www.tidewaterreview.com/features/parenting/ct-sun-0901-balancing-act-20130901,0,3904520.column

tidewaterreview.com

Why experience trumps all those self-help books

Too much advice about remarriage can turn hope into anxiety

Heidi Stevens

Balancing Act

September 1, 2013

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I'm getting married this month.

I have a dress and a caterer and a fiance. I also have a pile of manuals that promise to guide me through the "emotional labyrinth" of a second marriage, which, they frequently point out, is more likely, statistically, to end in divorce than my first.

My job connects me with a lot of psychologists and authors, so books like "The Remarriage Blueprint: How Remarried Couples and Their Families Succeed or Fail" (Scribner) and "Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts" (Zondervan) and "The Smart Stepfamily" (Bethany House) make their way to my desk.

I can't bring myself to read them. I'm sure they're full of wisdom and guidance and perspective, all things I should graciously collect at the outset of this union.

But I have this other job — parent — that feels like excellent preparation. It's OK, sometimes, to eschew the experts and seek guidance from your own experiences. Right?

My kids did a number on my heart when they arrived — brought it to life and gave it a million new reasons to keep beating and expanding. It was a little down on its luck, my heart. And like a couple of tiny, fat, adorable contractors, my babies gut-rehabbed that sucker.

The new heart weathered a few storms (I promise to abandon this metaphor shortly), including a divorce. But it's still bigger and more capable of goodness than I ever guessed, thanks to those kids.

Also thanks to those kids, I'm learning to be selfless without losing myself. I'm learning to help without enabling. I'm learning to give without indulging. I'm learning to "prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child," which is one of my favorite gems from parenting coach Betsy Brown Braun.

I'm learning that I have days when I'm pretty good at most of these things and days when I fail loudly and grandly at all of them. I'm learning that some days I can laugh at those failings and some days they bring me to frustrated tears.

And I guess that all feels like good training for a marriage.

I adore this guy I'm about to marry. (He's my Tribune colleague Michael Phillips and my favorite of all the grown-ups I've ever known.) It doesn't feel as if we're entering an emotional labyrinth. It feels as if I won the Powerball after filing for bankruptcy.

Still, I don't want to be one of those people who squander their fortune in a bliss-induced fog and end up penniless.

OK, enough with metaphors.

What I'm trying to say is, I know marriage is hard. I know it can be even harder when you throw kids in the mix and harder still when the kids are from previous marriages.

But I also know that reading a bunch of advice can backfire. The first time I was pregnant, I devoured every guide I could get my hands on.

I spent the first six months of my daughter's life panicked. Why are her fists located so close to her mouth? She's trying to choke herself. Why does she want to choke herself? Do I smell toxins? Are the neighbors microwaving plastic?!?

I read nothing when my son was born. I turned down my panic detector and heard his needs loud and clear.

So I'm proceeding with caution, but not too much caution, on this marriage. I'm armed with an open heart, a decent understanding of what not to do and the knowledge that people, reasonable ones anyway, tell you what they need.

The trick, of course, is to listen. Which is another skill my kids are teaching me.

And I'm still collecting little bits of advice here and there. When I got engaged, my dear friend Susie gave me a copy of "A Love That Lasts: Inspiring Insights From Couples Married 50 Years And Beyond" (Hallmark).

I like inspiring. I dove in. And right there under insight No. 43 was probably the best advice any of us can follow when we're caring for our marriage or our families or ourselves.

"Be kind."

I plan to.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13