spent on nurturing our marriages as opposed to nurturing our divorces. Our children need to see healthy examples of marriage, instead of putting all of the effort into showing them healthy examples of divorce. Remember, we want them to live happily ever after…marriage, not divorce! BFSO writer and counselor, Diane Greene often says that children live what they learn and this is so true. So, what are you teaching your children? Spending all of your time working on your divorce may make you feel better by ridding you of the guilt over divorcing in the first place, but in the long run, what are you teaching your children? Are you teaching them how to make a marriage work or how to make a divorce work? If so, which one do you think will be better for them in the future?