I knew from the moment I accepted my vintage style, garnet, chocolate diamond encrusted, rose gold engagement ring that my marriage to Gabe wouldn't be anything like my first marriage -- solitaire, round cut, diamond, white gold -- at all. Gabe and I had both been married before. And he brought with him three children from his first marriage. I don't know about you, but I think that's a lot of children. It is approximately three more children than I ever thought I would want to have.
By the time we got engaged I had grown to love his kids. I had worked at it. I spent a lot of time reading books about blended families, about being a stepparent, and about second marriages. I wanted to not screw it up, or screw it up as little as possible. The books talk at length about how to behave to make things easier for your stepchildren and so that they accept you, and how to make them feel comfortable. I did the best I could, and it seemed to work. In fact, we all get along rather well. (Granted, none of them are teenagers, so that is liable to change. But I imagine the problems teenagers present are not limited to blended families.) What the books don't prepare you for in your second marriage is how your divorce and your spouse's divorce might affect everyone else in your life. When you get divorced, contrary to what everyone would have you believe, it isn't only the kids who are affected. The whole family is. And it isn't only the kids you need to worry about liking you.
I found that in my second marriage, unlike my first, I did not feel immediately accepted into Gabe's family. And this isn't necessarily anyone's fault. In fact, it makes perfect sense. After all, who was I to Gabe's sister's children? Was I their aunt? Technically, yes. But they had been calling his ex-wife "aunt" for their entire lives. Were Gabe's sisters my sisters in law? Yes, but they had also been friends with his ex-wife since they were in high school, or in the case his younger sister, since she was nine years old. They hardly knew me. Gabe's mom is always warm and accepting of me, which I appreciate, but she has a much longer history with his ex than she does with me. That's a weird feeling.
My husband and his ex-wife met in high school. They dated for what seemed to be their entire lives and got married young (don't we all?). They had the kids. They had a life. And in that life, there were other people. The people who are now MY mother-in-law, MY sisters-in-law, MY father-in-law, and MY husband. They are all an integral part of this story that doesn't involve me in the slightest. When my husband got divorced, it did not erase his ex wife from this story. I could not just insert myself into it without anyone noticing. That's not how it works.
One of Gabe's sisters still calls his ex-wife to hang out, to run races together, to attend halloween parties. This doesn't make me feel extremely comfortable. I feel no ill will or animosity toward Gabe's ex, but we're far from being friends. And I don't necessarily want to share mutual friends with her either. So if she and my new sister-in-law are friends, where does that leave me? My sister-in-law has tried on occasion to include me, but it feels forced. I, in turn, am always friendly to her, but I feel like I can't be me with her. Knowing that she has a relationship with my husband's ex-wife, I feel like I can't share things with her, or confide in her, like I would with a friend. Not without the underlying fear that she might tell my husband's ex.
When I found out that I was pregnant, I told some friends, and I told my brother's wife. But I did not tell Gabe's sister until I absolutely had to -- I was much further along and we had already told Gabe's children. There is something very impersonal about our relationship, if you can even call it a relationship. We are "family" because I married her brother, but I don't think we can be friends. And it feels like I might never REALLY be an aunt to her children, because, in a way, that role still belongs to his first wife -- no one is looking for me to fill it.
Admittedly, feeling like an outsider in this way used to upset me. I felt like I was being cheated out of extended family. It took me some time to come to terms with the fact that I will never be as much a part of his family as I might have if I had come first. It's just another -- albeit less talked about -- side effect of post-divorce, blended family life. It's far from simple, but my husband is worth it.