“I really love Peter, but I can’t stop thinking about my first husband, Rob, who died three years ago,” said Cheryl, 42, an event planner who recently remarried and now lives with Peter, his daughter, Annie, 11, and her two children, Scott, 16, and Ellie, 13. “It’s almost as if his ghost were haunting our new family.
“The day Rob died was horrible, and I’ll never forget it. We’d taken the kids to a barbecue at a friend’s beach house. He was standing near the grill, commenting on the gorgeous weather, when he suddenly collapsed. At first we all thought that he’d fainted. Our friend tried to revive him, but he didn’t respond so we called 911. But by the time the ambulance arrived it was too late. He’d had a massive heart attack. It was so awful; I never had the chance to say good-bye.
“The next two years are a total blur. I muddled my way through, thanks to a lot of help from family and friends. Scott and Ellie went to therapy for a while, and I joined a bereavement group for widows. In fact, that’s how I met Peter. One of the women in my group kept trying to set me up with him. I was reluctant but eventually agreed to meet him for dinner. On our first date we just clicked.
“We got married a year later in a small ceremony at a restaurant near my home. It was bittersweet. I was happy, but my kids cried the whole time. It’s not that they don’t like Peter; it’s just that they felt I was replacing their father. Quite frankly, things have gone steadily downhill ever since. Peter and I fight a lot more than Rob and I ever did, and our house is in chaos all the time. The biggest source of tension is the kids. I just don’t think Peter is sensitive enough to what my children have gone through.
“He thinks I let Ellie and Scott get away with murder. I think he’s too demanding. Okay, so they don’t make their beds every day. Is that a crime? My kids lost their father, for heaven’s sake. They don’t need to be constantly badgered by their stepdad.
“There are also issues with Peter’s daughter. Annie is with us Thursdays and Fridays and every other weekend. She and Ellie share a room and they bicker constantly. Annie is always borrowing Ellie’s stuff, and that makes my daughter furious. I tell her she has to share, but I also feel that Annie needs to respect boundaries a little more. Peter and I fight about this kind of stuff — and we usually end up siding with our own kids.
“Believe me, I know this is hard on Peter, too. He is trying so hard to build a relationship with my children, but they aren’t making it easy. I feel terrible when I overhear them say things like, ‘My dad never made us do that.’ And last month he got really upset at Ellie’s birthday party when I asked a friend to take some pictures of just my kids and me. He told me later that he felt shut out. I feel bad about that. I didn’t mean to hurt him. In hindsight I don’t even know what I was thinking. It was just a really stressful day. Oh, and speaking of pictures, I keep a lot of family photos around the house — most have Rob in them. Peter once made a joke about that, but I can tell it bugs him.
“I know how incredibly lucky I am to have found such a wonderful husband. But the romance is already gone in our relationship. We hardly ever spend time alone, and most nights he goes to bed and I sit on the sofa watching Jon Stewart. You’d never believe we’re newlyweds.”