Falling in love and re-marrying with children is both exciting and challenging for everyone involved. One Katy couple talks about how they're creating an atmosphere of love and harmony as a blended family.
KATY MAGAZINE |April 2018 By Tassie Hewitt & Ashley Lancaster Opening photo by Magnetic Photography, Wedding photos by Buller Photography
When Clifton Kulhanek proposed to his wife, Lindsay (Zae), five years ago, she embraced him and his three children from a previous marriage, and discovered that although blended families may have more dynamics to deal with, there’s also a beautiful opportunity for profound love.
Yours, Mine, and Ours
Zae and Clifton Kulhanek, who were friends long before they considered dating, earned the approval of Clifton’s kids, Cliffy, now age 21, Justin, age 17, and Kailey, age 14, before they even considered marriage.
“We weren’t even dating. The youngest was about eight at the time. She said they all voted that I’d make the best step-momma,” said Zae, who is a child of a divorced family, herself. “If they hadn’t had that conversation with me, I don’t know that we would have been brave enough to take the step right then.”
The couple involved the children in the union from the start. The boys walked Zae down the aisle and served as Clifton's best men, and Kailey was her junior maid of honor “When we exchanged rings, the kids gave me a mom necklace with all of our birthstones,” says Zae. “The vows talked about not just honoring each other, but our relationship with the kids.”
“They’ve known her eight years of their lives,” says Clifton, who jokes that Zae married him for his kids. “She’s always been around. No one will ever replace their mom, but they live with us and she is the mom when they’re here. The biggest thing the kids have to deal with is sometimes feeling guilty that they care so much about her.”
Trials and Transitions
According to Dan Johnson, licensed professional counselor for REID Counseling Group in Katy, loyalty confusion is common for children whose parents remarry. They also tend to suffer from a lack of identity, and a feeling of loss.
“All second families are formed from loss,” says Johnson, who specializes in stepfamilies and remarriage. “Loyalty confusion is through the ceiling. I believe there’s something deep in us that longs for that first family. Children wonder, how can I love step mom when I need to be loving mom?”
In fact he says the role of step mom is the most difficult job in stepfamilies, because she has to earn the love from her step kids.
Zae recognizes the challenge of being a stepmother. “You put in all the work of a mom, but you’re not The Mom. One of the biggest struggles in the beginning was feeling like an understudy,” she says, adding that boundaries are always shifting. “Just when you think you get a grasp on what your role is in the family, a different situation comes up and it shifts.”
Johnson says second families are more complex because of the increase in the number of people involved, and as a result, they are four times more stressful than first marriages.
“Four adults can be involved in a marriage, and two of them you didn’t choose,” he says, adding that one of the major determining factors of a successful second family is how well the ex’s get along. “You’re not ending that relationship. You’re just ending that marriage.”