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Open and Honest: Keys to Family Success in Remarriage

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iStock_000007203609SmallThere’s nothing easy about divorce, especially when the marriage includes children. As life moves on and the healing process begins, many people begin to date and find happiness in a new relationship.

Yes, happiness is great. You’ve found love, support and a connection with someone, but how do your children feel? Remarriage can be confusing for children and often means new stepsiblings, visitation with multiple households, new extended families and learning a new parental personality. It’s a time when parental guidance is needed most.

Being the Parent
It is essential to remember that divorce or remarriage does not ruin children; poor parenting does. This comes more as a reaction to remarriage than anything, as parents often feel guilty they’ve rocked their kids worlds again after the divorce by remarrying. Do not be swayed by these feelings of guilt; you need to be strong for your children.

Guilt often leads to giving into your kids too much or spoiling them. This actually causes anxiety for children, as they are forced to parent themselves. On the other hand, fear can cause parents to be to controlling. You need to parent like you always have, regardless of feelings of guilt or fear.

It will also be important to not become so infatuated with and excited by the prospect of remarriage that you forget about your children during a time when they need you most. This excitement, caused by the natural release of the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, may give you tunnel vision about your new wife or husband, but your kids will need you to be there for them. They will need you to still be their rock, especially when times seem strange and scary.

Through this transition, parents have the tendency to go to extremes: either giving kids no structure or trying to control everything. In both of these instances, parents teach kids that something is wrong; they see you reacting differently and correlate this behavior to the new stepfamily. Avoid this by parenting the same way you did before. Find a balance between being disciplined but not controlling.

As a parent, you need to frequently check in with how your children are feeling. From the time you start dating again to when you get remarried, children should know their voices and concerns are heard.

Validate and normalize the situation by allowing them to speak their mind using statements such as “I could understand it would be hard moving in with a new parent,” or “I can understand why you’d be scared.” This will let kids know that they can speak to you without judgment of what they think or feel and will work far better than ignoring or being mad at how they feel.

Being the new spouse
It’s not easy trying to join a new family. For the spouse marrying a parent, it will be important to take your time trying to acclimate yourself to the situation. The spouse shouldn’t force his or herself, or their disciplinary action, on children and the parent should not put them into that role too quickly.

They also cannot become the best friend of the child and suddenly start talking negatively about the parent. As humans, we like doing what feels comfortable for us. It’s not an easy job being a step parent, but it does seem easy to win a child over by saying “Oh yeah, your dad/mom is way too hard on you.” This may seem like it will help you gain alliances, but it is actually extremely unhealthy for the new family unit.

For households where both parents have children, it will be important for the parents to sit down together and decide how they will run the household. What are the family rules? What disciplinary actions will be taken? How will they communicate with their children?

One good technique to implement may be to explain what punishments fit which crimes before they happen. Instead of making emotional punishments at the spur of the moment, this will allow parents to think of something while they’re calm and give children what they know to be a fair punishment.

If you are having trouble communicating with your children while dating again or remarrying, contact Stenzel Clinical for an appointment. Opening up is never easy but will be an essential part of making sure every member of a household is happy and feels respected.

For further reading, check out Ron Deal’s “The Smart Step-Family.” This is an incredible book that will help you learn the best ways to operate in this new family environment.