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Second-half Stepfamilies

 

Ron L. Deal

 

            Most people are very surprised to learn that adult stepfamilies, that is, those that are formed in the second-half of life and include adult stepchildren, have just as many transitions as stepfamilies with younger children.  Some of the transitional issues are different, but many are the same. 

            Lorain, a reader of my monthly E-Magazine for stepfamilies, wrote asking how she might strengthen her relationship with her 19, 24, and 26 year-old stepchildren.  “I was 49 when I married for the first time; my husband was 55.  His first wife died a couple years before we met.  My husband kept his children up to date about our relationship and things were pretty civil until we married.  His oldest daughter cried loudly through the entire wedding ceremony.  A few months later one of the children asked how my husband’s will was structured implying that I shouldn’t get anything.  From there things have continued to go downhill at a rapid pace.” 

            Lorain’s experience is not uncommon, nor is her idealistic assumption that a marriage with adult children who no longer live in the home will not be impacted by the dynamics of loss and loyalty.  Thankfully, adult children and stepparents do not have the same power battles that younger stepfamilies experience because the stepparent is not trying to get the children to pick up their socks or choose better friends.  But adult stepchildren and older stepparents still have many emotional issues to work through, feel threatened by each other, and struggle with how the new marriage will impact familiar family relationships.  Finding peace takes effort on both sides.

The New Couple

            When Daniel’s 35 year-old son told him that he “just wanted him to be happy” the widower assumed his son was giving him permission to remarry.  He wasn’t.  What the son meant was, “I would hope that mom’s memory will keep you happy enough.”  Daniel assumed he had his son’s blessing and got married.  His son’s withdraw from contact alerted him to the problem at hand. 

            As an older parent and stepparent you must realize that adult stepchildren—despite their age—frequently feel:

  • fearful of being abandoned or isolated from their only remaining parent.  Unfortunately, they have already tasted grief in a very real way; your marriage may renew or intensify this sadness. 
  • loyal to their original family.  Maintaining a strong family identity is important for adult children.  Accepting a stepparent means the established family ties and special family holidays and celebrations must stretch to make room for newcomers.  This isn't easy and frankly it hurts.  Please don't take this personally—it’s not really about you.  It's about home no longer feeling like home. 
  • disloyal toward the divorced or deceased parent and guilty about letting the stepparent in. 
  • jealous and replaced by their parent’s new partner.  They may have been the "apple of their parent's eye" but now the stepparent holds the key to the parent’s heart (and time and energy). 
  • concerned about the family finances.  Money issues are common and must be addressed.  Adult stepchildren have a right to know how their family inheritance is going to be managed (this is not “greed”) and you should be proactive in addressing these matters with the children so their fears can be put to rest.
  • resentful that their children, the grandchildren, may not receive as much time and energy from their parent as anticipated.  Especially when one parent has died adult children may invest heavily in wanting their children to spend time with the grandparent.  Your marriage threatens this and creates another loss for everyone. 

            As a new couple you must apply patience and understanding to these strong emotions.  Do not be offended by them.  When confronted with difficult responses from adult children, assume a humble position and listen to their fears and concerns.  Accept them where they are and try to be responsive to their needs for information (especially about financial matters), emotional contact, and time as they adjust to yet another family transition they didn’t seek out. 

Adult Stepchildren

            It is very important that you begin by acknowledging your own strong emotions about your parent’s remarriage.  The feelings mentioned above are very common; if you don’t take ownership and responsibility of them, they may lead you into withdrawal, criticism, or hurtful behavior. 

            Without question, a parent’s remarriage ripples through the generations of your family.  It may take a great deal of time for you to open your heart to a stepparent and their extended family.  Don’t feel compelled to feel love for them, but strive to act in loving ways.  Resist the urge to withdraw in anger or judgment.  And finally, be sure to acknowledge that your parent has legitimate needs and desires that include pursuing a dating or marriage partner.  Doing so does not diminish the important of your other parent, your family history, or their relationship with you. 

New Beginnings

            I strongly encourage both adult stepchildren and the new couple to educate themselves about stepfamily living.  There is a labyrinth of emotion and practical transitions to work through and it takes understanding and effort by both generations.  But it can be done.  That’s the beautiful thing about love—there’s always room for one more!

 

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Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of blended family ministries for FamilyLife®, a popular conference speaker on marriage and family matters, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s and books for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily and Dating and the Single Parent. Learn more at www.smartstepfamilies.com. This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine, Jan 2009. Used with permission. 

 

 

 
Comments ( 47 )
 
Add your Comment
 
#47: by Ron Deal on 05.26.2017 @ 03:12pm CDT

Joann--

You're not being "over sensitive", but it's not yours to make happen. Obviously, if it's not their need to include your kids then it's not going to happen. If your children want more involvement, they should initiate that or ask to be included sometimes. However, the other kids should be free to not include them sometimes, also.

Let them figure this out for themselves.
#46: by Joann on 05.26.2017 @ 01:00pm CDT

Ron,
I am married for 3 years, 2nd marriage for both of us - we both had long bad marriages previously. We love and respect each other a great deal. we have 6 kids between us, 2 are grown and 4 still in the home all young teenagers. All the children at home have a fairly good bond (some more than others) and we (My husband & I) have a good relationship with all of the kids - my concern is the adult children often visit, communicate with and invite their siblings (not my kids) to do things - go to dinner, take a day trip, come visit etc. They never even consider inviting my children. During holiday gatherings they all interact and everything feels like we are a big happy blended family. I understand they have a greater bond with their siblings and I don't expect them to always include my children, but to be invited occasionally would certainly help build a bond between them. I guess I am the only one that wants to see that bond as it seems to be something that neither my husband or my step children notice. My children notice, they do feel left out on many of these occasions - however they never say anything about it to the kids or my husband. They have shared it with me. Is there a way I can help build a bond between my adult step children and my children or am I being overly sensitive?
#45: by Ron Deal on 05.12.2017 @ 12:11pm CDT

Nancy--

I'll be candid. This is a red flag. A big one. Thankfully, you aren't ignoring it (good for you...most people do). Of course, no one can tell you what to do, but you shouldn't blindly move forward without seeing some significant changes on his part. What would that look like? It could be him starting to set boundaries with his kids that demonstrate his commitment to you. My guess is you'll know it when you see it.

May I suggest you take advantage of other resources like:

Book: Dating and the Single Parent - will help you see the importance of this issue in light of the future http://shop.familylife.com/p-2487-dating-and-the-single-parent-paperback.aspx

Books: The Smart Stepmom and The Smart Stepdad both have entire chapters on the subject; they are primarily written for the later-life couple, but do present a perspective on what the adult child/stepchild is experiencing when their parent marries.

Book: The Smart Stepfamily (Revised & Expanded Edition) has content for adult stepfamilies sprinkled throughout.

Book: When Your Parent Remarries Late in Life: Making Peace with Your Adult Stepfamily – this book is written to the adult stepchild, but is equally helpful to the later-life couple. They can learn what adult stepchildren think of their marriage and how they can work to create connections.

Article: Adult Stepfamilies http://smartstepfamilies.com/view/adult-stepfamilies-bridging-connection

Radio - FamilyLife Today series on the subject (3-days): http://familylifetoday.com/series/when-the-bottom-drops-out/

Radio - FamilyLife Today series on the subject (2-days): http://familylifetoday.com/guest/bob-and-vicki-maday/

Radio - FamilyLife Today series on the subject (3-days): http://familylifetoday.com/series/the-realities-of-remarriage-2/

Radio feature: Trying to be supportive http://familylifeblended.com/program/adult-child-trying-to-be-supportive/

Radio feature: My mom is dating again http://familylifeblended.com/program/adult-child-my-mom-is-dating-again/

Radio feature: Gain for Adults, Loss for Kids http://familylifeblended.com/program/gain-for-adults-loss-for-kids/

Radio feature: Finding Understanding http://familylifeblended.com/program/adult-stepchildren-finding-understanding/

Radio feature: An Easy Transition? http://familylifeblended.com/program/adult-stepfamilies-an-easy-transition/
#44: by Nancy on 05.12.2017 @ 11:13am CDT

My boyfriend of 7yrs and I are both over 55, with 6 kids between us (ages 30-20). We do not live together, but have talked about marriage almost the entire time we've been together; we wanted to wait until all kids were grown (mine are the youngest, and now out of the house). He is a widower of 12yrs, I have been divorced for 12yrs. The closer we get to marriage, the closer I see him holding on to his kids. They are both college graduates, mid-20's, working, living at home (expense-free, and responsibility-free). They are great kids, but he is clearly enabling them and holding on. And, I don't think his daughter wants to "share" her dad. There is almost a co-dependent bond between them. My relationship with his daughter used to be great, now it feels like it has become distant, almost like she sees me as a threat. As great as my BF and I are together (and we agree on money, values, common interests, intimacy, politics, religiion, etc, etc,), we don't agree on parenting. What I've told my kids about possible remarriage is that I would always wait until they were grown. They seemed to appreciate that, and said they wanted me to be happy. He wants me to sell my house and move into his family home of 30yrs (and even accept his painted growth chart of his kids on the kitchen wall). I could accept moving into his house, the growth chart of his kids, not-so-much. I'm starting to get cold feet, as much as I love him, and think we could be very happy growing old together. He seems to really want to please me, but only to the extent that his actions don't do anything out of his kids' comfort zone. It feels like he is forever going to be more concerned about his kids feelings than mine. I am afraid this might be a huge red flag. We have done some couples counseling over this. But, I am still worried that he won't ever see US as a partnership, but rather continuing to see his kids and him as a team, with me (and my kids) an apendage of that team. We live only 20 minutes apart, but our kids have rarely been together. They are all very different, and he likes to keep the family stuff separate (again, catering to his kids' comfort zones...) What to do????
#43: by Ron Deal on 05.03.2017 @ 02:50pm CDT

Evelyn--

I think it's okay for your husband to arrange for money to be passed on to his children. If he leaves it all to you after he dies and you remarry, all of his money could end up in another man's lap, not with his kids. He is wise to guarantee the money will go to them--and care for you and your children. Also, don't get caught up in "primary" or "secondary" language. That doesn't add up to worth or how much he values you. The question should be, is he taking care of you (making provision for you and all the kids). Sounds like he is :)
#42: by Evelyn on 04.25.2017 @ 02:04pm CDT

Hi Ron!
My husband and I have been married for 10 years. We each have two children from our previous marriages. His two are now grown and out of the house (in less-than-ideal moral situations, which we do not agree with). Mine are younger and still living full-time with us. (I am 20 years his junior.)
His life insurance policy states that it is to be divided into thirds between me and his two grown children. I have been advised from a Christian financial expert that life insurance is to take care of your primary household, not adult children. I brought this up to him, and he said that he didn't care. I understand that he wants to leave some kind of inheritance to his children, so am I being unreasonable to think that their inheritance should come once we are BOTH gone? I've been a stepmom to these girls since they were 14 and 11. Also, he wants to set up an additional small policy through his current job that lists me as primary beneficiary, and my children as secondaries. How is it that my children can be secondary beneficiaries and not his? I don't work outside the home (I homeschool my children and keep house), so financially, I cannot really do anything about it to set aside money to save for my future should I pre-decease him.
#41: by Traci on 03.14.2017 @ 10:22am CDT

Thank you for your timely response Ron. I just read the ghost whisper article and can relate. I will do as you recommend over the next few weeks and next few gatherings together. I will believe he is deeply committed to me even when he is investing in his kids. Expect to hear an update from me in the next few months. I really appreciate your balanced feedback and for directing me on what I can do.
#40: by Ron Deal on 03.14.2017 @ 08:28am CDT

Traci-

From your post it's difficult to know if his connection with them is out of balance. He loves his kids; there's certainly nothing wrong with him maintaining an emotional connection. For example, if he doesn't seem them much, when they come over it's understandable that he focuses his time and attention on them (and not necessarily your kids or even you). Again, balance is important, but some moments of "focus" are appropriate, too.

Ask yourself what your fears are. You see fearful you "lose him" to them. In my experience, usually this has two sides: 1) he has earned some of this fear; and 2) you impose more than is called for because your past has taught you not to trust. It's that part that you have to manage or you'll see more reason to feel threatened and, therefore, to be jealous. Again, I'm not blaming, just pointing out the parts worth looking at. (This article may help: http://www.smartstepfamilies.com/view/ghost-whispers)

Here's something to try: assume, even when he's investing energy in his kids, that he is deeply committed to you. That one does not cancel out the other. Make that assumption and live accordingly for a couple weeks. Notice what happens both within you and between the two of you. If things get worse, you're right, there's reason to be concerned. If they feel better, maybe the issue was just the shadow of a ghost and nothing based in reality.
#39: by Traci on 03.13.2017 @ 02:07pm CDT

I've been married almost two years this June. When entering into a second marriage, I wanted to make sure all the kids felt like both my husband and I would consider us all one family. I did my best in making sure I didn't put my children above his and wanted the same in return. We have six kids between us and the ages are 33 down to 19. His two younger daughters are still living at home with his ex. One is 21 and the other 19. My husband and I knew each other years ago from our youth group. When we began to date, it didn't take long to get engaged and married. Now it seems I am sensing a lot of grief on my husband side. It feels like he really needs and desires more time with his kids than most. As a new wife, I've been overwhelmed with trying to gain my security in this marriage as it feels like he is more focused on his children and making sure they don't feel neglected or rejected and at times, at the expense of what feels like me and my needs. Most of the time this subject has been so sensitive we can't seem to talk about it without coming out on the other side more guarded and hurt. One of the things I tried to do in the first year was to have a family dinner once a month with all the kids. But soon, I began to feel like I lose my husband during those times and that he only sees his kids and not everyone else in the room. Some of his behavior just seems over the top to me and emotionally I don't understand what it is he needs from them or if it is even healthy. When we first married, I had to tell him over and over again how much it hurt me to have him need to text his daughters goodnight after we ourselves had just been intimate. There are so many more examples of his attachments that I just don't understand and am begging to resent. Any advice? We are in counseling but I don't feel like we know which way to go within this.
#38: by Ron Deal on 02.16.2017 @ 02:56pm CST

Mesha--

Boundaries regarding your adult children living with you and helping them financially is one discussion, pushing a child out because they are a result of rape is another. That should not matter. She is your child. Period. No matter what the back-story, these are your kids. So, talk with your husband about boundaries, finances, and helping them get launched into the world. That objective should guide your decisions.
#37: by Ron Deal on 02.16.2017 @ 02:47pm CST

Steve--

I appreciate your resolve to care for your wife and marriage. That's a good thing, but be careful with this idea. Getting a little "space" might be helpful, but only if 1) your wife is 100% in favor of it; if she's not you just made life more difficult for her; and 2) stay balanced: "space" is one thing, but "cut-off" is detrimental to you and the family. Consider this whole objective very cautiously; if you aren't in agreement about it, don't do it.

May the Lord restore your wife's health.
#36: by Mesha on 01.30.2017 @ 01:19pm CST

My husband and I married 4yrs after my divorce. I have 4 children 19-23, he has none and never wanted children. Our only fighting is about my children. They have all at some point out a financial and emotional burden on my marriage over the last year and ahalf. Most live on their own but my eldest has recently come home from the Marine Corp. What had an assranged relationship be for she left and have been working on having an adult relationship for the last year. However her moving home has caused such a financial and emotional strain I just don't know what to do. She is a baby conceived through a rape. I have worked hard over the last 5yrs to work through the emotional part of my rape until she came home and I fell on my face. I know he doesn't blame her for my pain but I fear he sees her as part of my pain and it makes him not want her here. I am so lost.
#35: by Steve on 01.23.2017 @ 01:32pm CST

Ron,
My wife and I have been married a little over a year. This my second marriage and her third. We both have adult children - she has two and I have three. My wife has been very ill with multiple health issues almost from the start of our relationship. We are dealing with several high stress situations which are not helping her heal. My kids (19, 21, 25) have not processed my divorce and seem stuck emotionally. One of her kids is dealing with her own issues toward her mom remarrying. It would be difficult enough to deal with even one of these issues, but it seems we are getting slammed from multiple directions all at the same time. I'm getting burned out trying to manage all of this concurrently. It is becoming a wedge between us. I refuse to let external circumstances nor adult children to come between my dear wife and I. We have come too far and overcome so much to let illness and our kid's issues come between us. Would it be appropriate to tell our kids that we cannot work with them on their issues until my wife is healthy enough to withstand the physical and emotional strain? What would be some healthy boundaries to establish and enforce? Thanks for your help, Ron!
#34: by Ron Deal on 12.27.2016 @ 03:13pm CST

Kim--

What would you do if it were your own kids having drug problems?

(I'm not trying to minimize your concerns, just offering a little perspective.)

Likely, you'd work diligently with your husband to set boundaries (no matter who they blamed), love them back toward righteousness, and let them have the consequences of their behavior so they'd learn some hard, but necessary lessons. Plus, you'd protect your other children from harm.

There's no easy answer here. But that will get you pointed in the right direction.
#33: by Kim on 12.27.2016 @ 11:41am CST

I was divorced for 6 years before marrying my current husband of a year and a half. His first wife of 28 years died almost 2 years before we married. We married quickly, within 6 months of meeting. We are 10 years apart in age. I have 2 teenagers that are doing very well. He has 3 adult children ages 20, 22 and 27. From the outside and to everyone that knew their family before, they were the perfect family, the kids were "beautiful" and "amazing kids" and an "amazing family". I kind of took people's word for it. Their family has been involved in the church and the kids all went to Christian colleges. Well, since being married I have found out that all 3 kids are involved in illegal drugs, the oldest has been arrested twice (one DWI and the other for public lewdness), both daughters are involved with men who have been arrested for theft and drugs and domestic abuse. The oldest daughter has been married and was divorced in 7 months. We have been in marital counseling and their dad is having to confront them and set boundaries with them. This has never occurred before so they think every boundary and confrontation is coming directly from me. They hate me. This is all a concern for me and for my children as well as my husband. Once you start dealing with illegal activity I feel that the people involved have no respect for anyone or anything around them. I am actually concerned for the safety of all of us and the sanity for the next 40 years. What do I do in this situation?
#32: by Ron Deal on 12.01.2016 @ 10:38am CST

Jim--

There is so much to discern within your story, I'm not exactly sure what's going on here. Is there a back-story between her and your kids (e.g., is this just another in a series of offenses)? Was this just a inadvertent misunderstanding that went haywire? Or, is she just easily offended?

If there's a big history of mutual hurt, they've got a lot of healing to do and you can make it happen--they have to be motivated to figure this out.

If it's a misunderstanding, she (and maybe they) should apologize and then work off the principle of "let the children set the pace". See more here: http://smartstepfamilies.com/view/attachment-difference; and here http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/single-blended-family-parenting/blended-families/smart-stepparenting

Now here's my warning: If she is easily offended, and commonly reacts with emotional cut-off responses like you indicated, you are in for a long and difficult marriage. Again, if this is typical every little instance will turn into major drama as this one has. This type of jealousy will divide first your stepfamily's ability to merge ("blend"), and second, your marriage as the stress ripples between you (as it already has). Don't be blind to this. This is a yellow flashing light; slow down and look around before proceeding. The yellow light might turn red. (Read more about the jealousy monster here and in my book The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: http://smartstepfamilies.com/view/overcoming-the-jealousy-monster)

By the way, I'm being direct with you on purpose. I've spent too many years watching couples in similar circumstances ignore the flashing light only to find themselves miserable in marriage and/or divided from their children who avoid the conflict by stepping away. It's easy to ignore this because you're in love and engaged. All I'm saying is make sure a decision to marry this person isn't a decision to lose connection with your kids.
#31: by Jim on 11.30.2016 @ 05:19pm CST

Hi Ron, I'm engaged to a woman that became offended that my 30 yo. son, his wife, and 28 yo. daughter didn't answer her text until next day when she asked them when they were planning to visit the following weekend for my birthday. They were out at a family event when she texted them near their homes about 120 miles away.
The next morning, after feeling slighted, she texted them that she's no longer going to be involved in my birthday celebration and they could plan it themselves, which they did.
I, alone met my kids and grand kids the day after my birthday and had fun. She became irate after seeing the pictures of us having fun without her. She sent text messages to them saying she was hurt, setting off a back and forth exchange that included her telling my kids they were causing us to split up and my kids telling her that they don't know how to walk on egg-shells around her because she's easily offended. Now, they want a time out from dealing with her for a few months.
My fiance is livid at me for not standing up for her, but honestly, I think she overstepped her bounds by openly expressing her offended feelings to them. They have always been nice to her but say they don't want to deal with her drama. She wants me to force them to apologize, completely oblivious to her part in instigating this whole issue. Now, anytime I communicate with my kids, she becomes irate that I am nice to them when "they hurt her". Are there some ground rules you can give a step-parent who has an axe to grind with adult step-kids who live on their own? Right now, I feel like I am being put in the middle between the woman I love and my adult kids, whom I am very close to.
Thank you Ron!
#30: by Ron Deal on 11.21.2016 @ 11:18am CST

Beth--

No one knows. Things might get better with time, yet that's a big gamble. In my experience things only get worse if you push your agenda on them and get married without any softening of their hearts occurring first. Given their ages, they have options, and that can cost you.

Keep your relationship with them alive and functioning. You are the gateway to them ever (in 10 years??) being open to him. Don't make accepting him a condition to you staying in connection with them. In other words, you might have to stay connected to them without him involved. That's not where you want to end up, but it's the first step.

Finally, if you get married now (as opposed to later when they have softened), have both eyes open to the possible loss with your kids. There's too much at stake.

May I suggest you read my book Dating and the Single Parent right away.

Ron
#29: by Beth on 11.21.2016 @ 09:13am CST

My children (17-23) refuse to acknowledge my fiancé. Insist that he not join us on vacations and barely speak to him - only in response to him trying. Will this ever get better or am I really going to just have two separate lives or no relationship with my kids.
#28: by Ron Deal on 11.07.2016 @ 02:25pm CST

Roxy--

Here's the bottom-line: no, you aren't responsible for making your stepdaughter open to you (don't make it harder for her, though). And, yes, trying is frustrating when you've hit a brick wall over and over. So, try neither to "retreat" or "pursue"; just be still. That is, be right there in case she ever turns around, she can find you.

How long did the father of the prodigal son wait for him to turn around and come back? (Answer: As long as it took.)

May God be with you.
#27: by Roxy68 on 11.06.2016 @ 07:11pm CST

Good article. I get what you are saying and feel it is good advice. So I tried for 16 years to develop a relationship with my step daughter it never went anywhere aside from being taken advantage of and lied to. I never pushed the relationship as I read several books and my husband was not a good blender. I got tired of being lied to and taken advantage of so I disengaged. I pretty much quite talking and she did not make an effort to talk to me. I felt at least that way she would be able to work on her relationship with her father, which has never been good. My husband recently said I need to get over my grudge. It seems I am always the bad guy and she is not held accountable for actions and I am just supposed to swallow everything and start a relationship with her. Further due to her history of lying, her words or any sorry's mean very little. How do I just move on, there is no trust. I explained to my husband it is not a grudge it is a fear of trying and ending up with the same results. I feel she put very little effort into relationship which is fine, but then why am I expected to put effort into one. Any suggestions are appreciated. This has been a struggle for 18 years.
#26: by Ron Deal on 10.24.2016 @ 12:29pm CDT

Maria, you may have already tried, but it's time you let your husband know the level of your distress over these issues. It's clear that you are very frustrated and feeling hopeless about things as they are. Emphasize to him that you are searching for a way to strengthen your marriage, but need his help. Don't turn this into "us vs. you" or that may widen the gap between him and your kids. It's not either him or them, you're searching for the both/and answer, but he has to join you in looking for solutions. So, bring this to him, ask him to go to a counselor with you for the purpose of uniting your marriage and family.

Praying for you.
#25: by Maria on 10.23.2016 @ 09:12am CDT

I have been remarried for 4 years now. Things seemed to be going okay between my new husband and my grown children, son, 31 and daughter, 28. But lately, things are getting stressful. My husband has made derogatory comments to my daughter when I'm not home, which I just found out about yesterday. My husband's behavior is changing also. He used to be more involved and willing to share life with us. My kids welcomed the input of another male. This has been changing over the last year or so. My husband does things that are selfish and inconsiderate, such as eating the entire meal that was made not leaving any for anyone else, spending a full hour in the bathroom everyday when there is only 1 bathroom in the house and 5 people living in it, even looking through everyone's mail. I have mentioned these things to him and he just laughs it off or diminishes it as if it is no big deal. But it IS a big deal. It's causing a lot of stress in the household since he won't acknowledge that there is a problem. And, no, we can't just move into our own place. I have a financial responsibility to the household since I pay half the bills with my income.
And that brings up another sore subject..finances. My husband pays a large sum of money in alimony to his ex-wife and also a large sum in child support for his 26 year old son. He has been advised by his accountant to go back to court since he shouldn't still pay child support for a 26 year old, and that since the house is paid off, he could have his alimony reduced, but he makes excuses. I am in a job that I hate right now, and had the opportunity to take a job I would love but it's only part time. I wouldn't make enough to help with the household bills and my husband has little income left after the checks go to his ex-wife. My kids also resent that I have to stay at this dead-end job and am miserable because my husband cannot contribute to the household expenses. I was in tears yesterday . I don't want to lose my husband but I don't want to be forced to choose between my kids or my husband. Do I step in and try to work it all out, step back and let them all work it out? I hate feeling like a monkey in the middle, each side complaining to me and venting their feelings!
#24: by Lynn on 07.18.2016 @ 10:11am CDT

I've been married for 11 years and still have difficulty with both of my stepchildren. It's a very complex issue. There are lots of expectations and lots of feelings and a great deal of hurt. Adults go into new marriages expecting the children to behave perfectly. How can we demand this when their parents didn't follow the rules and stay together? That's how they think. Couple that with a former spouse who threatens their very being if they have a relationship with their ex, never mind their new step-mom, and you have chaos and emotional blackmail. If you don't think that divorce is painful for children and remarriage of a spouse is even more painful then you need to wake up.

I often ask myself if I am seeking their approval. I certainly don't need it nor is it healthy to do that. These children come from disrupted dysfunctional homes and they bare the wounds of that offense. The best thing to do is try to create new habits with them especially if they are adults themselves. That might mean a family outing that happens every year. A get together before or after a holiday, especially if they choose to spend it the way they always had in the past. Perhaps plan a summer activity. Just slowly create new traditions over time that include their terms and input within reason. Lead them.

Whatever you do don't let that intimidate you. You do not need approval but you do need to be loving and kind and generous and patient. Just try to have fun. Eventually those wounds will heal and barriers will break down. We tend to think that it's difficult for the children, when we stay in a struggling relationship, but this is the clear proof that it is even more difficult when a parent divorces their spouse and remarries. Hindsight is always been 20 20 for me.

Be patient and be loving. Remember that love isn't just a feeling, it's the nature of service and sacrifice. This is the true love commitment it isn't about feelings that often wax and wane. Accept them for who they are, focus on what's right, and if you're faithful at all pray pray pray.
#23: by Lisa on 04.01.2016 @ 02:17pm CDT

My husband and I have been married 5.5 years. My Stepsons are ages 31 and 24. I have no children of my own. My husband divorced the mother of his children in 1997, remarried another woman in 2000 and divorce a few years later. He was single for nearly 10 years before we met. As the years pass both of his sons thank my husband for things that I do for them ie; paid luncheons, dinner, birthday's, etc. Their father tells them to thank me (right in front of me). They say nothing to me and usually leave shortly after. I feel sad and disrespected. Granted they aren't my children but I have never done anything to them to be so rude to me. I would appreciate any advice you could give me on this matter.
#22: by tina on 03.18.2016 @ 01:34pm CDT

My mom has just announced she is getting remarried after only 3 1/2 months of dating. My mom is 67. He (Dan) is 70. We are very concerned they are moving too fast. My dad commited suicide in 2010. They had a very intense marriage throughout but the last few years were awful. My dad was bipolar with a narcissistic personality disorder. Dan's wife just died 8 months ago after battling cancer. Dan is very attentive to her and supportive. He is everything my dad was not. I am concerned that she is more in love with the idea of love rather than love itself. My brother and I are concerned and hurt that she is not listening to our concerns.
While I live in the same town and knew Dan (and his wife and kids) growing up, I still do not know him in a comfortable way and then there is also the fact that it just seems weird for him and mom to be together because I knew him and Jeannie and the kids and the grandkids. We all went to church together until the last few years.
My 13 y.o. daughter was in 3rd grade when dad died. She is trying her best to hold on to his memories. He was an awesome granddaddy. He took them to school every day but didn’t stop at that – he walked them in every day hand in hand. He was at every soccer game, play, every cheer event, etc. She is having a hard time with accepting Mom getting married again. In her little fairytale mind, you only have one true love and by mom remarrying it means that everything she had with her granddaddy was not real and a lie. My brother and his boys live out of town. He and his wife and one of his sons have only met Dan once. His other son (her grandson) has not even met him once. 4/5 of the grandkids are struggling with their grandmommy marrying someone they do not know.
Dan’s kids and grandkids are having a hard time with it also being too soon. They have not even had time to grieve properly and have all birthdays and annual events without their mom/grandma or the 1 year anniversary of her death. I am afraid my mom is setting herself up for major resentments.
On top of all that, she is planning on selling her house and moving into his house that he raised his family in with their mom who died and acts like it’s no big deal and expects us to just pop on over and walk in the door, grab a coke out of the fridge, and yell “hey mom, I’m here” as we do now. Everyone is telling her this is a bad idea but she won’t listen. She hears only what she wants to hear and if it is not "oh, I am so happy" then we are unsupportive. Can you give any advice? Thanks
#21: by susan on 01.31.2016 @ 08:06pm CST

My fiancé’s 24-year-old daughter is still really uncomfortable around me, so much so that she still barely makes eye contact with me. This has been going on for 3 years now; her dad and I have been engaged for almost a year. After much urging from her father, I wrote his daughter a really nice, kind, heartfelt letter inviting her to meet with me so that we could try to begin to establish a good rapport. This was one of many overtures of friendship that I have made towards her during the last 3 years, all of which have been rejected. But I once again "offered the olive branch" even though she has been unfriendly, unkind, unwelcoming, and sometimes downright rude to me for 3 years. This was at Christmas when she was up staying with her dad (we aren't yet married and so don't live together). She got my letter but refused to meet with me the week that she was up here for Christmas. Instead she postponed it "to give herself space from the issues" (there had been a recent conflict with her and her father with an outcome that she did not like because her father did not give into her about something and she blamed me for it). So she postponed our meeting for 2 months until the next time she will be up. We texted back and forth a few times about it at the time, and I told her that both her dad and I really wanted her and me to meet while she was up this time so that we could start working on making things more comfortable between her and me and that postponing it after all that had gone on for so long would not be helpful to the situation. But she wanted "her needs to be respected" and refused to meet with me at that time (regardless of her dad’s or my needs). To me this feels like yet another snub (among so many others). She has been telegraphing loud and clear for 3 years that she does not want her dad to have a relationship and that she doesn't want to have anything to do with me. She has not wanted me to be around at all when she is up here, nor has she has expressed any interest in getting to know me or my adult kids (my adult kids are very supportive of my fiancé’s and my relationship and are kind and welcoming to him and have been from the beginning—well, after the initial getting-to-know-you awkward period of about 3 months). My fiancé’s daughter postponing our meeting feels like a clear message to me that she doesn't want to change this negative dynamic to a positive one. To me it feels that if she had truly wanted to work on establishing a good rapport with me and healing the uncomfortableness that is always present when we are around each other that she would have met with me at Christmas time rather than insisting on postponing it for two months. To me, that felt like yet another rejection and I feel very hurt (again!). After her postponing this meeting, I feel like just accepting that "it is what it is" with her and there is no changing it any time soon—if ever. And I am fine with that as long as I don't have to be around her much. Three years seems like a really long time for this to still be going on, especially since I have always been kind and welcoming towards her. I just don't think she wants to "share" her dad or accept me in his life. I am totally fine with his spending as much time with her as he wants, I just don’t want to have to be part of it much. Advice?
#20: by judi on 11.25.2015 @ 06:04pm CST

I have been married to my husband for 7 years. My first husband and I divorced after 38 years of marriage. My now husband's wife died after 25 years of marriage. I have a daughter and son in their late 30's. My husband has a daughter in her early 30's. My children took to my new husband (their step-dad) very quickly, while my step-daughter is still stand offish. At first, she criticized and stayed away completely, but now she is at least cordial. I have never tried to become buddy buddy with her and really don't have an expectation that she will ever be my close friend. I think if those of us in this type of situation try to understand the step-child's pain and the psychological undercurrents we can let go of our expectations of them to love us. Yes, it has hurt...but I keep reminding myself, I am the adult in this situation. It has been awkward trying to talk to her and feeling comfortable...even after 10 years knowing her and now 7 years being married to her dad.
#19: by Katie on 09.24.2015 @ 04:28pm CDT

Ron,
I've been a huge fan of yours, even recommend your books to friends. But I've never seen my specific situation addressed here. I've discovered there are more people like me, so would you please give some counsel on this situation:
Second marriages for both of us, he was a widower and I was divorced. All of our children were adults. His children were angry (their mom had died), but eventually became civil with me. Three years after the wedding, my husband passed away from cancer, leaving his children as orphans. I always knew I wasn't a replacement for their mom, but I love them and their children. What I have a difficult time with (even now, after three years of loss) is the fact that they've stopped all contact with me. No response to emails, texts or phone calls. Two have moved, I have no address. It's just painful, for I love them very much. I've lectured myself, I realize that they see me as a painful reminder that their mother is NOT around. Still...I struggle to accept or understand their treatment. What counsel do you have (I'll be watching, I've met two other widows in the same situation)?
#18: by Ron Deal on 08.04.2015 @ 07:29am CDT

Lisa--

The Smart Stepdad has a chapter on adult stepfamilies (stepchild) relationships and the 2014 edition of The Smart Stepfamily has many sections throughout the book addressing adult stepfamilies. Either might be helpful.

It's hard for anyone to guess what is holding your husband back from engaging your daughter. Perhaps he feels guilty moving toward her when his own daughter is distant? Perhaps he resents her loyalty to her dad when he has tried to provide for her? (It seems in both cases he has been sidelined to a degree by both daughters that he has sought to love.) Unless he explains we'll never know. But he won't explain if you don't remain nonjudgmental and open to hearing what is bothering him. In grace, be long-suffering with his rigid exterior. I can pretty much guarantee you he's very soft on the inside.

Ron
#17: by Lisa on 07.31.2015 @ 01:46pm CDT

Ron -
Both my husband of 4 months and I each have a daughter. His is 23 and mine is 21. He's been divorced 5 years and my ex-husband died when our daugher was 9. My daughter and my husband clicked early on and have many things in common, while his daughter refuses to spend time with us and when she does, she keeps to herself. My husband and my daughter used to be very close and would post silly pictures, but now he is cordial at best to her. I see her trying often, but seeing him uninterested, leaves her and I feeling confused and uncomfortable. I've tried talking to him, but he'll say things like he thinks it's warped that my daugher will post a tribute to her dad even though he had abandoned her to live with another family. Rather than waste a visit by our daughters, we've decided to spend alone time with them. My daughter lives far, so this means me spending 1-3 days away from my husband. And whenever I bring up her name, he acts annoyed. Is there a book(s) that you can suggest we read?
#16: by Ron Deal on 07.29.2015 @ 05:04pm CDT

Jackie--

I wish I could sum up chapter 9 of my book Dating and the Single Parent...but alas that wouldn't do your question justice. I suggest you get the book for this and many other tips on managing your engagement well.
#15: by Jackie Daugherty on 07.29.2015 @ 02:58pm CDT

I have 2 children, ages 30 and 26. Their father and I divorced 4 years ago. I am planning to marry a man I have been seeing for 2 years. My children know I have been dating him and have met him. My son, age 26, has already told me that he feels that if he accepts the new man in my life, he is being disloyal to his father. My question is: what is the best way to tell my children that I am getting married again?
#14: by Ron Deal on 07.14.2015 @ 04:24pm CDT

Allie--

There is another way of looking at this. First of all, generally speaking any time reconciliation with a child has begun it is a good thing. Just seeing dad may be the best first step; it's not where you want to end up, for sure, but it's a start. From the son's point of view, being with dad makes sense. Learning to embrace you as well may need to come later. Honestly, I've worked with a lot of adult children who want to reconcile with their parent but aren't open if the stepparent pushes there way in. Help your husband take this step and once he and his son have connected and strengthened their relationship, then he can introduce you into the picture. Let your stepson bite off what he can chew for now.
#13: by Allie on 07.14.2015 @ 06:41am CDT

My husband and I have been married for 15 years. For this period of time, he and his son have been estranged because he did not support his father being with me. He is now thirty one years old and has recently contacted his my husband to reunited. Needless to say, he was thrilled. They arranged to go out to dinner to talk. As a result of the dinner, he wants to continue to mend his relationship with my husband and wants him to meet his kids. I am a bit hurt by the fact that my husband is entertaining doing all of this alone. For so many years he has said that if this reunion occurs he will not entertain the thought of doing things without me. I do not feel he is show ing his son that we are united as a couple. I also have two grown children and they have had to accept our relationship, through many ups and downs, without needing time. Why is he so different? I feel like this is the beginning to the end of our marriage.
#12: by Ron Deal on 01.08.2015 @ 04:47pm CST

No, Bill, it's not likely that you can "split the baby". But I sure hope your wife changes her mind. Punishing your daughter for her sin is not the way to discourage the other kids from doing the same.

Dear God, help them get married and make it right before the Lord, don't linger in the past.
#11: by Bill on 12.18.2014 @ 03:45pm CST

My wife and I have been remarried for 7 years. She brought 3 kids into our family and I brought 3 kids as well. My kids were grown and out of the house. We decided to give each kid a set amount of money for their weddings. So far we have had one of her kids and one of my kids marry with this arrangement without conflict. One of my daughters decided to live with their boyfriend and have recently announced they want to get married. Both my wife and I agree that living together before marriage is a sin. My wife does not want to contribute one dime or either give a lesser amount for my daughter's wedding. Although I do not agree to my daughter's decision, I want to give her the same gift that the other kids have or will receive. My wife will not tolerate giving my daughter an equal amount as the other kids who so far have not decided to live together.

If I follow my wife, I know I will estrange my daughter plus my other two kids and my larger family. I also know I will resent my wife and regret this decision for the rest of my life.

If I don't follow my wife, it will drive a huge wall between her and myself and potentially cause severe damage to my marriage.

My gut tells me to tell my wife that I will handle this matter with my daughter myself plus pay myself the same share for my daughter's wedding as the other kids without her help.

How can I find a Solomon decision? Is it possible to split the baby?
#10: by Ron Deal on 10.27.2014 @ 09:11am CDT

Tiffany--

I'm not being judgmental when I say that cohabitation by nature is ambiguous and confusing. Over the last decade a great deal of research is confirming this -- and it confirms that cohabitation inherently fosters a lower level of commitment in men (but not women). That's another reason you're confused; you're thinking the two of you a committed and he is enjoying what I like to call "independent togetherness". You must read this article: http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/marriage/getting-married/choosing-a-spouse/hiding-naked-when-sex-replaces-commitment#.VE5RESLF98E and I would strongly recommend you read my book Dating and the Single Parent as it explores not only the implications of all of this on you, but on your children.

In short, I must encourage you, to do two things: 1) choose clarity and definition to your "dating" relationship even if that means breaking up; 2) The best chance you have of being married successfully someday starts by not living together now.

Ron
#9: by Tiffanny on 10.21.2014 @ 09:14am CDT

I have three children of my own and three "step-children". The relationship I'm in is very confusing as my partner does not want to remarry. While I can accept that (but not like it) it makes figuring out the details very very difficult. I was living with him with after he expressed many times that this is what he wanted. Shortly after moving in and living as common law, I had a "nervous breakdown" due to a combination of medicine I was taking for health problems. The side effects of the medicine caused my concerns to be largely exacerbated and I was hospitalized. On my return home he felt it would be best if we didn't live together anymore but continue our relationship. He now has his two adult children and granddaughter living with him and is having great difficulty with them following ANY of the rules. He remains an active disciplinary part of my children's lives. I'm having a lot of trouble defining this new relationship and setting boundaries. I have no say in his children's lives, I don't view us as common law or even a serious couple as we only see each other one maybe two evenings a week. He feels nothing has changed. Huh?? Please help. Thank you
#8: by Ron Deal on 04.01.2014 @ 01:26pm CDT

Lisa--

I hear this fairly often. It's very frustrating with the bio parent won't follow through with negotiated boundaries. You really are powerless with your stepson without your husband stepping up. On the other hand, your power may be in listening to your husband's fears and helping him decide what to do about them. He may, for example, be afraid that if he asks his son to pay rent he will leave. That could paralyze him quickly. Whatever the fear, giving voice to it and then wondering how long he will be held captive by it, is a good start to finding some fatherly resolve.

This is important: pray for your husband to admit his fears and find his resolve, don't nag or criticize him thinking that will help him act differently. It won't. It will only make him withdraw from you.

Maybe you can read the chapter from The Smart Stepmom on adult children to him and discuss it together.
#7: by Lisa on 04.01.2014 @ 09:04am CDT

My husband and I have been married 4 years. His 21 year old son was part of the package. Before we got married my husband and I discussed the conditions of his son living with us. He was to work full time, and pay rent, and work at becoming inde. He is now 25 and still lives at home working only part time. He does not pay the rent, he does not help around the house. Not only does he not help but he has destroyed his room in our basement by shooting bb guns at the walls and throwing his throwing knives and has threatened to hang me. I have asked my husband to deal with this situation by enforcing our rules. His son has not paid rent more than half of the time he has lived with us; but the bigger worry is that he continues to be destructive. My husband feels I am to harsh and expect to much...please help!
#6: by Ron Deal on 01.24.2014 @ 08:35am CST

Dalila--

This is a very difficult situation. There is no clear black or white answer. What is clear is that you and your husband must talk through this at length and really try to hear one another. Ask, "What is your need in this situation? Then share yours.

You'll have to talk through the best response for his daughter (given her maturity, options, resources, etc.). Sometimes we have to sacrifice a great deal for our kids and allow them to inconvenience us (again!), but other times letting them own responsibility for their choices and lives means we don't rescue them from the pinch of life. Having said all this, if you really believe she is a physical threat to you and/or your children, she should not move in. Without sincere repentance on her part (and forgiveness for what she did in the past on your part) I would not encourage you to put anyone in harms way.

May you have the wisdom of Solomon on this one.

Ron
#5: by Dalila Mata on 01.22.2014 @ 02:43pm CST

I have been married 11 years and my husband has 2 older kids. 23 and 20. I have a 17 year old. And we together have an 8 and 5 year old. Recently we got into a heated argument. His daughter wants to move in with us. I would not mind. Only that she has physically come at me when I was pregnant of my now 5 year old. I am afraid of her actions because she told me she did not hit me only because I was pregnant. She has never kept a job. She only calls her father when she needs money or needs her bills payed. She has never once called to see how he is doing or just stop by to visit. He in return has been upset at me because I said no to her living at our home. I fear for my life and my childrens lives. She is at the phase of just partying. She has a son whom she leaves with her mom or the father. I cannot have that at my home. Even if she says she will follow rules. She will only manipulate my husband into getting her way and bend the rules for her. I never will have a say. What can i do?
#4: by Ron Deal on 12.23.2013 @ 08:02am CST

Regina,
I am so sorry you and your children are having to face this. Christmas is just around the corner, but this must be a very painful season for you instead of one filled with joy and hope. Your husband's decision to abandon his covenant is distasteful in God's eyes. Despite his self-justifying attitude, the consequences for his kids will be many...for years. And, if you're not armed well, will place you in a "prison" of resentment and bitterness. There is one "key" to let yourself out. Forgiveness. Believe me, I don't say this lightly or with the expectation that forgiveness will be easy. It won't. But it's the power you have to not let his self-absorbed decisions rule your life (and your parenting). I pray the Lord will give you the courage to find it.
#3: by regina on 12.20.2013 @ 10:10am CST

My husband divorced me after 31 years of marriage. He would not even consider reconciliation. It was an unscriptural divorce. 3 days after the divorce was final, he married his coworker, who he had moved into his apartment just a few months after he had left our home. He had even bought her an engagement ring (on our joint credit card!) and promised to "honor her by marrying her as soon as possible". This is her 3rd marriage. She has 3 adult children and my husband and I have 2 adult children. I still love my husband even though he has ripped my heart out. He is a seminary graduate (but has never had a ministry)So he knows what God's word says about divorce and adultery, but he is also a narcissist who has always put himself first. I pray for him daily that God will bring him to repentance and he will turn from this adulterous relationship. This has torn up my family. My husband expects everyone to be happy for him and enjoy family times and holidays with him and his new "wife". But he is an unrepentant adulterer who wants God to bless his sinful lifestyle. He has lost his integrity and his witness as a Christian. He tells people that "God put them together" (her divorce was final a month after he moved out of our home) His children see him for the manipulator he is, but other more worldly members in the family have been sucked into his lies and feel the need to befriend him and his new "wife" despite their blatant sin. They have even bought a house less than a mile from our (my) home! How are we supposed to deal with this? I want him to honor his original marriage covenant and restore our family.
#2: by Ron Deal on 12.09.2013 @ 11:52am CST

Alisa--

I'm not sure you can convince your daughter of that. She'll have to see the changes in him herself. If he can change and sustain it over time, her heart will soften. A new experience of a changed person is the best thing to reduce fear.

Ron
#1: by Alisa Amaden on 12.04.2013 @ 11:12am CST

My daughter is 16, I remarried two yrs ago. During the two years my daughter and I have been verbally abused, he is not living with us anymore. I don't want to divorse, I want him to get help, but my daughter does not want him to show his face again. If he gets help how do I make my daughter understand that people can change if they want to.

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