The divorce has been final for a long time and you finally found someone you want to be with. Now you feel like you are ready to take the next step and get married – again. As exciting as this may be in many ways, if you have children there are many potential issues you need to be prepared to face.
Even if you have worked hard with your kids to get them through the divorce and comfortable with your new love, getting re-married can create a lot of complicated feelings and situations. No matter how clear it has been that you and your ex are not getting back together, remarrying is the final sign that it will never actually happen. That can be a dose of reality that is difficult for children to handle.
So what do you need to know about re-marrying and its effects on your kids?
• Expect your children to feel confused about their own feelings. The prospect of having a stepparent can cause children to feel unsure about where their affections should be placed. Many kids will feel like they are being disloyal to a parent if they feel, or show any affection, to the stepparent. This is true even if the kids seemed to get along with, and approve of, your new love before. These problems can be made worse if the parent and the new spouse have a difficult relationship. Children naturally want to protect their parents and if the ex and the new spouse have problems the children are likely to side with the ex which can make parenting in the new relationship more difficult. Since you have already had to work out how to co-parent with him/her, try enlisting your ex’s help to make this transition a smooth one.
• Children feel like they are being replaced. Even if you have been dating for a while, getting married is a clear and permanent step (in their minds anyway). It is not uncommon for kids to feel like their place in your life is being taken over by the new spouse. They may try to assert their place in your life by refusing to listen to direction or discipline from the new spouse. Some may show blatant disrespect by declaring things like, “you are not my mom/dad, you can’t tell me what to do.” This can be made even more complicated if there are stepsiblings involved. All of the sudden you are not just their parent, you are expected to be someone else’s too. Children will often push back against this, not wanting to share your attention, affection and time.
• Children don’t articulate their feelings well. For that matter, most adults don’t either. Your children are not likely to sit down and tell you how they are feeling. Instead they will be far more likely to act out in ways that demand attention. Behavior at school may change, they may become angry and destructive, or defiant and disrespectful. These are all signs that they are wrestling with uncomfortable feelings they don’t know how to handle.
So what should you do?
Start by talking to them — before you declare your intention to get married. Being honest along the way about your feelings for the new person in your life will help them prepare in smaller increments for the changes ahead.
Once you have decided that marriage is the next step, talk to your kids about the possibility of things becoming more permanent. This will give them time to ask questions, think about the changes, and also feel like they have some say in what is about to happen — even if it is limited.
Try as well to see if you can get buy-in from your ex. This could be difficult if the divorce was ugly and you have a strained relationship. You both, however, share a common concern – the health and well-being of your kids. Appealing to your joint desire to maintain a safe and happy life for your children is a place to good start.
No matter how well you try to prepare, remarrying can be tough on your kids. While getting married the first time was a big change for you and your new spouse, getting married again is now a big change for them too. As you start what should be a happy new chapter in your life, do your best to keep their feelings in mind.
Photo: Getty Images