By Krystle Russin, McClatchy/Tribune news
January 18, 2012
The biggest test when remarrying is how your fiancee will fit into your family. What happens when your children are unwilling to accept your new love?
It's not always about whether or not the child likes the new partner, says Emily Ryan Smith, a social worker in Mobile, Ala.
"Children will have different emotional responses to family change based on the child's age, developmental stage and the presence of other life changes," she says. "Children often feel anxiety due to the uncertainty of the future. They may ask themselves, 'Where will we live? Will I have to share my room? Where do I fit into this family?'"
A major problem with teens, says psychotherapist Marcia Polansky, a professor at Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia, is that even when the divorce is good for the parents, the kids like having both of them in the house, "even if the parents aren't getting along, even if they're quite unhappy together."
Polansky recommends that parents help maintain the bond between their children and ex-spouse because "children need access to both parents, especially if you're a teenager" she says.
Young children may regress to a period in their life when they felt safe — for example, use of baby talk or becoming very clingy to the parent. Others may act out aggressively as a way of expressing feelings of anger or fear, Smith says.
"Some children internalize their feelings and withdraw or exhibit depressive symptoms," she adds. "Teenagers may become more cynical toward the parent and stepparent."
A parent's new romantic relationship can spur other feelings as well: "Children may experience sadness as they lose hope that their parents will reunite," Smith says. "Jealousy of time and attention given to the new partner or step-sibling is not uncommon."
"No matter the age, all children need structure," Smith says. "Try to maintain the existing routine as much as possible. A healthy co-parenting relationship with your previous spouse can ease the transition for the children. Providing a safe and loving environment is crucial to adjustment."
Social worker Emily Ryan Smith offers these tips when children don't like your new significant other:
Discuss it with your ex-spouse. "If possible, co-parent with the biological parent in order to ease the transition."
Look to other family members for help. "Now is a good time for (the kids) to be in contact with supportive family members from both sides (paternal and maternal)."
Reassure them that they will continue to be loved and cannot be replaced.
Talk to your kids about their feelings. "Practice active listening skills so that you really hear your child. You do not have to agree with the child, but this time is for listening and understanding his feelings."
Spend time doing fun things with your children, without your new partner.
Encourage your kids to talk with friends at school whose parents are divorced, to provide them with a peer support group.
"If your child appears stuck in the grieving cycle and continues to have difficulty adjusting," Smith says, "seek advice from a professional therapist."