Brad’s fiancé, Rebecca is 40 and he is 46. Brad is divorced without kids and Rebecca has a fourteen-year-old son from a prior marriage. When they moved into Brad’s home, Rebecca’s son became difficult. He has rejected all prior suitors, not because he wants his parents to get back together, but to be the man of the house and to control mom. He even got upset when Rebecca asked him to give her away at the wedding, since he thought he was losing her. He doesn’t want her to see Brad and that is not going to happen. What can Brad and Rebecca do to assure him that he is important, he isn’t going to lose his mom and that Rebecca makes the decisions concerning her life, not him?

Under the best circumstances, divorce and remarriage with children can be challenging. When teens are involved, the issues are more complex.

Teens want a say in decisions that affect their lives — and a divorce and remarriage greatly affects them! When change occurs quickly or teens think they don’t have a say, they may feel resentful and resistant. Children who have a parent that have gone through divorce and remarriage are experiencing several confusing and upsetting changes at once.

When you have children and divorce occurs, there are several things to keep in mind when a parent starts to date or considers remarriage:

Children’s rejections of prior suitors may not be an effort to control as much as to protect their parents, since things have not worked out with others in the past. Suitors are the “new kid on the block” to children of divorce, so they may be testing a suitor’s love and commitment before showing acceptance.

They may be upset about giving their parent away at the wedding because they feel ambivalent about the marriage. They also get mixed messages about whether they are an adult or child.

If the child is a boy, he may have consider himself  the “man of the house,” and felt important, made adult decisions and negotiated rules and routines with his mom. He had an adult role. Then he was demoted to “child” when a suitor arrived. Now he is being asked to play an adult role as the “father of the bride.” He needs consistent clear boundaries and help accepting and adjusting to these changes.

Moving into the suitor’s home may have be too much change too soon. In general, parents need to reduce the number and intensity of major life changes imposed on children simultaneously. Research shows cohabitation outside marriage is stressful for children. Parents should only consider it when they are committed to a long-term relationship/marriage and involve their children in the decision. Even then, it’s most helpful for children to remain in their own familiar home.

With all these changes, children of divorce clearly have their own issues and needs to work through. Don’t demand they accept suitors or remarriage. Your number one goal is to establish trust — through action, not words. Children of divorce need to see that suitors love and are protective of their parent, and that they don’t see children as a threat to eliminate.

Since step parenting requires co-parenting children with whom step-parents have no history or bond, here is a short guide to being a step parent:

  • Ease yourself into the family. Many times children don’t think they need another father — especially if they think the new parent will be a controller. ·  Avoid imposing new rules. Instead, openly discuss rules and get agreements.
  • Involve children in decisions that affect them. Listen and consider children’s feelings, needs and opinions. Seek solutions that meet everyone’s needs.
  • If children act revengeful, they are feeling hurt. Resolve their hurt and suggest appropriate outlets for their anger.
  • For now, let their mother/father handle disciplinary issues. Be supportive, non-punitive, reasonable and respectful. Use problem solving to focus on the lesson. Ask, “What happened? What did you learn? What will you do next time? How can you make amends?”

Children of divorce need reassurance that their parents will always love them even if their parent has a new spouse.

Long-term research shows it takes at least two years for a stepfamily to adjust to changes and create their own unique family. If conflicts continue and you are committed to working things out, I recommend you seek family counseling.  Make sure they have experience with children and divorce as well as step family issues.

To learn more about effective communication and problem solving strategies for families, take the 30-Days to Parenting Success Course. You will be less frustrated, respond more calmly and feel more confident in any parenting situation.

The best part is the 30-Day Course is free!  So what are you waiting for?  Sign up now!

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Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. Currently, she hosts the Parents Tool Talk radio show and is a parenting expert columnist for Chic Mom magazine. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, http://www.parentstoolshop.org/ 

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