Embracing the challenges and joy of welcoming someone new into the family.
Wondering how to adapt and welcome your parent’s new spouse? Having a parent remarry when you’re a grown adult can bring up lots of emotions. How do you support their decision and welcome a new person into the fold? How do you keep your relationship strong now that their attention is focused on their spouse? We talked with two industry experts that can help navigate this new, uncharted family terrain in the healthiest ways possible.
Not everyone reacts to the news of a parent remarrying the same way. Some will be over the moon, while others may feel saddened with a sense of loss. There is no right way to feel. Caylen Sunderman, M.S, LMFT, in Kansas City, says, “Grief, anger, hurt, fear, longing (for the past), guilt (perhaps for disliking the new spouse), apprehension and anxiety would be the normal negative emotions for this type of transition. One might also experience joy, hope, optimism, freedom (that the parent is now cared for, possibly) or relief to name some of the positive emotions. All of these emotions would be considered normal.”
Naomi A. Lahiri, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Chicago, says, “Relationships between parents and children change over time, due to life changes and aging. Finding ways to enhance each family member’s adaptability is key.”
The last thing you should do when things get complicated is to withdraw from the relationship completely. Communication will be necessary for navigating topics such as who is responsible for care, managing finances and matters that you might have been responsible for but could be changing now. Embarking on these conversations in a candid manner with your parent (and maybe including their new spouse) can help everyone feel most comfortable.
Lahiri says, “I think family/relationship therapy can be extremely helpful to facilitate these types of conversations. This conversation, whether in or outside of therapy, can help the adult child voice their fears and forge new ways to continue their relationship with their parent.”
Find A Groove
If you’re worried about your bond with your parent weakening because of their new marriage, there are ways to deal. “‘Coping’ may come in the form of maintaining some routine activity or bonding time between the parent and child, the adult child maintaining one care-taking task, and having clear boundaries about what information is and isn’t shared regarding the parent’s new life and marriage,” says Lahiri.
Look for ways to spend either one-on-one time with your parent or to include his/her new spouse. Family roasts, weekend coffee dates, traveling to doctor visits together or even scheduling a monthly movie night might work. Including the new spouse in your family traditions will be an important way to make him or her feel like part of the family and for you to embrace the relationship and get to know the person your parent has chosen as a partner.
Like they say, “The only thing constant in life is change.” Families separate, break off, reattach, blend with others, birth new members — it’s a never-ending process. Sharing all feelings — not just the good or the bad — are what keeps us tethered together in a healthy way.”