Q: I became a single mom after an ugly divorce -- not what I wanted, but it happened, and there's no going back. After a few years, I'm ready to move forward. I've been dating a great guy who has custody of his own kids. What should we keep in mind as we prepare for a new marriage and combining our households?
Jim: Whether your previous relationships ended through divorce or the death of a spouse, entering into a new marriage comes with a special set of challenges when you or your spouse-to-be has kids. That's because blending two families can be tougher than you'd think.
For children -- even in the best of situations -- watching a parent enjoy a new relationship may not seem like "moving forward" at all. They may feel like they're being dragged into something they never asked for. So keep a couple of things in focus.
First, it's important to make the children a priority -- both yours and your stepkids. They need to know they matter to you. Otherwise, they'll feel like they've lost you to your new spouse (and vice versa for stepkids), which is sure to create conflict. So give the children lots of time and attention.
Second, invest in your new marriage. Kids need a stable home life to feel comfort and security. And studies repeatedly prove that the best indicator of stability in the home is a healthy marriage. So be sure your relationship is solid and vibrant before you walk down the aisle.
These ideas won't guarantee your households will blend without any problems at all. But they are a step in the right direction. The most important thing is to be consistent and to invest the energy necessary to make your new family work.
For more help strengthening your family, go to FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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Q: My teen daughter and friends spend entire weekends binge-watching their favorite shows. They're pretty careful about what they watch, so I'm not worried about that. But do you think this binge-watching thing is healthy?
Adam Holz, Plugged In: That's a great question. Binge-watching -- viewing multiple TV episodes in one sitting -- is a fairly new thing. Many shows, especially on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon, release entire seasons simultaneously. So there's no more waiting until next week, like the "good ol' days."
On one level, your daughter is doing what teens have done for decades: staying up late, having fun and tasting a bit of the freedom of moving toward adulthood (and the resulting tiredness the next day!). But on a deeper level, binge-watching does have an unhealthy edge to it. Bingeing excessively on anything -- food, drink or material things -- often feels satisfying in the moment. But later on, we realize that those attempts to fill our hearts, minds and bodies with something to make us feel good actually accomplish just the opposite, leaving us feeling empty and perhaps defeated.
Bingeing on TV may have different consequences than those forms of overconsumption, but the internal impulse is arguably the same: a desire for more, a desire to be filled, coupled with an inability to exercise self-control. A big part of becoming a mature adult is the ability to delay gratification. But binge-watching as a regular habit involves practicing just the opposite: seeking gratification right now.
On top of that, Netflix alone put out more than 800 original shows and movies last year. There's always another show to watch, and streaming companies are more than happy to oblige subscribers' binge appetites. But at some point, the healthy choice -- whether we're teens or adults -- is to turn off the TV and look for more productive ways to invest our limited time and affection in the relationships that matter most.