Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Remarriage is not a battleground when children are involved

Remarriage can be difficult, especially when hard feelings linger from a divorce. Sometimes parents will talk negatively about stepparents, or tell children they shouldn’t love the new stepmom or stepdad. This negative talk is confusing and unhelpful for children in a blended family. Remarriage should never be a constant battle for children’s affection, but rather an opportunity to show them how much love it is possible to give.

Remarried parents who take higher ground win the battle
When divorced spouses remarry it can sometimes trigger hostility toward the new stepdad or stepmom, especially if the divorce was tense and volatile. Sometimes, stepparents in a blended family feel as if they have to constantly defend themselves, playing a tit-for-tat game with the biological parent. When a biological parent tells a child he shouldn’t like or accept the new stepparent, or when the biological parent talks negatively about the blended family, it is very confusing. The last thing a child of divorce needs is to feel confused about the stepfamily situation or feel as if he or she has to take side. When faced with this dilemma, stepmoms or stepdads should let the child know that the behavior is not okay, while staying supportive of the biological parent’s role. Tell the stepchild, “Although we disagree with your mother [or father], we know that she [he] loves you.  We love you and want what's best for you.” This lets the child know that the adult’s behavior is not okay and reinforces that the child is loved. Remarriage and divorce are adult situations and children should never have to participate in negative talk about biological parents and stepparents.

Remarriage is not a competition
Behaving as a spoiled child and demanding love and attention over a stepmom or stepdad is never okay. If your blended family is having difficulty with a biological parent pressuring your stepchild or stepchildren to show them favoritism or more attention during school events, it is okay to address the situation with your stepkid, preferably in a neutral place and time. Stay positive about the biological parent and his or her irreplaceable role in the child’s life, and stress that you love the child too, and that this is okay. Remarriage does not have to be filled with constant conflict and stepparents take the high ground will help calm the rough waters.

Be the normal parent!
Remarriage that brings on hostile attacks and negative talk from the biological parent should be explained to children by acknowledging the jealous or destructive behavior without condemning the source. Let the stepchild know that adults get jealous sometimes, just like children, but that there is enough love to go around for everyone. Remind children that stepparents have enough love to help raise them to be successful people, and strive to set a good example as the constant, normal parents. Remarriage is not about winning over the child, it is about helping them understand what is going on around them in a calm and collected manner. Reinforce the blended family expectations and discuss how difficult it is for adults to deal with the complicated emotions of divorce and remarriage.

If you need advice with your blended or stepfamily, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center is ready to assist you with its counseling and coaching services, as well as other resources aimed at promoting strong and successful blended and stepfamilies. Contact us today and let us help to provide you with answers.

1 comment:

  1. For every blog on the stepparent's perspective of the blended family, there is also a blog on the biological parent's perspective. I have looked at both sides and each time the stepparent blogs are at some point referencing the jealous or interfering and badmouthing biological parent and the biological parent is referencing the stepparent who crosses boundaries, doesn't include the bio parent in major life decisions and a stepparent badmouthing the biological parent while the bio parent allows this to happen. There are two sides to the story. I happen to be the biological parent and there are resources that engage both sides of the equation to prevent this bio parent vs. step parent argument. I would encourage blended families, step parents, and biological parents all to look at this from the child's perspective and ask if you are engaging in any of these behaviors that harm the child. In my case the stepparent was literally sitting my children down and telling them some really nasty thing about me. I know this because they came to me and told me without me asking because they are were very disturbed by what was being said about me. The stepparent and bio parent do not include me in major life decisions concerning my children. I am talking about things such as healthcare decisions made without my knowledge and not informing me when my daughter was hospitalized. The badmouthing and jealousy can go either way, it's not always the bio parent doing the damage. Stepparents can also feel insecure and create intentional or unintentional problems. Sometimes step parents can cross over many boundaries and create attention seeking behavior that may embarrass the step children in public events by needing to show ownership of their new family due to their own insecurities of the bio parent's role in the child's life. Step parents need to pull back and stop trying to limit and confuse communication around the bio parent as meddling into their new family vs. realizing a bio parent is going to want to stay informed with major life things going on with their children. My children's step parent was so insecure about my role as the bio parent that anything I said to my children was taken as meddling. A biological parent is going to ask their own children how things are going with their health, schoolwork, extracurricular activities etc while they were away at the other parent's home because they care and love their child. It isn't to meddle, it's because they are their parent and have no agenda behind it. No child should have to feel that can't share with the other parent about their lives. I am not referencing personal business within the step family, but general or important information about health, school, upcoming travel, etc. Some Bio parents need to realize that step parents are not the enemy and settle down their emotions as well and not make assumptions or handle the new adjustments and feelings with counseling or learning about this topic for their children's sake. But it's the cases on both sides where the badmouthing, jealousy, and crossing boundaries, not informing the other parent when major life things are going on with the children, etc. that causes attorneys and courts to fill up and damage sadly for these children of divorce.