31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Making Remarriage Family-Friendly!

Single with Children: Ex-spouse's remarriage requires a lot of compromise

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 04/24/02

Spring is most definitely here. Things are greening, flowers are blooming, we're all enjoying more light in the evenings. Spring seems to herald in a whole host of new beginnings.

I've had a couple of friends tell me the news that their ex-spouses have announced they are getting remarried. It was interesting to listen as they talked about how they feel. Both these friends have children, and they were wondering how their children would handle having a new stepparent and watching their father interact with someone else's kids. Good questions.

Whether viewed as positive or negative, a remarriage brings changes and people tend to experience very emotional feelings. I remember when I discovered that my ex-husband was getting remarried. Even though we had been divorced for more than two years, the news hit me much harder than I ever would have imagined. The upcoming marriage was a final reiteration of a fact my mind had previously embraced, but perhaps my heart had not quite completely accepted. It was really over.

There's no point in pretending there isn't a kind of awkwardness attached with the concept of a former spouse marrying. It's strange to imagine someone we were once married to suddenly be married to another person. It's even far more delicate when children on either or both sides are involved.

I realized straightaway that not only were my kids processing the information that they were about to gain a new stepmother and two new stepsisters, they also were examining me more closely than usual to get some "feel" for how I was dealing with it. I could tell that they were wondering if I felt sad or bitter. I'm sure they wondered how this would change future visits with their father. Not only would they no longer be the only kids around, there also would be another prominent adult figure who would have her own way of doing things. The transition of remarriage deeply affects the children on both sides of the union.

Remarriage, while no doubt a happy event for the two adults about to pledge their love and commitment, presents one of the most challenging issues in any divorce. It requires communication. It means spending a lot of time reassuring the children who will become part of a new family unit that their individual place in the life of their soon-to-be-married parent will not be in any way diminished. Sometimes, this reassurance will have to be offered over and over.

With enough time, attention, sensitivity, kindness and compassion, the children will discover that love is one of those amazing gifts with the unique power to proliferate the more it is given. Time must be spent to reinforce the concept that, while there will be more people present around the dinner table and hanging around the house, each child's unique and cherished presence can never be replaced or taken over. This is vital information for a child to hear and bears repeating until it is finally grasped, no matter how many times it takes.

Blended families don't acquire an instant ease with each other as soon as the parents are pronounced man and wife. To consider otherwise is a real recipe for disappointment. Only time, experience and tons of patience will create an atmosphere of comfort. Blended families mean a mix of everything, including family rituals, customs and routines. Children of both parents will no doubt think their way of doing things works perfectly fine and staunchly hold onto what they know best from their past. There will be, expectedly, some resistance to changing certain facets of life as they knew it before the remarriage. Blending requires some trial and error and loads of give and take. Patience can become strained, but rarely is it more essential than in bringing together two families that already have separate histories.

Remarriage also creates a challenge for the parent not getting remarried. It presents a real opportunity to consider the powerful impact their acceptance, or lack thereof, will make in their children's lives. This may require putting aside pithy comments, derisive remarks and opinions that will negatively influence how children view and handle the advent of parental remarriage. As hurt as one may still feel from a difficult divorce, for better or worse our children look closely to us for their cues. It's at this time that we have to consider what is more important to express: useless negativity or hopeful optimism. It is a golden opportunity to look outside ourselves and ahead to our children's future and put our stamp of approval on the new nuptials.

Parents have the power to make it OK for our children to imagine new stepparents and stepsiblings and we owe it to our kids not only to let them know it's OK but also to assist in reaffirming that this does not diminish the love our ex-spouses feel for them. Sometimes, it's a hard step to make, but as is the case many times in life, the hardest steps are the most important.

There are enough negatives and unhappy events that visit our children's lives as they are growing up, particularly if they don't happen to live in a home with their two biological parents. Sometimes we don't have the power to make everything that pops up easy and painless. No loving parent purposefully wants to make things more difficult for their precious children. We should be mindful that transitions, such as remarriage of a parent, can be confusing. Looming change can feel intimidating. If we keep our primary focus on making the path our kids must travel as calm and smooth as we possibly can, regardless of whatever past hurts and slights we may have suffered, we are giving them a wonderful opportunity to look forward with optimism toward a positive, nonthreatening future with new relationships that will hopefully enrich their lives.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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