How are kids impacted by remarriage?
Children entering into stepfamilies often experience an overwhelming amount of change: new family roles, new routines, new relationships and different expectations about behavior. Parent coaching can help parents understand and address these challenges, making it easier for children to adjust to their new living situation.
Gains for the remarried couple are often losses for the children involved.
After a divorce, children may be grieving the loss of family as they knew it. And once mom or dad have a new love interest, they may grieve the loss of their parent's time and attention. Most remarried couples come to the reasonable but errant conclusion that their children just need more time with the new step-parent so bonding can occur.
Research tells us that kids need the opposite: Biological parent-child relationships are very vulnerable during the first phase of remarriage, and therefore children need quality one-one-one time with their parent to strengthen that bond. Once the child feels their parent's love for them is secure, they may be more open to a relationship with a step-parent.
Kids entering into a new stepfamily are entering into a new family culture. New sights, new smells, and of course, new expectations (that are often unspoken) all affect children. What may have been acceptable behavior when a child lived with just mom or dad might no longer be tolerated within the new family system. (Think half of the new family roughhousing with dad as they normally would, while the other half tries to enjoy nightly "quiet reading time.")
Kids need time and patience to adjust to the new family culture. I help families adjust expectations, take everyone's needs into account and make meaningful compromise so kids adjust more easily to their new reality.
Loyalty Binds are Normal (and Unavoidable).
Kids with step-parents usually end up thinking something like this, "If I care for my step-mother/father, I have betrayed my mother/father." While parental conflict tightens this loyalty bind intensely, even kids whose parents get along well after divorce still report struggling with this challenge.
Kids usually are not able to express loyalty binds with language, so it's important that parents and step-parents operate under the assumption that they exist, especially if your stepchild rejects your invitations to spend time together. I support families by helping them loosen these loyalty binds with some carefully crafted conversations designed to give children permission to like (or even love) their step-parent.
Step-siblings change things dramatically for kids. Birth order may change, and "only" children now find themselves having to share their parent with other children. For some children the addition of step siblings is a wonderful thing; they gain a caring big sister or a little brother they can mentor (and boss around!). For others it may be a harder transition...they may not be interested in forming new relationships and/or struggle to get along with their new siblings. Parent coaching and family therapy can help parents support their children as they adjust to new sibling relationships.
Back and Forth
In most situations children of divorce transition from living in one place to living in two, going back and forth based whatever schedule their parents have agreed upon. How a child adjusts can depends on their temperament. Kids who are more prone to anxiety or have a difficult time processing change may need more patience and support as they learn to navigate two households.
Children that are more part-time in one household may feel like outsiders to the family rhythm when they arrive, especially if they are coming to a house where there are step-siblings living full time. And vise versa, children who are full-time in a family system are expected to share parental time and space with "half-time" step siblings they did not choose and may not care for. Parent coaching or family therapy can help address these challenges so children can make transitions from house to house with more ease.