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Engagement Issues: Marrying Someone With Kids

Before taking that life-altering plunge to be married with children, here are some important things you need to think about.

You've found the perfect spouse-to-be: sensitive, cute, and all about you -- you and his or her kids, that is. That's right; your honey has children from a previous relationship, children that will be playing a very big role in your life if the two of you get married, especially if (yikes!) this parent has the kids fulltime and not just every third Saturday. Before taking that life-altering plunge to be married with children, here are eight things to think about.

How Do You Feel About Kids?

Some people just don't like kids, and those people just shouldn't be around them -- especially not in the role of parent. If you've always known you never wanted children, remember that and give yourself time to rethink what you're about to do. If you do generally enjoy children, then the issue to consider is whether you like your sweetie's kids. It sounds cruel but it is possible to have irreconcilable differences with children, especially when they're not your own and if they scowl at you all the time.

How Do They Feel About You?

Divorce is hard on kids, but remarriage can be even harder. Most children feel at least a bit jealous when Mom or Dad finds another partner, and they often fear losing their parent to this outsider. Sometimes they think you're trying to replace their own parent and that, out of loyalty, they've got to be chilly. These are totally normal emotions and can, with good communication and frequently therapy, be overcome. The harder reality is when the kids profess to hate your guts -- as they often do -- and threaten your potential partner with threats like choosing "me/us or her/him." Other thwarting behavior can include a child perpetually pitting the two of you against each other, say by telling your sweetie you said he could have a third peanut butter cup (when you most certainly did not) or telling the other parent bad stories about you that are usually either flat-out not true, out of context, or just plain exaggerated. Three words of advice on how to handle these situations: communication, communication, communication. Don't forget you're both on the same side. "Kids can be very successful saboteurs," says Dr. Larry Nadig, a family therapist in Glendale, California. "If you know ahead of time this is going to be an obstacle, I suggest therapy. Sometimes, though, it's not resolvable."

How Will Being a Stepparent Change Your Lifestyle?

Enjoy going to clubs at night or even to an R-rated movie once and a while? Well those and a lot of other things might become difficult, if not impossible, when you suddenly have kids in your life. Find out exactly what the custody situation your partner and his or her ex have arranged, and consider whether the time you both will have with the kids is doable for you. Part-timers may find having kids around every other weekend palatable, but babysitters are heaven-sent for full-timers. If that's you, make sure your honey has at least one trusted caregiver on standby, or find one or two on your own so you both can go out alone once in a while.

How Much Responsibility Will You Have?

Find out how much your partner will expect from you as a parent. Will he or she want you to get up in the middle of the night if someone has a tummy ache? Will you be expected to cook every night for the whole clan; read to the kids at bedtime; discipline them when they give the cat a bad haircut? Then again, your partner might want all the parenting responsibilities. However, leaving you with no responsibility or authority to make decisions can be bad as well.

Can You Handle Your Spouse Having a Relationship with an Ex?

Knowing you're your partner had someone else before you is bad enough, but having to tolerate a continued relationship, whether it's friendly or just businesslike for the kids' sake, is downright gut-wrenching. Think about whether you'll freak out if the ex calls on the phone, or if you find out they sat next to each other at the kids' holiday performance. Constantly accusing your partner of wanting to get back together with the ex or not speaking to him or her after a joint parent-teacher conference are also no-nos. Remember that this person is committed to you now!

Can You Deal With Not Always Being #1?

Everyone has this idea that at least the first couple years of marriage will be a honeymoon...just the two of you and all your love. When your spouse has kids, that period ends as soon as the honeymoon does (assuming you get to go alone!), and then it's reality central. Often instead of gazing at you over a candlelit dinner, your spouse is forcing Johnny to finish his spinach. When you want to go to that couples' resort in Bermuda, your partner might suggest Disney World, for sake of the kids. Your new spouse might even hold little Susie's hand instead of yours as you're all walking down the street. In order to make it work, you've got to be flexible and sane enough to realize just how much your honey loves you -- no matter how much he or she also loves the kids.

Does Your Spouse Want to Have More Kids?

There's always a chance your sweetheart has had all the children he or she wants to have. If you want your own kids, especially if that's not something you're willing to compromise on, find out exactly where your partner stands on the issue. You may have to pare down your lifelong goal of three kids to one or two, but hey, if this person is the one, it might be worth it!

-- The Knot

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