- When divorced parents are dating, repartnering, or remarrying, it can be another difficult life transition for their adult children.
- Blended family issues can cause unexpected problems for divorced parents and their adult children.
- Listening to understand what your adult children are experiencing and feeling is crucial.
This post is the sixth in a series about how parents of gray divorce can help their adult children.
Remarriage is not a neutral event for children. —Claire Cartwright
Stephen said a colleague who knew I helped families experiencing gray divorce—divorce that occurs among couples 50 years and older—referred him to me. Stephen said it was a year after his "gray divorce," and he was going to marry his new love. His adult daughter, Maria, was not accepting this news and was furious with him. I shared the below with Stephen:
When you re-partner or remarry, it is another life transition for your adult children, their children, if they have children, and extended family members.
Many divorced parents remarry, and some form long-standing partnerships without marrying. Recent research indicates that about 22 percent of women and 37 percent of men re-partnered within ten years after a gray divorce, and cohabitation occurred more often than remarriage. Perhaps your new partner has grandchildren. Understand that there can be “blended family” issues in these situations.
What is a Blended Family?
A blended family is one where at least one parent has children that are not genetically related to the other spouse or partner. It often takes a long time for the new significant other to integrate into the relationship with your adult children. Be patient.
Patricia Papernow writes that “blended family” is a misnomer because “becoming a stepfamily is not like blending raspberries and blueberries to make a smoothie. It is much more like creating a family out of a group of Japanese and a group of Italians, some of whom are not interested in sharing." Papernow says this metaphor can help step-couples to shift their energies from straining to blend to getting to know each other, and it helps normalize the constant ups and downs that occur in early stepfamily life.
What Can Parents Do?
Avoid insisting that your adult child accept your new significant other and that your new partner be involved in all activities with your adult child.
Many adult children report that their parents never talk about their previous family lives together. Adult children and their children often feel replaced by the children and grandchildren of a significant other. Perhaps your “new family” spends more time with you than your “first” family. It can be painful for adult children if your significant other is living in the family home with you. It is as though you have replaced their other parent and erased their family.
- Discuss your adult children's concerns with them and let them know that you genuinely hear their concerns.
- Avoid telling them how they should feel or what they should do. Assuming that everyone will be one big happy family is a mistake. Your adult child may not be as happy as you are about your new life. Assure your adult child that you want to spend one-on-one time with her, and you be the one to reach out to her to schedule the one-on-one time.
- Reminisce about fond memories, so she knows you value the family you had together and that you have not erased her entire family history with you and her other parent.
- If she is married, schedule time for just the three of you to be together. If she has children, schedule time for only her family and you to spend time together. You will always be the parent. Attempt to understand what she is experiencing and feeling.
- If your new love is unwilling for you to spend time without her being present, seek professional help for understanding and guidance about the “blended family” issues.
Resist telling your adult child how happy your new partner's children are for you and how accepting they are of you and your new relationship. Such comparisons will only alienate your adult child. She will likely feel that you do not understand what she is feeling.
Stephen told me that when he told his daughter that his new partner's children were very supportive of their relationship, she screamed at him with rage he had never experienced from her, “Of course they are! You've abandoned Mom and me for your girlfriend and them. I bet they're glad to have the father I lost.
"You don’t get it at all. You've left me in this misery. Go have your happy life with all of them. I hate what you've done to our family and me.”
Stephen said he would use what I told him. I reminded him to be patient and that change rarely happens as quickly as we want.
Of course, not all adult children are hurt and angry when their parents divorce and find new love. In the upcoming article in this series, I will share what these adult children and their parents may experience.
ⓒ Carol R. Hughes, Ph.D., LMFT, 2022
Adapted from Home Will Never Be the Same Again: A Guide for Adult Children of Gray Divorce.
Brown, S.L. and Lin, I.F. "Repartnering Following Gray Divorce: The Role of Resources and Constraints for Women and Men." doi:10.1007/s13524-018-0752-x
Papernow, P. "Recoupling in Mid-Life and Beyond: From Love at last to Not So Fast." doi:10.1111/famp.12315.