Earlier this month, my children spent the weekend with their father, my ex-husband, who lives abroad. His visit was shorter than usual because he had to travel overseas that week for a previously scheduled “work vacation.” This meant the trip was meant to be part business, part pleasure. That was fine and perfectly justifiable in my children’s minds, and they were happy to spend time with him.
A couple of days after their father left, I received a frantic text from one of my daughters.
My ex-husband’s current wife, my children’s stepmother, posted on her social media that she had flown out to meet him on this “work vacation.” She added family pictures to her Instagram and tagged the location, which indicated he had brought their young daughter, my daughter’s sister, along as well. My daughter did not know the “new” family would be going on the trip. She had always asked her father to visit this location, and she felt hurt and betrayed because not only was she not invited, she believed he had neglected to share the fact that his daughter from his second marriage would be there as well.
Children of divorce are often sensitive when it comes to their parents remarrying and starting new families.
They tend to have a fear of being neglected or forgotten by their parents. It is, therefore, up to us to do whatever we can to make sure our children feel secure as members of the family, regardless of how the family gets reconfigured post-divorce. We may want to believe our children from our first marriages will always be a priority and tell them that in good faith, but inevitably, that may not always be the case. No matter how hard we as divorced parents try, it is impossible to please everyone all the time. Feelings, especially those belonging to the kids we do our best to protect, sometimes get hurt. And the kids from the first marriage are not alone.
Think about divorce from the perspective of the stepparent.
Stepparents may show unequivocal support for their previously-married spouse and treat their stepchildren like they are their own, but that doesn’t mean sometimes they won’t want to partake in activities with just their children from their current marriage. As the ex, we may feel outraged over this, but if you put yourself into the stepparent’s shoes for a moment, would you still be as outraged? It is natural to want to spend time with just your children and not someone else’s. This makes sense in the context of my ex-husband taking a vacation with his new family if you think about my children’s stepmother as simply a mother with a husband and a daughter. Is she to be faulted for that?
Maybe there isn’t a single right answer. But I know one thing for sure: my daughter felt insignificant because she believed she didn’t get to go on vacation while her sister did, and no one can tell anyone how to feel or that their feelings aren’t valid.
So, what can we glean here? There is nothing inherently wrong with spending time with your family from your second marriage, but as a divorced parent, we also need to do what we can to protect the feelings of our children from our first marriage as much as we can. After seeing my daughter’s reaction, I would not recommend doing so by omitting the detail that you are spending time alone with your children from your second marriage. It can be a sore spot, no matter how young or old the children from the first marriage are.
If you should find yourself in this situation or a situation like it, I suggest being honest from the beginning.
A lie of omission hurts just the same as a lie, especially to children of divorce who are already sensitive or insecure about their place in your heart and mind. Sit down with your children and have an honest conversation about your divorce. Explain how sometimes you are going to spend time with just your spouse and children from your new marriage, the same way sometimes you will spend time with only your children from your former marriage. There may very well come a day when those younger siblings will feel left out, too.
Consistently remind your children from your first marriage that you love them just as much as your children from your second, and show them through your actions that what you are saying is true. Go on your vacation, but demonstrate to your older children that you are still there for them. My ex-husband did as much by immediately agreeing when my daughter asked him to fly her home for the Fourth of July weekend to New Jersey from California, where she is working for most of the summer. Even so, she felt slighted.
Divorce and remarriage can create complex family dynamics, which means it is up to us as parents to simplify the solutions to our increasingly complicated family problems.
Lies (and lies of omission), however, compound our challenges and do not solve any issues in the long run. So when you do spend time with your “new” family, remember to consider your “old” one by being honest no matter how uncomfortable it is. Because although the truth may hurt, finding out your parent wasn’t entirely honest with you hurts more.
It turned out my daughter’s stepmother had added pictures of her daughter from home to her location-specific Instagram post, causing the confusion and drawing attention to the problems social media can cause after a divorce when emotions run high. My ex discussed the misunderstanding with our daughter, each of them agreeing to communicate better in the future, a win for the entire family.
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Stacey Freeman is a writer, lifestyle editor at Worthy.com, and the founder of Write On Track, LLC. Her writing has been published or syndicated in The Washington Post, Entrepreneur, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Town & Country, Yahoo!, HuffPost, Popsugar and other well-known platforms worldwide. Stacey is frequently called upon for her expertise and insights and has been quoted in The New York Times, HuffPost, and SheKnows, to name a few. Oh, and she’s a single mom of three amazing kids. For more information about Stacey, visit www.writeontrackllc.com.