Getting engaged when you or your partner (or both) have kids can make the union a little more complicated. I know, I've been there. But don't worry, you can navigate it when knowing what to plan for.

By Michelle Dempsey-Multack
January 22, 2020
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You fantasize about it, you plan for it, and the thought of it finally happening gives you head-to-toe chills. Maybe it's your first time around, or maybe you're in for round two.

Whichever engagement you're celebrating, however, one thing is for certain: Getting engaged to someone who already has children of their own is a whole different ball game. It's fairly common, though: 16 percent of kids are living in blended families, according to Census Bureau statistics.

But this isn't your "it's all about us" kind of engagement. You'll want to be as prepared as possible before you say "I do" to both marriage and stepparenting.

Here are a number of things to consider when you get engaged after kids from someone who has already been there:

The Ex

There's likely an ex-spouse or partner in this situation—yours and maybe even your fiancé's. You'll both have to prepare for one another to remain involved with this person whether you like it or not. And if your fiancé is co-parenting, get on board with supporting it because this is not just your average "ex" situation.

My number one tip when dealing with the ex—it's helped me in many situations—is to follow the golden rule: Imagine yourself in the ex’s shoes and treat them how you’d like to be treated. With that said, their pain from divorce is not your responsibility nor should that guilt be put on you. Your relationship with their child, however, is a huge responsibility and it needs to be handled with care.

Rejection

On that note, children whose parents are no longer together did not sign up for a new person to waltz on into their territory, put their unknown paws all over their parent, and set up shop for good. Prepare for rejection.

When I first started dating my husband, I was very concerned with how his daughter would feel about our relationship. I have always been committed to building trust and reminding her that she was her daddy's first love, and these efforts have made all the difference.

I did both of these things in one simple way: by giving them space. Sure, you’re so in love and want to be with your fiancé all the time, but I can promise you this will backfire when it comes to your relationship with your soon-to-be stepchild(ren).

How did I do this? If it was my fiancé's weekend to see his daughter, I stepped back, made my own plans, and insisted they have one-on-one time. If he invited me out with them, I asked him to make sure it was OK with her. Not only did this reinforce to her that I wasn’t there to stand in the way, but rather, that I was supportive of her emotions and that she could be open about them with me if need be.

Now that we’re married and all under one roof, the same rules apply. I like my own time with my daughter as much I want my husband and his child to have the same—which makes coming together all the more special.

Setting Boundaries

There's a new adult (you) in this child's life now and there will be a huge learning curve when it comes to setting boundaries. Now is when you and your fiancé have to agree to establish rules and expectations for your new family dynamic that you can both abide by. It's critical to lay out who is responsible for what when it comes to the child's needs.

Some important questions to consider: Who will handle discipline and how? Are you uncomfortable having this child hanging out in your room while you're dressing, trying to bathe, or relaxing after a long day? Do bedroom doors stay open or closed? What if his child doesn’t respect yours? Who is having that uncomfortable conversation about respect?

These may seem like little things, but trust me, you'll want to establish these rules early on instead of trying to cross the bridge when you get there.

Different Parenting Styles

I hear about this struggle all the time—hell, I've lived this struggle. You have never parented with this person before, so you're bound to have different parenting styles. Don't look at this as a deal-breaker and, instead, make it a conversation point when you're setting the new boundaries and expectations. What are you both comfortable with? What will the kids respond best to?

Every child is different, and one may not be as flexible as another with these changes. While you may initially agree on how to do things, not everything will go as planned and this is where my two new favorite skills come in handy: biting your tongue and picking your battles.

Does Your Partner Have Your Back?

Yes, the kids involved in this new partnership have feelings that must be taken into account. Yes, there's an ex-partner involved who deserves a certain level of respect. Yes, you'll have to spend a good amount of time trying to avoid the inevitable land mine that will be stepped on at some point—the kind that riles up all sorts of unwanted feelings from your future stepchild and the ex.

But when push comes to shove, will your fiancé throw you under the bus or back you up? If you don't know the answer to this question yet, then it's time for a somewhat uncomfortable conversation. You are building a new life with this person, and even though you're bound to disagree from time to time, you'll have to agree to be a united front in order to have harmony in the home and earn respect from the kids.

The Wedding

Whether this wedding will be your first or you've done this whole thing before, you still deserve to have a day as special as it's played out in your dreams. Again, regardless of your level of comfort with your fiancé's child or children, they're about to watch one of their parents marry someone new. This could be highly uncomfortable for them, especially if their other parent is harboring unpleasant feelings about your upcoming nuptials.

My advice is to allow the children to help make small decisions related to the wedding so they feel included, rather than showing up to a circus they want no part of. When my husband and I exchanged vows, for example, I reserved part of them for his daughter, and he did the same for mine. We reaffirmed to each other’s children that they would always be the most important people in our lives and that we’d always be here to put them first.

Even if some details don't end up in your favor, remember that at the end of the day, you'll be married to the love of your life and that's what really matters most.

And always keep in mind that getting engaged is an epic milestone. Being able to bring children into this experience is incredibly unique and will fill your heart with love in ways you'd never expect. Enjoy the process and congratulations!

Michelle Dempsey-Multack is a mother, writer, speaker, marketing expert, and fierce girl-gang enthusiast. A native New Yorker, Michelle now resides in Miami with her 4-year-old daughter, Bella, her husband Spencer, a beautiful stepdaughter, and a very needy cat.

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