''THERE are emotional depths, curves, valleys and peaks you can't even articulate,'' Loren Lieberthal, a 29-year-old playwright, said. ''No one quite knows how the other will react.''
Mr. Lieberthal, whose mother remarried several years ago, was talking about the feelings an adult might register when a parent remarries. Generally acknowledged to be troublesome to youngsters and adolescents, the remarriage of a parent can arouse anxieties in grown children as well.
Indeed, several psychologists and psychiatrists suggested in interviews that the situation could unsettle adults in different ways than it would affect young children.
Dr. Alice Kahn Ladas, a psychologist practicing in Armonk, N.Y., spoke of possible ''financial conflict of interest'' among new family members. Dr. Charles Benjamin, a psychologist in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., suggested that one reaction might be, ''My parents are at an age where they shouldn't want to be intimate anymore.'' And there are often the same feelings of resentment, jealousy and loss experienced by young children whose parents remarry.
Statistically, the number of people with grown children who remarry appears to be on the rise. According to Barbara Wilson, statistician and demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics, 123,233 people 55 and over were married in 1978, as compared with 112,395 in 1968. James Weed, chief of the marriage and family statistics branch at the United States Bureau of the Census, said, ''It's not an official Government estimate, but I would guess three out of four of these individuals had children over 21 at the time of their marriage.''
Statistics, however, do not reveal the human elements of the situation. In their book ''You and Your Aging Parent: The Modern Family's Guide to Emotional, Physical and Financial Problems''(Pantheon), Helen Kandel Hyman and Dr. Barbara Silverstone, a social worker who has worked extensively with the elderly, say that one may ''approve in principle of the idea of remarriage for older people, but find it appalling'' when one's own parent remarries.
Even those who are essentially happy with their parents' remarriage may feel a twinge of loss when the event actually occurs. ''I was very happy when my mother remarried,'' recalled Evelyn Vitz, 39, an associate professor of French at New York University. ''But it made me a little sad that my father's name was now no longer held by one of us women.''
One problem that can arise for a child of any age is the resistance to the idea of the new spouse as parent. ''I felt, he's my mother's husband, but he's not going to assume a father role,'' recalled Ann Burnett, a 38-year-old elementary school teacher from Gig Harbor, Wash., of her reaction to her mother's first remarriage. The remarrying parent may also be considered disloyal to the one who is gone.
''My mother was so crushed when my father left her that I became upset on her behalf when he remarried,'' said a women who requested anonymity. ''When my father called to tell me he was getting married again, I felt the pain I knew my mother would be feeling.''
Another problem for the grown-up child is the enforced mingling of families occasioned by a remarriage. ''In American society,'' said Dr. Benjamin, there is the presumption that ''as people marry, various members of the family are going to get along with each other. We are kind of primed to think, 'Oh, everything's going to work out, every-one's going to like each other.' '' Men and women with children of their own may suddenly find themselves with a grandparent problem. Ann Richmond, a 48-year-old social worker from New Rochelle, N.Y., said of her father's remarriage four and a half years ago at age 74, ''For him it was a good thing, something he was doing for himself. But for my children – my mother was the one who was involved with the children. My father is independent and involved in his new marriage. His wife is not very receptive to my children.''
Financial matters are another source of dispute – frequently bitter and occasionally violent – among individuals brought together by a remarriage.
Carolyn Grammatikos, a 32-year-old typesetter from Newark, described her recent traumatic experience as a ''nightmare.'' Explaining that her mother had died suddenly, that her father had remarried in 1975, and that he had died of lung cancer in July 1980, she said that she ''never had a chance to really grieve'' because of the situation that ensued.
''When he married this other woman,'' she explained, ''he never changed anything'' in his will. ''Even in May 1980, when the doctor told him, it's a matter of time, he still didn't change anything. About five days before he died, she brought a lawyer to the house to draw up a new will. My sister and I are not even mentioned in it.''
Mrs. Grammatikos, who is separated from her husband, is currently trying to raise the money to hire a lawyer to contest the will. ''It's a feeling of complete and total helplessness,'' she said.
Nor are the children the only ones who suffer when money enters the remarriage picture. Dr. Ladas spoke of an acquaintance, a man whose grown stepchildren ''made a tremendous amount of financial demands'' and caused ''so much trouble it forced him to divorce'' the wife.
Lois Jasper, a 32-year-old medical secretary from Scarsdale, said that much to her delight, her 81-year-old mother recently remarried but she recalled a previous engagement her mother had subsequently broken off.
''Sometimes, there's a feeling that the man is using the inheritance of another woman,'' she said. ''The son and daughter of the man to whom my mother was engaged 16 years ago felt this way. The son flew in from California and suggested putting his father's money in an irrevocable trust.''
Dr. Arthur Wachtel, a psychiatrist in Scarsdale, maintains that while attitudes about sex have become increasingly tolerant in general, ''some adult children are uncomfortable with the re-emerging of romantic activity and sexuality of their parents.''
Dr. Benjamin suggests that even in grown sons and daughters, there may be a ''tendency to want to see our parents as there to nurture us, rather than having their needs met.''
There are also those adult children for whom the experience is largely a pleasurable one. Relief that the older parent will be looked after, pride that he or she has chosen a likable, responsible mate, bemusement at the sort of role reversal that can come about – these reactions are possible, too.
Setting Boundaries with Adult Children
Adult children can actually wreak more havoc on your marriage than young children sometimes. When parents disagree on how much support to offer their adult children, it can result in feelings of hurt, anger, and resentment.
It’s important to learn how to define your relationship with adult children. Once they are grown up, parents often become more like friends or a mentor. However, many parents struggle with their relationship with their adult children. This can lead to a variety of marital problems.
Adults Acting Like Children
Plenty of adults just don’t act grown up. Whether you’ve got a 40 year old son who chooses to play video games over mowing the lawn or a daughter who just can’t keep a job, adult children who behave immaturely can be stressful.
Perhaps you have adult children who want to borrow money. Or maybe they even live with you. Learning how to set limits and boundaries is important.
The Danger of Enabling
There’s an art to supporting someone without enabling them. Adult children who still depend on their parents often are allowed to get into this situation because their parents enable them.
Perhaps this relationship stems from parents who want to be needed. The empty nest syndrome leads to lots of adults feeling lonely and empty. This can make them desire to have their children still need them as it gives them a purpose.
Often parents engage in an enabling relationship because they feel sorry for their grandchildren. They may say something like, “I just don’t want the kids to suffer.” Although well-intentioned, these sorts of sentiments can often foster dependency if the parents are constantly bailing out their kids for the sake of the grandchildren.
Develop a Plan as a Team
It’s important that you and your spouse work together on determining how to respond to your adult child’s requests. If your child is asking you for money, a place to stay, or favors, talk about how to respond. Develop a plan together as a team.
One of the worst things that can happen is if one spouse secretly helps out without telling the other. Although you may think “slipping a $20 bill” to your child is helping, it may be very harmful to your marriage if your spouse hasn’t agreed to it.
This can become especially complicated when adult step-children are involved. You may think it’s not up to your spouse to have any input into whether or not you loan your child money or babysit the grandchildren for free. However, it is important to work as a team together on all of these sorts of decisions.
Set Limits and Consequences
Setting healthy boundaries and limits is important. If you’ve been overextending yourself or giving too much, you may need to step back. Also, just because you want to feel needed or you want to help out, doesn’t mean you should.
If you rescue your child every time he’s in trouble, you may be making things worse in the long run. How will he ever learn how to stand on his own two feet if you always bail him out? Saying no to your child can sometimes be the best thing to do, even when it is hard to say.
It can be hard to make those changes. If you’ve been loaning your child money every time he calls, saying no won’t be easy the next time he asks. It’s likely if he’s used to you doing it, he may resist as well. This is why it is important to work together as a team with your spouse.
Develop a response that you can offer in the event you are caught off guard. Agree that you won’t give an answer for at least 24 hours. So the next time you get a call that says, “We need money,” respond by saying, “I’ll have to talk it over with your father and we’ll get back to you tomorrow.” This will allow you time to consider it and give you a chance to talk about it beforehand. It will also show you are presenting a united front.
Seeking Marriage Help
Sadly, many marriages end up in crisis due to conflict over adult children. Sometimes one parent reaches the boiling point and just can’t take it anymore.
If this is the case, make sure to seek professional help. A marriage counselor can assist you in working together on being supportive without enabling. Counseling can also help restore your marriage as you work to negotiate a healthy relationship with each other and your adult children.
This article was written by Amy Morin, LCSW, and posted on Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 at 1:17 pm. It is filed under Family. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
When you marry someone, you create a new life and a new home. If you have been close with your parents, that could require you to set boundaries to keep them from interfering in your marriage or spending too much time with you as you begin your married life. Setting boundaries can be sticky, but with persistence you can maintain boundaries that make your relationships with your spouse and your family work.
Why Set Boundaries?
If you are relatively young, your parents might still be used to an arrangement in which they set the rules and you obey. Once you are married, that dynamic changes, and it can be difficult to make the transition, according to psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery for Focus on the Family in “Setting Boundaries with Parents.” If you don’t set those boundaries and do it early, you can create conflict between you and your new spouse. Your spouse may not appreciate your desire to talk things over with your mom or dad and could feel slighted by your choice of confidant.
The boundaries most important to set can depend on the areas in which your parents feel most free to butt in. Financial, emotional and physical boundaries are good ones to set, according to Amy Morin, LCSW, in an article entitled “3 Healthy Boundaries to Set With Your Parents After You’re Married” on The Marriage Counseling Blog. Explain that it’s your prerogative to make your own choices, successes and mistakes in these areas. You can determine how you deal with money and credit, as long as it does not crater their credit. You should turn to your spouse first to share personal and career matters, as well as marriage bumps and highs. Your parents don’t need to know what goes on in your bedroom or determine how you parent your kids and conduct your social life.
Gently tell your parents that you appreciate and love them, but that you and your spouse need to be the decision makers regarding how you conduct your life. Thank them for their parenting efforts, and ask them to trust that their parenting has prepared you for this day. Promise to consult them if you need their advice, but ask them to realize the final choice is yours. Be clear about the boundaries, such as not showing up unexpectedly at your home, keeping their advice to themselves unless you ask for it, respecting your spouse and treating you as an adult, suggests the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center in an article about cutting the cord.
Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your spouse regarding interference from your parents. Discuss concerns and then approach your parents to set or adjust boundaries. Openly offer your primary loyalty to your spouse, with whom you should continue to establish a loving, intimate relationship. If you continue to enforce boundaries when necessary, your parents will finally learn to live with the new dynamic.
Getting married is a huge and exciting life change. You’re embarking on a new life together and taking your first steps towards your future as a married couple. One thing that is sure to change as you enter this new phase of your life is your relationship with your parents.
Seeing their child get married is bittersweet for many parents. After all, you were their whole world for a long time, and they were yours. Now you’re changing allegiances as it were. It’s no wonder that parental relationships can quickly become a source of stress in a marriage.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. Navigating your new relationship with your parents with positivity and respect is possible.
Here are some of the key ways your relationship with your parents will change after marriage and what you can do to keep the relationship healthy.
Your parents are no longer your main emotional support
For many years, your parents were one of your main emotional supports. From kissing skinned knees as a kid and being there through school dramas, to supporting you as you went on to college or a job, your parents have always been there for you.
After you get married, your spouse becomes one of your key sources of support, and the change can be challenging for you and your parents.
For the sake of your marriage, get into the habit of turning to your partner first, and encouraging them to do the same. Your parents don’t have to feel pushed out, though – make regular time to get together for a coffee or a meal and catch them up on what’s going on in your life.
You become more self reliant
Marriage represents leaving the nest and becoming more self reliant. Of course this isn’t the 17th century and the chances are you’re not literally leaving your parental home for the first time, nor are ladies expected to be obedient while men earn all the money!
However, even if you’ve been financially independent and living away from home for years, marriage still represents a psychological shift. Your parents can still love and support you, but it’s time to stop relying on them.
Honor this change by acknowledging that your parents don’t owe you anything, nor do you owe them, so you can meet each other as equals.
Physical boundaries become more important
Your parents are used to having you to themselves from time to time and of course familiarity can breed a certain lack of boundaries. After marriage, you and your spouse’s time belongs to yourselves, each other and your children first of all, and your parents after.
This can be a difficult adjustment for parents. If you find your then popping in unannounced, coming for an afternoon but overstaying their welcome, or assuming you will put them up for a week’s vacation, some things need to change.
Setting clear boundaries around your time and space will help you manage expectations and keep a healthy relationship with your parents. Be upfront about when and how often you can see them, and stick to that.
Your priorities change
Your parents are used to you being their top priority – and they’re used to being one of yours. Realizing that your spouse is now your main priority can be difficult for even the most loving parents.
This can lead to resentment, interference, or bad feeling between your parents and your spouse.
Clear communication can go a long way here. Sit down and have a good heart to heart with your parents. Let them know that you need to put your spouse first, but that you still love them dearly and want them in your life.
Many issues boil down to insecurity on your parents’ part as they adjust to your new dynamic, so do your best to work on that insecurity together. Be firm but loving as you set boundaries, and offer plenty of reassurance that they’re not losing you.
Financial issues become a no-go zone
The chances are your parents are used to being involved in your financial decisions to at least some degree. Maybe they’ve lent you money before, or perhaps they’ve offered advice on jobs or finances, or even offered you a place to rent or a share in the family business.
After you’re married, this involvement can quickly cause tension. Finances are a matter for you and your spouse to tackle together without any outside interference.
This means cutting the apron springs on both sides. You need to set good boundaries with your parents around financial issues. No ifs or buts – financial issues are a no go zone. By the same token, you need turn to your spouse with financial issues, not your parents. It’s best not to accept loans or favors unless you really must, as even the most well-intentioned gestures can quickly become points of contention.
A changing relationship with your parents is inevitable when you get married, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. With good boundaries and a loving attitude you can build a strong relationship with your parents that’s healthy for you, them, and your new spouse.
Most people are very surprised to learn that adult stepfamilies, that is, those that are formed in the second-half of life and include adult stepchildren, have just as many transitions as stepfamilies with younger children. Some of the transitional issues are different, but many are the same.
Lorain, a reader of my monthly E-Magazine for stepfamilies, wrote asking how she might strengthen her relationship with her 19, 24, and 26 year-old stepchildren. “I was 49 when I married for the first time; my husband was 55. His first wife died a couple years before we met. My husband kept his children up to date about our relationship and things were pretty civil until we married. His oldest daughter cried loudly through the entire wedding ceremony. A few months later one of the children asked how my husband’s will was structured implying that I shouldn’t get anything. From there things have continued to go downhill at a rapid pace.”
Lorain’s experience is not uncommon, nor is her idealistic assumption that a marriage with adult children who no longer live in the home will not be impacted by the dynamics of loss and loyalty. Thankfully, adult children and stepparents do not have the same power battles that younger stepfamilies experience because the stepparent is not trying to get the children to pick up their socks or choose better friends. But adult stepchildren and older stepparents still have many emotional issues to work through, feel threatened by each other, and struggle with how the new marriage will impact familiar family relationships. Finding peace takes effort on both sides.
The New Couple
When Daniel’s 35 year-old son told him that he “just wanted him to be happy” the widower assumed his son was giving him permission to remarry. He wasn’t. What the son meant was, “I would hope that mom’s memory will keep you happy enough.” Daniel assumed he had his son’s blessing and got married. His son’s withdraw from contact alerted him to the problem at hand.
As an older parent and stepparent you must realize that adult stepchildren—despite their age—frequently feel:
- fearful of being abandoned or isolated from their only remaining parent. Unfortunately, they have already tasted grief in a very real way; your marriage may renew or intensify this sadness.
- loyal to their original family. Maintaining a strong family identity is important for adult children. Accepting a stepparent means the established family ties and special family holidays and celebrations must stretch to make room for newcomers. This isn't easy and frankly it hurts. Please don't take this personally—it’s not really about you. It's about home no longer feeling like home.
- disloyal toward the divorced or deceased parent and guilty about letting the stepparent in.
- jealous and replaced by their parent’s new partner. They may have been the "apple of their parent's eye" but now the stepparent holds the key to the parent’s heart (and time and energy).
- concerned about the family finances. Money issues are common and must be addressed. Adult stepchildren have a right to know how their family inheritance is going to be managed (this is not “greed”) and you should be proactive in addressing these matters with the children so their fears can be put to rest.
- resentful that their children, the grandchildren, may not receive as much time and energy from their parent as anticipated. Especially when one parent has died adult children may invest heavily in wanting their children to spend time with the grandparent. Your marriage threatens this and creates another loss for everyone.
As a new couple you must apply patience and understanding to these strong emotions. Do not be offended by them. When confronted with difficult responses from adult children, assume a humble position and listen to their fears and concerns. Accept them where they are and try to be responsive to their needs for information (especially about financial matters), emotional contact, and time as they adjust to yet another family transition they didn’t seek out.
It is very important that you begin by acknowledging your own strong emotions about your parent’s remarriage. The feelings mentioned above are very common; if you don’t take ownership and responsibility of them, they may lead you into withdrawal, criticism, or hurtful behavior.
Without question, a parent’s remarriage ripples through the generations of your family. It may take a great deal of time for you to open your heart to a stepparent and their extended family. Don’t feel compelled to feel love for them, but strive to act in loving ways. Resist the urge to withdraw in anger or judgment. And finally, be sure to acknowledge that your parent has legitimate needs and desires that include pursuing a dating or marriage partner. Doing so does not diminish the important of your other parent, your family history, or their relationship with you.
I strongly encourage both adult stepchildren and the new couple to educate themselves about stepfamily living. There is a labyrinth of emotion and practical transitions to work through and it takes understanding and effort by both generations. But it can be done. That’s the beautiful thing about love—there’s always room for one more!
When a parent remarries, the child (or children) involved are bound to have many concerns.
When a parent remarries, the child (or children) involved are bound to have many concerns. This can be a very anxious time for any child and this level of change will be something that will take time for them to get used to. Be patient with your child and know this event can be causing them some anxieties, and it's important to know their concerns. Their level of comfort of a remarriage depends on a lot of factors like how long the new partner has been around, how this new partner treats them, how long it's been since the divorce, and how attached your child is to both of their biological parents.
Ideally, a new spouse coming into a family should be fully aware of what it is to become a step-parent to a child. Your child isn't an inconvenience and they aren't going anywhere. Having children makes you a package deal in a relationship and any new partner joining that needs to fully understand and accept they're marrying a family. This will make the transition easier. All children involved in a re-marriage should feel securely loved and accepted by the new parent.
The American Psychological Association (APA) says that the age of the child when a step-parent enters their life really matters. Young adolescents between the ages of 11 and 14 will likely be the most resistant and the least welcoming to this big change. It's a tough age and a time when paretnting is really needed. Children under the age of 10 will be the most accepting of a step-parent and teenagers who are 15 and older won't be as affected based on the level of parenting they need at the time. Here are 7 common worries a child may have when a parent remarries.
7 They Worry About Having New Mom or Dad
When step-parents become part of the picture, your child may be worried about them replacing their biological parent. Kids may not know what to call their new step-parent or how to treat them. Assure your child that the new spouse isn't a replacement but just an addition to your non-traditional family. Go over any house rules as a family and make sure you, your child, and your new partner are on the same page with rules and discipline.
An older child or teen may be very resistant to listening to a new adult as their parents which is understandable. Parenting is the one of the most difficult parts of blending a family and everyone needs to know their role.
6 They Have to Share Their Parent
When divorce happens, a child usually spends more time with one parent over the other for whatever reason. The bond developed between a child and parent during this time can become very deep. When a parent starts dating again, the child has to start sharing their parent with someone new. The adjustment can make your child anxious and unhappy. Make sure to still set aside special alone time and assure them that they are your number one priority.
5 They Will Be Forgotten
A child whose parent remarries can fear they will be forgotten in the mix of things. Speaking on the topic of remarriage, Happy Children advises that some kids may now be wondering where they fit in. Seeing a parent start a new family can seem like the parent is moving on without them or needs more than them to be happy.
Needing and wanting a romantic partner isn't a concept a child will understand. However, as time goes on and they get to know the new family dynamic, these feelings should subside and they will feel included.
4 The New Spouse (Or Siblings) Won't Like Them
We all want to be liked and this thought will be of the forefront of any child's mind as their family dynamic changes. Before any wedding happens, allow enough time for your new partner and child to get to know each other. If your partner is also bringing kids into the marriage, the children on both sides will likely have the same fears.
Introduce everyone slowly with expectations for respect. As time goes on, everyone will find their place and learn to like (or at least tolerate) one another.
3 They Won't See Their Parent Anymore
Change is the source of all of this discomfort and children may be worried that they won't see their newly married parent anymore. This is especially true if the parent getting remarried doesn't have primary custody.
Whoever is getting remarried needs to take extra time with the child or children so they understand what this relationship means for them and that their parent will certainly still see them.
2 They Worry for the Other Parent
Family Education acknowledges that a child whose parent is getting remarried may worry about the other parent who is not getting married. They won't want to their single parent to be jealous or feel left out or lonely. A child may feel protective and don't want to see you hurt again.
Children shouldn't be worried about adult feelings and how their parent is doing emotionally. Let your child know that what is happening wasn't their decision and they shouldn't shoulder any responsibility for it.
1 Source: Happy Children, American Psychological Association, Family Education
Paula Jane Newman, the founder of Aware Meditation, shares her experience and advice for fellow stepmoms to help connect as a family.
Larissa Marulli is a mom to two young school-aged kids. She received a degree in journalism shortly before having her first child and is a news and features writer for Moms. The proud mom of two is from Colorado and loves the mountains. changing seasons, and hot coffee all year round. Larissa has seen it all and has struggled with the challenges of motherhood. She is getting better with age and prides herself in using the written word to entertain others as well as educate. Larissa loves books, napping, people in small doses, and her family.
Q. My mother passed away five years ago. My father remarried a woman with whom I have done my best to get along. Problem is, my father now does not have the same family values or personality that I grew up knowing. I know that things change, but this has been so drastic. My siblings and I (with our children) used to spend every Sunday at my father’s. Since he married her we have not been invited over! I’m not sure how to change what’s in my heart and accept him for who he is now without feeling resentful and hurt for the father I no longer have. Plus, this woman has so many relatives I am now supposed to consider my relatives. I’m overwhelmed. Any advice?
A. So many think the little ones are the only ones affected by the remarriage of their parents. Your situation is living proof that adult children have just as many problems when their parents remarry as do young children.
We have found that a parent with adult children might not take the same care a parent with younger children takes when integrating a new companion into the family. They often figure “the kids are adults, they get it.” And, then they go about their business.
Unfortunately, this practice often backfires and can actually sabotage any relationship the adult child has with a parent’s new partner. The adult child thinks, “I had a great relationship with dad before mom died—it must be this new person that is keeping us apart” when it’s not, it’s just a desire to start over and thinking that the kids are older and understand a desire for a life of his or her own, the parent does not do the necessary relationship groundwork before remarrying.
It’s not uncommon for the surviving parent to feel the adult child’s distrust, but not understand the feeling for what it is. They begin to feel a little guilty for starting over and as a result, pull away even further. It becomes a cycle of misunderstandings at a time when everyone needs each other the most.
After a relative or friend passes, we look to those left behind to supply a degree of normalcy or balance to our lives. We feel forever changed by the passing; but we expect them to stay the same while we get our bearings. But, the loss has changed them, too, and they are also looking for their balance. Some move on to other relationships—this supplies the balance they need.
When a parent decides to get involved with someone new, it’s easy for a child to become resentful, fearing that their living parent is trying to forget the parent that is deceased. Plus, children rarely see their parents as someone’s husband or wife. Even when he was married to your mother it’s likely you thought of dad as YOUR dad, not your mother’s husband. Now that he is married to someone other than your mother, it’s more apparent that he’s not just your dad, but someone’s lover and as you allude to, you may have to get to know him again. Communication on both your parts is the key. It sounds as if both of you have to tell each other how you really feel.
All of this, the death of your mother, the grief associated with it, your dad’s remarriage, the huge changes all round, is not in your control and would make anyone feel overwhelmed. And, now, to top it all off, there may be kids in your dad’s life that are just your age–and he spends more time with them and not with you!
Try not to take that personally. It’s not uncommon for mothers to spend more time with their adult children’s families than father’s do. Her kids go to see their mom and as a result, develop a relationship with your dad.
Plus, if you ask most kids, even kids whose parents are not divorced, they will admit that they regard Mom’s house as “home.” Your mom has passed on and there’s another woman there.
It may feel like it’s her house now and that can be very disconcerting for a child of any age trying to cope with the death of his or her mother and her father’s remarriage. Bottom line, when you go see your dad, it doesn’t even feel like home any more, and all the players have changed.
Because Dad and his new wife are older, you may automatically think they know how to handle all this and that their behavior is calculated. From experience, we here at Bonus Families can tell you it may not be. They may be at a complete loss in how to combine families.
This means, if you want a relationship with your dad, you may have to try to move past those hurt feelings and introduce Dad, his new wife, and her family to the new you, not wait for their lead. Obviously, by their actions, they need your help.
And, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the reaction you want the first time. Everyone in your family has been hurt by your mom’s loss, everyone is grieving, everyone is trying to pick up the pieces and start over.
Here are some things that may help you cope as you learn to see another side of dad:
- After a loved one passes, learn to accept that life will never be exactly the same, but it can be just as good. Striving “for the way it used to be,” will just frustrate you, promote depression, and extend your grieving period.
- Learn to see your parent’s new companion as a friend who makes your living parent happy—not a replacement for your deceased mom or dad. They are not, they probably don’t want to be, and putting them in that role is unfair to both them and the memory of your deceased parent.
- Respect your parent for their wish to keep living a full life.
- Allow time to heal your heart.
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. She is the author of six books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, Ex-Etiquette for Weddings, Ex-Etiquette for Holidays, and My Parents are Divorced, Too: A Book for Kids by Kids, published by the American Psychological Association, now in it’s second printing. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.
Sickness X is a serious illness, to be sure, yet it can be cured by following a prescription that includes taking medicine and changing some specific habits. We trust our physician to know what he’s doing, so we get the prescription filled, begin taking the medicine, and follow the doctor’s orders so we’ll get better. Some medications are short term, some are long term, and others are for life. Some medicines have a bitter taste; others have no taste. Many have side effects; others do not.
But if the medicine will cure us, we gladly suffer the bitterness, the side effects, and even endure the long road to recovery. We know that treatment is better than leaving the disease in its present state.
Consider the “Six Steps to SANITY,” outlined below, as our medication to help cure our illness of enabling. One dose won’t do it; we’ll need to stay on this prescription for quite some time until we return to full health. Just as our adult children may slip back and forth into their dependency on us, so, too, we may slip back and forth into our habit of coming to their rescue. Therefore, we must pray for the strength to remain firm in our resolve to make changes. Backsliding at this point is very dangerous, as we will lose not only our credibility but any momentum we may have gained as a result of the changes we are making. It is vital to continue on this prescribed course of “medication” for the duration of the treatment—no matter how difficult it may be.
I must caution you, however, that there is a possibility of a long-term side effect in following this course of treatment. In time we will begin to regain our SANITY, and we will begin to feel a sense of self-respect and peace despite any crisis.
Exactly What Is SANITY?
SANITY is what we gain when we stop focusing on our adult children and begin to focus on changing our own attitudes and behaviors.
How do we get SANITY? By recognizing and identifying the false conceptions we believe about ourselves and our adult children and replacing worldly lies with spiritually empowering truths.
In what situations will SANITY work? We can implement the six steps to SANITY to help an adult child grow up wh
- Has never left our home
- Has returned home (with or without mate/children)
- Considers our home a revolving door
- Lives on his own (or with others/roommates)
- Is a full- or part-time college student
I trust you’ve begun to realize the part you’ve played in this ongoing drama of enabling, as well as the enemy’s tactics in using these negative feelings against you. I pray you have realized the futility of harboring the negative feelings of guilt, frustration, anger, fear, and inadequacy—and that you are ready to develop new strengths to begin living a life of freedom from bondage. It’s time for healing—emotionally, spiritually, financially, and psychologically. So let’s look at the six steps to SANITY so you can begin to implement them into your life at last.
Six Steps to SANITY
S = Stop our own negative behaviors (especially stop the flow of money!). One of the critical first things we must immediately stop is the flow of money to our adult child. We must stop being the First Bank of Mom and Dad or the Community Bank of Grandpa and Grandma.
A = Assemble a support group. Stop by our SANITY support group website (visit http://www.settingboundaries.com/ and follow the links) and consider getting involved. Remember, there is strength in numbers!
N = Nip excuses in the bud. You must no longer accept excuses. Period. Make it evident early on that you have no intention of being swayed by clichés or con games or lame excuses.
I = Implement rules and boundaries. These rules and boundaries must be well thought-out and non-negotiable, with firm but reasonable consequences and timeframes. And they must be written down and included in your action plan.
T = Trust your instincts. Nowhere does the need to trust our instincts hold truer than when we suspect our adult children are on drugs, have alcohol problems, or are involved in illegal activity. Intuition is a powerful tool. However, that still small voice will eventually stop talking altogether if we continue to ignore it.
Y = Yield everything to God (let go and let God). For some parents perhaps religious faith hasn’t been much of an issue as you brought up your child. But that’s one thing about being a parent in pain—you realize the help you need is going to have to come from some source other than self.
As we begin to follow the six steps to SANITY, we often discover that one of the benefits could be that our adult child may actually become the person we’ve been pretending they were or dreaming they could be all along. Now, wouldn’t that make all the tough-love pain worthwhile?
It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey of enabling an adult child. What matters is that you can stop the insanity right now—today—this very minute. You can gain SANITY, and in doing so, begin an amazing adventure of self-discovery.
I have walked in your shoes, and I have discovered the secret of SANITY, that no matter what happens, I am never alone. God is in control.
The parents who tell their adult children once they have a job, “Congratulations, you are officially off the payroll! Good luck!” are probably in the minority. The majority of today’s parents seem to struggle with letting their kids experience the ups and downs of self-sufficiency.
Are parents too quick to come to the rescue? Are we too accessible today?
Allison Bottke’s challenges with her own adult son led her to write Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children. After years of being her son’s failsafe, she realized she was not helping him.
“I looked at what was happening around me and came to the conclusion this really isn’t about my son, it’s about me,” says Bottke. “Instead of focusing on what I thought he needed to do, I really needed to focus on changes I needed to make. The steps I came up with led to the acronym – SANITY, which I had a lot more of when I implemented the steps.”
Here’s what SANITY means:
- Stop: We need to change how we respond to our kids. Don’t try to change them. Stop the money flow. End our own negative behavior. “For so long we were in the midst of drama, chaos and crisis,” Bottke says. “I had to stop letting my son push my buttons and I needed to stop accepting the consequences for his behavior.”
- Assemble supportive people: Find other people who are experiencing this or who have adult children and have already been down this road. Enlist their support. It is powerful to know you are not the only one.
- Nip excuses in the bud: It is easy to let excuses coax you into doing things you would not typically do.
- Implement rules and boundaries: Make a plan, implement it and stick to it. Meet with your young adult and share the plan. Explain to them that, as of this date, you are no longer going to support them financially. Clearly, if you have been participating in this behavior for a while, giving them a timeline with specific dates to work off of is helpful and is an excellent teaching tool.
- Trust your instincts: If your gut or your intuition is telling you something isn’t right or you shouldn’t be doing this – trust your gut. “For me this meant getting in touch with my own life and fixing the messy person in my life – me,” Bottke says.
- Yield everything: There is a plan for your child’s life and you do not control it. Swooping in and trying to fix it hinders their ability to learn and grow. Love them and support them, but don’t enable them.
According to Bottke, this is easier said than done.
Although it did take time, Bottke says that letting go was very freeing and the right thing to do. Her son has had to face some difficult circumstances, and she is the first to admit it is sometimes hard to sit on the sidelines. But since she has gotten out of the way her son is doing better. Their relationship has improved and she feels better about who she is as a person – and as a parent.
This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 28, 2016.