Stuck Between My Wife and the Kids

Category: Weekly Columns

In every marriage, spouses face an inevitable choice between their children and their spouse. It is a classic dilemma that confronts every couple and one that is inescapable and difficult. It is especially true in second marriages, like mine.  I have to admit, it is an ongoing issue in our home and one I’m trying to figure out with the right amount of love and respect shown towards everyone.

Some therapists advise that the husband/wife should always come first. Others, like Dr. Laura, advise to always put the kids first.  As with much of her advice, I think it’s too cut-and-dried and doesn’t take into consideration the grays of life.  In my case, I was raising my boys alone for several years and the bond we had was deep, plus the hurt from their mom abandoning them was deep and different for each of them.

When I was lucky enough to meet my wife I was initially concerned about whether she would like my children.  For that matter, given that she had no children of her own, how would they relate and/or like her? She wasn’t willing to even meet them until we were relatively convinced our relationship was heading somewhere.  When they did meet, several months later, it was more or less a love-fest between her and David, while Will had just entered his teens and wasn’t really interested in anything but himself, though thankfully he wasn’t outright hostile to her.

Now the initial reactions and impressions have settled down to normal living and life.  And, we got married this past December.  The adjustments for everyone have been significant.  However, the issue concerning who comes first doesn’t go away and rears its head with certain situations and often confounds me.  At these times, I do truly feel stuck between the three people I love most in the world, my two boys and my wife.

A specific example occurred when my wife had a medical emergency, required surgery, and was briefly convalescing at home.  Shortly thereafter, Will had a special event to attend, planned far in advance, to which I was the designated driver.  Thankfully, David was at home that evening and Lauren was healing well enough that she didn’t require extra attention, or so I thought.  I cleared my going to this event with her and she said it was fine.

Ahhh, but again, what a woman says and what she really means requires special translation.  She really meant, “Don’t you dare leave me alone.”  Dense male that I am, I actually took her at her word.  Now, I’m really kidding about this, but the undercurrent is completely true with what she says, what I think it means, and what she really means.  It’s a secret language that men are not privileged to learn and necessitates supreme command of linguistics and several higher degrees to achieve.

This brewing storm reached a peak a day or so later, after the event that I took Will to and when it seemed that Lauren was recovering just fine.  After all, she was back to her usual cleaning and cooking, though I offered to take her out if she wasn’t up to cooking. Naïve caveman that I am, I took that behavior as a sign that all was well.  However, she expected me to just do it and take her out or bring in food.  This fits in that special language I don’t understand.  She is right, as that is each spouse’s ultimate obligation.  Learn each other’s language vs. remain stubborn and defensively say you didn’t understand what they really meant. 

Around this time, I had one of those wish-I-could-take-back-every-word-fights with Will and now my attention was devoted to figuring out what to do about him.  I arranged a pow-wow and we worked things out and, in fact, we actually heard each other, because this was a case where we both were at fault.  I really believe it’s extremely important for a parent to admit his or her culpability whenever it’s true as it teaches our children humility.  He had a school event that night, but Lauren didn’t want to attend.  She was making dinner for us, but I told her I wasn’t sure when the event would end.  I said I’d call when I knew, and to assume that we’d be late.

It was later, she was mad, and I found myself completely frustrated at not being able to please her while desperately relieved that Will and I quickly got over our argument and I could support him, by attending his school event.  All this happened the same week–her surgery, the tiff with my son, and on top of that some disappointing business news for me.  That was a non-topic as everyone else’s issues took center stage and it seemed I couldn’t please anyone.

I know this is probably about as typical a situation as a family can experience, but it doesn’t make going through it any easier.  I also know that a blended family brings extra stresses to all members of the family.  We just lived it and we quickly got past it. My lesson is that I needed to hear her better, which means understanding her language—what her words really mean.  I’ve still got some growth ahead of me, I suppose.  No, I don’t suppose, I know.