Terri P. Smith, author of “When Your Parent Remarries Late in Life” comes to Studio 5 to talk about what we need to know about this sometimes very difficult and delicate situation, especially for adult children.
Adopt a Positive Attitude
“A person cannot directly choose his circumstances, but he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances.” (James Allen, author of As a Man Thinketh)
Parents don’t usually seek their children’s approval when remarrying. Thus adult children often find themselves in an uncomfortable and undesirable circumstance. Offense occurs easily when decisions, big and small, are made such as finances or home décor, and relationships are soured. Offense and uncomfortable feelings can be minimized or avoided by choosing a positive attitude and deciding at the outset of the marriage that you will develop loving relationships. Seeing the marriage as a good thing and viewing your stepparent or stepchild as a kind person alters your behavior thereby shaping your circumstances. Your attitude affects how you treat your stepparent or stepchild and ultimately what you think of yourself. Most of us desire to have loving relationships with our family. Sometimes it is as simple as changing your attitude about the situation.
Be a Good Person
Loving, happy relationships are based on common courtesies. Respect, or the sincere concern for the welfare of your parent and stepparent, builds trust and friendship. Being inclusive by inviting your parent and stepparent or stepchildren to family events lets them know you want them to be part of your life. Withholding judgment avoids misunderstandings, disagreements, and faulty impressions. Finding reasons to compliment rather than criticize offers acceptance thereby nourishing friendship. Something as simple as a smile or a warm embrace communicates love. These kindnesses are the foundation of enduring friendships. Finding humor in situations eases tension. The first time 70-year-old Mary met her stepson he said, “Am I going to have a brother or sister?” Mary appreciated his humor which broke the ice in their relationship.
Take Action, Initiate Interaction
If we await our stepparent or stepchild to initiate a relationship, it may never happen. Taking action is the catalyst for change. Most people appreciate a friend calling just to say hello, a card remembering their birthday, or an invitation to do something. These are all great ways to welcome a stepparent or stepchild into your life and to build a friendship. In financial terms these gestures are relatively inexpensive yet they are worth their weight in gold in letting someone know you love them. They are more likely to reciprocate by inviting you to do something or remembering you on special occasions. What a great way to show acceptance! One woman who frequently does things with her stepmother said, “Even if Carla weren’t married to my dad, I would want to be her friend.” They have developed a cherished friendship because both take the initiative to do things for and with the other.
Change is rarely noticeable after a first attempt to do something whether it be losing weight, developing a talent, or nurturing a friendship. Yet persistent, consistent effort brings rewards. On many occasions individuals indicated that years passed before they felt comfortable with a stepparent or stepchild. One woman said it took ten years before her stepmother began trusting her and allowing her time alone with her dad. The change of heart that eventually occurs is well worth the effort regardless of how long it takes.
(Patience helps with role adjustments.) Patience is indeed a virtue in all relationships. When parents remarry, it is an adjustment for everyone. Adult children are trying to figure out how they fit into their parent’s life now that mom or dad has a new companion. Stepparents are trying to figure out their role in a well-established family. Parents are sometimes oblivious to problems or wonder why children are unhappy about their marriage. It takes time to figure out our new roles and to develop new relationships. This takes us back to the power of attitude. By focusing on our desire to develop loving relationships, we shape our circumstances one smile, one kindness, one invitation at a time. Carla knew her stepchildren were upset following their dad’s remarriage within a year of widowhood. She was understanding, loving, and respectful. Eventually her stepchildren began to recognize her love for their father and her kindnesses toward them. Now adult stepchildren love their stepmother. Carla was patient while that developed.
Finances often wreck havoc in stable families. Financial decisions can alienate parents and children in later life remarriages. Parents can minimize problems by legalizing their desires through wills, prenuptial agreements, or trusts. It is best to set up legal documents with a lawyer before the marriage. If the couple is already married, they can still consult with an attorney to get their documents in order. Adult children need to remember that their parent’s financial assets are their parent’s; therefore, they can do with them what they want. Problems are often avoided when parents try to be fair and communicate their decisions with their children.
For more information, go to www.terripsmith.com