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     Parents Change Too
     Crises In The Family
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     Your Sick Child
     Medicine Chest
     Infectious Diseases
     Other Problems
     Everyday Incidents
     Physical Handicaps


Children do not want a “new” parent. They just want the old one back. Remarriage may seem like salvation to the adults involved; to the children it can be just as traumatic an event as the breakup of their natural family. It can be especially devastating if it happens too quickly, while the child is still mourning the loss of the old family.

  • Parents often feel that if they marry someone who wasn’t involved in the separation or divorce, their children will accept them more easily. This isn’t always the case. Very often children maintain the fantasy that somehow their parents will get together and things will be as they once were’ after a remarriage the “vacant place” is filled and the fantasy destroyed once and for all.
    “I know it’s stupid when I’m practically grown-up now – and Dad left when I was 10 – but it makes me feel funny, him having another family that isn’t us. It isn’t that I don’t like Jose, my father's other son - we get along pretty well. But I don’t like the idea of the new baby at all. I feel it’s taken my place.”

  • When parents remarry, children have to adapt to two households with different house rules and different expectations. The may not be quite sure where they belong, and divided loyalties will almost always make it hard to form a close relationship with a stepparent.
    “When my mother left my dad and me, I sort of coped, but I really hate the idea that she’s going to get married again. I guess I always thought she’d come back some time. At least I hoped she would. I think my dad felt the same way. Now I know there’s no chance.”

  • Even if children grow to like a stepparent, it may seem an act of disloyalty to the real parent to show it. The problems are worst when the stepparent brings children from a previous marriage into the household. Young boys often form good relationship with their stepfathers, but there is some evidence that the relationship tends to be more difficult if the boys is nine years or older at the time of the remarriage.
    The younger the child, the easier it may be to develop a good relationship with a stepparent.

What should you do?
For some teenagers the relationship is never easy. The more rejected they feel, the more miserable, aggressive, and disruptive they are likely to become. Indeed, it may seem as though they’re trying to disrupt the new marriage altogether.

  • If you plan to marry again, give your children fair warning. Don’t just spring it on them. Try to explain your own feelings honestly, and listen to theirs.

  • Don’t try to be a replacement for the real parent. Your relationship with your stepchildren will probably work best (at least to begin with) if you simply try to be a good friend to them.

  • Make sure that the children have as much contact with their natural parent as possible. They will accept a stepparent more readily if they don’t feel they have to “give up” their real parent.

  • When two families merge, give the children the chance to get to know each other before expecting them to live together under one roof.

  • Give help and advice when asked. Otherwise keep a low profile to begin with.

  • Realize that, as far as the children are concerned, their lives have been completely disrupted. Where there are going to be obvious problems (a child who may have to be turned out of or share his or her room, for example), talk these over with the people involved so that at least they know you’re aware of the problem and are trying to solve it.

  • When two sets of children are coming together, work out with them what the ground rules are going to be. Be totally pragmatic about this, accept that there are going to be difficulties, that the two families will be used to doing different things in different ways, and that what you have to do for the moment is to find practical ways to help you all to live together without too much friction.

  • Make sure you give time to each other in the marriage. The children won’t like this, but it is actually in their best interests for the marriage to succeed.

If your parents have divorced or if one has died, you’ve probably become used to living with only one parent, sharing responsibilities, and being treated as an adult. If there’s new parent in the household, it may be upsetting. Even if you know him or her well, there’s a big difference between someone coming as a visitor and someone moving in for good.
Ideally your stepparent and your own mother or father should realize that this is going to be a difficult time for all of you, but they may seem to you to be insensitive or tactless. They may be more concerned with their relationship than with anything else. The truth is that your father or mother and your stepparent are just as likely as you are to be worried about how things will work out. They may also not like admitting that they don’t know how to behave or don’t always know best.
Building a new family unit is going to be difficult for all of you. It will also take time. Almost certainly you will all make mistakes and there will be times when you feel very miserable and left out, especially if you’re the only child. You can’t be expected to “love” a stranger just because your mother or father has found a new partner. You may find it difficult even to get along with them. But it’s just as likely that you will get along with them very well. This is not being disloyal to your own father or mother and you don’t have to feel guilty. You should try to think of a stepparent as an extra. Certainly they are not a substitute. Even if you rarely see your own mother or father, or they have gone away or perhaps died, they are still your mother or father. Adults have ex-wives and ex-husbands; children do not have ex-parents. If a new stepparent trying to take over the running of the family upsets you, then say so. You will probably find it easier to talk to your own mother or father first, or possibly to a grandparent. Tell someone else anyway, and get your feelings out into the open.
You may find it hard to spend some time each month with each of your separated parents and their new partners. It may be difficult for you to feel that either household is your real home, especially if there are other children. Again, try to talk to someone about your feelings. If your own parents are not sympathetic, you may find there is another family friend or relation to whom you can turn. Don’t try to handle it all on your own. Everyone needs someone to share their troubles with.

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