Second Marriage (Part 2)
A second marriage, similar to a first marriage should not be hurried into. This is especially important because of the many factors present in second marriages that are usually not present in first marriages. The most obvious of these is children.
The remarrying parent needs to make a genuine effort to understand and address the child’s concerns. This is best achieved by listening carefully, acknowledging that his worries are not crazy, wild ruminations and assuring him that they will always be loved and looked after. It helps even more if the newcomer goes out of her way to befriend the child, and does things with him together with the biological parent. Actions that reinforce words go a long way.
A newcomer must never come into a family with the attitude that he will replace a parent. The proper attitude is that the new spouse is joining the family out of love for the children’s parent and is therefore, deeply committed to doing what is best for the stepchildren. Children are a potential block to remarriage, but they need not be.
It helps if the children realize that it is important for the parent to be happy. Parenting always works better in contentment than in melancholy. Children will be the prime beneficiaries of parental happiness. When parents are happy, children can prosper.
It is also important for the children to realize that their parent has an ongoing mandate to be married and that remarriage is therefore a Torah-based endeavor. This realization can help to neutralize potential resistance to remarriage. Younger children are less likely to be able to appreciate this, unfortunately, even older children and adults do not automatically embrace the perspective.
Many children make up their minds in advance, sight unseen, that they will not like their stepparent. Even if they can point to some objectionable character trait of the stepparent, it does not justify behaving disdainfully, nor does it excuse their doing whatever possible to disrupt the new relationship.
First as is codified in Jewish law, children are obliged to extend deferential respect to the spouse of their parent, as part of the respect that is due to their parents. Second, and perhaps more to the point is the meaning of the famous previously cited obligation to love one’s fellow Jews as oneself. This is considered a, if not the fundamental of the Torah, if we are serious about being Torah Jews, we cannot ignore any detail, least of all a foundation. In his outstanding ethical treatise, Pele Yoetz, Rabbi Eliezer Papo observes that the Torah obligation to love others is not necessary when dealing with close friends. There the love is already present, and a Torah directive is hardly required. The directive is necessary when dealing with someone whom one does not like. It is specifically here that the Torah instruction to love one’s fellow Jew is needed. For children who for whatever reason, do not like the stepparent, the imperative to love others is crucial, assuming they are mature enough to appreciate this mitzvah.
This is not to suggest that it is a one-way relationship. The stepparent is also apt to dislike the children she certainly is prone to not like them as much as her own children. But the directive “you shall love” works both ways, from children to stepparent and from stepparent to children.
When the commandment to love others is the operating framework, a second marriage cannot only survive, it can thrive and benefit everyone. When it is not the operating framework, problems abound. And though solutions can be found, they are usually Band-Aids.
Everyone involved should try taking the high road, the accepting approach. Pleasantness and acceptance always work better than nastiness and rejection. With the former, everyone’s a winner; with the latter everyone is a loser.
Finances are often a sticky point in second marriages. The newlyweds bring their own financial resources and obligations to the new reality. Ideally, it is best if the couple fuses everything together instead of creating the threefold division of mind, yours and ours.
Sometimes this is not practical, especially if funds are legally designated for the children of one of the spouses. The most prudent arrangement is for each spouse to agree, happily, not to touch those designated funds. But it is likewise less than prudent to insist on a strict yours-mine formula, wherein the new husband, for example, refuses to have anything to do with the expenses of the new wife’s children. That will likely spill over into a distant hands-off relationship with the stepchildren, which is also the first step toward marital calamity. One remarries in entirety, not in parts.
The Former (Divorced) Spouse
The former spouse is often a sore point in the new marriage. This is usually a reflection of the relationship that the newly married individual has with the former spouse. Though it might be farfetched to expect that the relationship with one’s ex be very good, it is not farfetched to expect that it be functional. It is unfair for the innocent newcomer to the family to be dragged into old messes.
In the Jewish way of thinking, the relationship with one’s former spouse is subject to specific requirements, under the heading of “and from your own kin be not oblivious” (Isaiah 58:7).
Marriage is forever even after divorce. And the obligation to be a mensch pertains even after divorce. This is true even if the divorcing couple have no children, and certainly prevails when there are children. The elementary halachic logic in this is as follows: A couple who do not get along (after divorce or when married) invariably put the children into the uncomfortable position of having to choose sides. The children are then forced to violate their obligation to honor and respect both of their parents. The sparring ex-spouses thus transgress the all-encompassing and morally powerful exhortation not to put stumbling blocks in front of the blind (those who are unaware). Striving to get along after divorce is not only sensible, it is halachically required.