A parent’s remarriage is not only extremely tough on minor kids, but it’s a touchy subject for adult children as well. Be it death or divorce, you may feel like you’re still grieving the loss of your mom or dad while your other parent has simply moved on.
However, adult kids have to put themselves in their parent’s shoes. Your parent may have had a very long, good marriage (except for the ending), and now they no longer have a companion or best friend. They may feel lonely and long for that connection again, and they often find it with another spouse.
So, how can an adult child better adjust to their parent’s remarriage? Here are some tips:
1. Don’t be negative. Though your parent doesn’t need to ask your permission to get remarried, they would probably like your support. Being negative won’t stop the marriage, and it will only create bad feelings between you and your parent.
2. Don’t compare. Don’t measure the new spouse (“the stepparent”) against your own mom or dad. It’s not about you – it’s about your parent being happy.
3. Accept the situation. “Acceptance” is a word I use a lot with callers on my program. It’s a very important part of moving on because it means you’re no longer fighting something. When your parent gets married again, hopefully they are going to be happy and find joy. That may be hard for you to accept or like, but you need to do it if there is going to be peace. The first thing you can do is get on board. Accept the new “stepparent” and do everything you can to make them feel welcome in the family. Break your back trying to do that instead of treating them like an outsider.
4. Show respect. You may have to dig down deep sometimes to find something good about your parent’s new spouse, but you need to show respect because you’re sharing your parent with them. Your parent may marry someone who isn’t very nice. If that happens, you’re screwed, but you can be less screwed if you do your best to kiss up to them as best you can. Fake it. Make believe. When you go home, you can brush your teeth, but while you’re there, you’ve got to act sweet no matter what. Otherwise, you’re not going to see your mom or dad.
5. Don’t expect love or affection either way – ever. Maybe love and affection will develop. If it does, terrific, but if it never does, it’s not the end of the world. Not everybody is an emotional match.
6. If the new spouse has children or grandchildren, understand that “the female runs the roost.” If your dad marries a woman with kids, her kids are going to have priority unless your dad is very strong. And even if he is strong, he may abdicate his strength for the sake of not wanting to be alone.
The bottom line is that people tend to be more emotional about things the closer they are to them. For example, if there’s a disaster somewhere in the world, the first thing you want to know is if there were any Americans involved and if any of those hurt were from your state, city, or neighborhood. The closer they are to you, the more emotional you feel. A similar dynamic is at play in stepfamilies. You don’t feel the same way about your father’s new wife as you do about your own mom. However, a word to the (hopefully) wise: make it seem as though you do. Human beings have developed ways of appearing to be open and friendly (bowing, shaking hands, smiling, offering bread, etc.), and I suggest you use them all. Feelings usually develop in a better way over time if you put forth these efforts.
*A quick note to parents who are remarrying with adult kids:
Don’t put your spouse’s kids in your will. Only your own kids should be in your will, and by the same token, you shouldn’t expect your spouse to put your kids in theirs. In addition, I suggest signing a prenup and making sure that all insurance policies are clear about who is a beneficiary.
This is why I recommend six months of premarital counseling to ALL couples considering marriage so that issues like finances (and whose family you’ll be seeing during the holidays!) can all be sorted out objectively. I even believe that at some point during the process of creating a stepfamily with adult kids, everyone in the families should come in for counseling and discuss the potential problems, difficulties, and jealousies which could arise.