How to Help Your Child Accept a Second Marriage
Did you know that one-third of Americans are a part of a stepfamily, either as a stepparent, stepchild, step-sibling or other role?
While stepfamilies are common, it doesn’t mean that the problems are easy to solve.
The issues surrounding remarriage after a divorce or death are obviously quite complicated, and it may be impossible to find a perfect solution.
However, there are a number of things you can do to help your child deal with and accept your decision to remarry.
Working with Your Spouse for Your Child
- Ask your spouse to create a relationship with your child. Your spouse doesn’t have to be parental right off the bat. Try having your spouse relate to the child as more of a camp counselor than a parent. Focus on creating a bond first before moving into a disciplinarian role. Ask your spouse to develop a relationship together, just the two of them, that doesn’t involve you.
- You can discuss with your spouse to remain responsible for your child’s control and discipline until your spouse and child develop a solid bond.
- Your spouse may monitor your child’s behavior and report back to you instead of intervening.
- Discuss parenting with your new spouse. Discuss what roles who will play. Will your spouse co-parent your child, or will parenting remain your responsibility? Discuss your desires, the desires of your spouse, and what you believe will be best for your child. Inevitably there will be difficulties in adjusting to a new family structure.
- Be clear in your spouse’s role with your child. Is your spouse allowed to mediate fights? Can your spouse punish your child? What consequences and rules can your spouse enforce?
- You may need to think in terms of a timeline. Perhaps you may parent one way now, then slowly transition to different roles over time once the family feels more cohesive.
- Move slowly in blending families. Know that it will take time for your children to adjust to new living arrangements. This is especially true if you are combining your children with your partner’s children. Don’t try to set up different rules right away; instead, keep many similar family rules and ask your partner to follow them as well. Slowly, start to adjust things as they suit your family.
- Avoid fighting in front of your child. Positive spousal relations and low conflict in the marriage helps children adjust better. While fighting is a normal and often healthy part of a marriage, avoid involving your child in the fight or fighting in front of the child. Reassure your child that fighting sometimes happens, but that it doesn’t change things or mean that you will get divorced or that the child is causing the fights.
- Try to find time to disagree when your child is not home.
- Stay aware of your child’s development. A remarriage is harder for an adolescent child than it is for a younger child. As adolescents are trying to reach independence, they make attempts to separate from the family and forge their own paths. When you ask an adolescent to join a blended family, you are asking your child to tie more closely to a family that he or she may not want to connect. A teenager may act disinterested or distant. Younger children may display behavioral changes such as acting out or throwing tantrums as a way to express their stress,
- Younger children may be more apt to connect and develop a relationship with your new spouse. It really depends on your child, though.
Respecting Your Child’s Feelings
- Be aware of crushing a fantasy. Your child may hold on to the fantasy that you and your ex-spouse may get back together, or that there will always be space for a deceased spouse in the home. Once someone new comes in, it threatens that fantasy. A remarriage can be a trauma and responded to as a loss.
- Be sensitive to your child’s feelings and bring this up in discussion. Ask how he or she feels about the remarriage, and if it’s sad for your child to see you and your ex or deceased spouse apart. Have a genuine and heartfelt discussion, letting your child voice all of his or her concerns.
- Be conscious of loyalties. Divorce and remarriage can be really confusing to a child. Your child may feel like he or she has to choose between you and your ex-spouse. Your child may feel like enjoying your new spouse may be a betrayal to the other parent, and may struggle to find ways to accept your new marriage while still feeling loyal to the other parent.
- Give your child permission to love the new people in your ex’s home, and allow for time for your child to warm up to your new spouse.
- Don’t bad talk your previous spouse or his or her partner, especially in front of your child. That can be very confusing for a child.
- Have a feelings talk. Sit down with your child and have a talk about feelings. You can share your feelings, but you want to focus mostly on allowing your child to express his or her own feelings in a safe space. When talking with your child, say:
- It’s okay to feel confused about the new people in your life.
- It’s okay to feel sad about my divorce (or death of a parent).
- You don’t have to love my new spouse, but you do need to be respectful, the way you would be with a teacher or coach.
- If you ever feel caught in the middle of my home and your other parent’s home, please tell me. We’ll do our best to stop.
- It’s okay to talk to someone about how hard things are, like a counselor or coach.
- Listen to your child’s worries. Your child may be afraid that perhaps she'll have to move or have to share her room with a stepsibling. Your child may be worried about what will happen to her daily play routine, vacation plans and general activities. Be Honest and explain how change is always hard for everyone but that there will be some very good changes that come out of the new family situation. Tell your child what positive changes may occur, like going on more family vacations or getting a bigger room.
- Point out how there will be easier ways to do things with more people on board to help out.
- Reassure your child of your love. Even if your child gets along well with your new spouse, remarriage often revives the pain of divorce or death. Also, through loyalty or fear of betraying your child’s father or mother, your child might want to refuse to participate or help in your new marriage. It is important to reassure your child that you understand and respect his or her decision, and that you love your child at all times.
- When your child appears fearful or anxious, remind your child that no matter what changes happen and how stressful it feels, you will always love him or her. The love you have for your child won’t change, no matter what.
- Allow for choices when your child has a strong opinion, but also have a discussion about why your child feels this way.
- Whatever happens, your marriage will occur because it's a matter for the grown-ups to make decisions about their own lives.
- Make it clear that love between adults is not something a child can change. Gently help your child to understand that whilst he can manage his toys, homework and choice of clothes, he cannot influence his parent's love life, whether it be divorce or remarriage. In discussing this, never use negative words about him; a child all too easily assumes responsibility for the single parent and can feel a sense of personal blame. Ensure that he does not have any such negative feelings.
- Tell your child that the joy of one person does not equate with the sadness of another: there is room for all the family to feel joy at the coming marriage.
- Reassure him that when it comes to affairs of the heart, feelings and love, much cannot be explained and that things just "are".
- Be patient. A very stubborn refusal that includes rebelliousness and anger won't be resolved overnight. Talk to your ex-spouse to get support for helping your child through this transition. Show openly to your child that you and your ex-spouse still have your child's concerns at heart first and foremost in your discussions; this isn't the time for dragging through old hurts but it is a time for putting your child's concerns first.
- Don't force your children to get along and accept their new stepparent right away. It's a major adjustment and everyone needs patience.
Related Tips and Steps
- Change Name After Divorce
- Tell Your Kids You're Getting a Divorce
- Stop Your Kids from Using Your Divorce to Their Advantage
- Cope with Divorce As a Child
- Be Happy After a Divorce
- Get a Man to Marry You
Sources and Citations