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What Your Child is Experiencing When You Remarry

Remarriage may have many positive aspects, although your child may be looking forward to very different things than you. There are also some difficulties that can arise as members of two families begin living under the same roof.

Here are some of the most common concerns for school­age children:

Loss

  • As their parents date, develop serious relationships, and eventually decide to remarry, children may be reminded of their original family and of the life they once had with their mother and father. Now, however, with the prospect of this new marriage, they must confront the reality that their parents really are never going to reconcile and that they will never again have their original family back. This can be a source of great sadness.

  • Children who have built a particularly close relationship with their own mother or father during a period of single parenthood must now learn to share that parent with a new spouse and perhaps with stepsiblings. It may help to have the children get together to get to know each other for an event or two.

  • Some children may show signs of increased attachment to the parent who is getting married. For instance, a child might not want to leave a parent's side in certain social situations or may express jealousy when the parent shows attention to the new spouse and his or her children. Your child might even verbalize some of her hurt and anger ("I don't think he's the right guy for you, Mom").

  • Some children wonder to themselves, "Where do I belong?" As they see their parent starting a new family, they may feel more like an outsider than part of the new family structure. With time, however, ​most children adjust to their new family circumstances. As they get to know their stepparent and stepsiblings better, their level of acceptance will grow too.

Feelings

  • Many children feel that if they like and show love towards their new stepparent, they will be disrespecting their other parent—the one whom this new stepparent, to some extent, is replacing in their home. Some children may worry that if their parent remarries—thus bringing a new father/mother figure into the home—they will lose the love and attention of their other father or mother.

  • Your child may feel awkward having to get used to two fathers or two mothers. Particularly in the beginning, allow him or her to view your new spouse in the most comfortable way—perhaps as a second father or sometimes just as Mommy's husband. Say something like, "Your stepfather is different from your daddy, and no one will ever replace your own daddy."

  • Expect your child to make some comparisons between his or her real parent and stepparent, in both positive and negative ways. He or she might blurt out statements like, "You're not as nice as my daddy." Comparisons are normal during this adjustment period. Eventually, your child will stop making them. However, some children may have more problems and may need to get help from a mental health professional.

  • If possible, father and stepfather, or mother and stepmother, should make contact with each other to begin working toward being more at ease with talking about your child. This can begin with a phone call just to say hello and to share thoughts about the child. Both parties might decide to have lunch or some other informal meeting. Although these two adults may run into each other at special events, such as birthdays and graduations, these occasions may not be the best times to do much talking. The more comfortable these two individuals become with each other, the more reassured the child will feel that he or she does not have to choose between the love of the parent and developing a relationship with the stepparent. It will show the child that the adults are pulling together on his or her behalf and all care and have his or her interests at heart.

  • Do not expect your child to solve his or her loyalty struggles if you have not resolved most of your own issues with your ex­spouse. When remarriages occur, the issue of child custody often comes up again. For example, if a noncustodial father marries a woman with children, he may return to court, requesting that his own child now live with him ("I have a wife at home now and I can take care of my child"). In the midst of an ongoing custody battle, the children often find it harder to deal with their own loyalty struggles.

New Rules

  • As children move from a home with a single parent into one that now includes a stepparent and perhaps stepsiblings, they will probably have changes in the way their family functions. Routines will be changed and new chores may be in place.

  • With more people in the home, privacy issues may become more important. It may be harder for children to find some space they can call their own.

  • Everyone—including the children—need to participate in the sort-out and adapt to the way the house runs. Most family members adapt, but it may take some time.

Hopes

  • Almost all couples want their new marriages to work out well for everyone. Hopefully, having learned from past experiences, they can achieve their hopes.

  • Within stepfamilies, it is unrealistic to hope that the children will immediately respect and love their new stepparents. In the real world, relationships develop more slowly. Children need time to really get to know and feel comfortable with a stepmother or stepfather.

  • In general, good relationships develop quicker with younger children. School-age children, who are more set in their ways, may rightly feel that their established lifestyles are being disrupted by this new man or woman entering their life.

Additional Information & Resources:

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Last Updated
2/6/2017
Source
Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (Copyright © 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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