The fact is that the biological parent’s gain -- a new romantic partner – is often experienced by his or her children as yet another in a series of family calamities. Remember that the stepchildren involved in remarriage situations have undergone early losses and often stressful transitions, such as a move out of the family home and to a strange school.
Also, the initial loss of the intact family – most likely due to divorce – has been experienced as a volcanic upheaval, inevitably bringing deep grief and fears of abandonment in its wake.
Moreover the stepchildren are often struggling with loyalty issues: the guilty feeling that harboring liking – or even outright loving – feelings for the “replacement parent” is a betrayal of the “real,” biological parent (in reality, or in memory if that parent is dead).
What to do? It is helpful to limit the number of new rules and changes at the outset of the new marriage. What changes you do make should be minimal and focused on maintaining civility. For example, a stepchild should be required to look at the stepparent and say Hello when entering a room rather than greeting the biological parent and pretending that this new person (the spouse) is not present.
For children who are struggling with loyalty issues, it’s important to let them know that their “real” parent will always occupy a secure place in their heart. If they are wondering if it is a betrayal if they start to love their stepparent, it is important to help them understand that she or he will occupy a different place in their heart. The important message is that the biological parent and the stepparent can exist in different places in a heart that is large enough to house both of them..
This brings to mind Abbie Jamison’s 10-year old son, who detested his gentle, tender-hearted stepfather Owen. Rob resented the fact that his mother’s marriage had involved a cascade of changes: a move from across the country to Connecticut which meant being torn away from his close circle of friends, cousins and his beloved grandparents who resided in California. In this case it took time – three whole years – for this situation to become resolved in an unexpectedly happy ending.
“By educating yourself about this vital issue and addressing the problem, you are halfway to solving it. ….