Remarriage & Stepparenting

Basic Tasks for Surviving Divorce

During this process, divorced persons may encounter:
Reunion fantasies and Anniversary reactions.
These are culturally based - we are supposed to be sad during all this. Facilitation of griefwork with the help of others such as self-help groups in church or community. Don't forget friends.

Dealing with Depression, Anger and Guilt

Re-Evaluating One's Past Marriage:

In order for a successful remarriage to begin, the divorced person must come to grips with the issues surrounding the divorce. Write it all down. Keep a journal!

  1. Combating Loneliness = a feeling of unconnectedness with others.
  2. The Situationaly Lonely = being lonely was precipitated by an event - a death, a divorce, or other.
  3. The Chronically Lonely = lack social or interpersonal skills necessary to make others feel comfortable.
  4. Loners = those who are at home with themselves, comfortable with their own company.
  5. Loneliness Traps: -viewing loneliness as a weakness -clinging and hanging on -meaningless sexual episodes -love and marriage on the rebound
  6. Coping with reality demands - life goes on - walk it off! The nice thing about life is it continues with you or without you.
Re-evaluating Oneself in the Past Marriage:

Realistically taking stock of one's abilities and deficiencies. Here's a little counseling trick that illuminates personality development in general (it'll help with adjusting to divorce too!).

You learn how to Love Again - > By resolving old problems, one comes closer to being able to love - maybe for the first time. What were the consequence s of the breakup? Write it all down - Keep a Journal!

Remarriage - Factors in selecting a new mate

Successful Blended Family Living

The Divorce rate for 1st marriages is about 50% in the U.S., and about 60% for 2nd marriages. Further, remarriages have an average duration of about 10 years. One of the main reasons for this is that couples underestimate the complexities of living in a "blended" family situation.

About 20% of U.S. kids live in stepfamilies. Another 20% (roughly) shuttle between divorced bioparents, many of whom will re/marry. Around 2 of 3 stepfamily re/marriages eventually split up now, vs. about half of first unions. Most of these re/marriages followed a prior divorce for at least one partner.

Where 1st marriages have family trees, blended families have family forests.
For example, typical 3-generational stepfamilies have: from 3 to 6+ co-parents managing 2 to 3+ linked homes, co-raising 3 to 6+ minor children with 40 to 100+ extended kin.
Full stepfamilies have up to 30 roles (like "step-grandmothers" and "step-cousins"), compared to 15 roles in normal 3-generational biological families.

There are now few informed social norms to guide all these adults and kids in figuring out to conduct normal, daily life. They have to invent viable new family rules to go with the roles. While their goals are similar, the personal, family, and social environments for average stepparents often lead to transitional confusion, stress, mistrust, and strife in and between linked co-parenting homes, at the very least.

Typical minor stepkids have special developmental tasks to master that their peers in intact, 1st families don't have. There is typically little informed community help available to guide co-parents and others in helping stepkids with these vital emotional tasks.

Uninformed co-parents often expect their multihome stepfamily to act, feel, and be like a 1-home biological family. This expectation often comes from one or all co-parents wanting to avoid identifying themselves as a stepfamily, because of the negative associations ("evil stepmothers", etc.). Actually it was our children who began using the prefix "step" in front of brother, sister, dad and mom.

  1. -Stepfamily members have experienced important losses.
  2. -They have no shared family histories or shared ways of doing things.
  3. -They may have very different beliefs.
  4. -Children may have "loyalty conflicts" between the parents he or she lives with, and the "divorced" parent who lives somewhere else.
  5. -Newly remarried couples may not have enough time alone to adjust to their new relationship.
If these challenges are faced creatively, members of the "blended" family can help build strong bonds among themselves through: Redefining their losses as simply having new arrangements; Developing new skills in making decisions as a family; Fostering and strengthening new relationships between stepparent-to-stepchild and between stepsiblings; Supporting one another in maintaining original parent-child relationships.

While facing these issues may be difficult, stepfamilies should attend to an array of feelings of: Loneliness in dealing with the losses; Loyalty conflicts between two parents or two households; Exclusion and isolated by feelings of guilt and anger; Confusion about right and wrong; Awkwardness with any member of the original family or stepfamily.

Some very serious indications of a need for intervention: A child vents his or her anger upon a particular family member. A stepparent or parent openly favors one of the children. A child resents a stepparent or parent. Any member of the family gets no enjoyment from normally pleasurable activities such as learning, going to school, working, playing, or being with friends or family.

Stepfamily Child Discipline ("SCD")?

  1. A fundamental difference is that discipline with stepchildren involves "your child" or "my child" (or grandchild), rather than "OUR child". This inevitably breeds stressful loyalty conflicts;
  2. Normally, bioparents discipline their children without fear of being lastingly rejected by them.
  3. Remarrying adults choose each other, primarily - especially if the remarrying bioparent is non-custodial. Normally, the children's' opinions about bringing a new adult into their family aren't given equal weight ("unfairly", from their point of view). The reality is that a stepparent may not like their stepchild - or vice versa.
  4. Remarriage often requires an "instant" merger of CD rules from adults' prior families (including single-parent families), vs. the gradual evolution of rules in biofamilies. This can be particularly stressful if one of the adults has never parented before;
  5. The act of remarriage often causes significant changes in adults' and children's' expectations. For example: "Yesterday, I was your Mom's boyfriend, but today, I'm your stepfather. Now I have both the responsibility and right to discipline you - but I didn't, yesterday."
  6. If child visitations are involved, kids and adults may experience 3 conflicting sets of disciplinary rules: prior family, custodial family, and non-custcldial family or household. This gets even more complex, considering the added CD rules in grandparents', stepgrandparents', and step/relatives' homes;
  7. If relations between divorced parents remain hostile, arguments or behaviors may become a vehicle for them to continue their pre-divorce fighting.

Annotated References

Booth, A., & Edwards, J. (1992). Starting over: Why remarriages are more unstable, J. Family Issues, 13. 179-194. Remarriages are more likely to have attributes that affect the quality and stability of marriage, all of which were increased when both partners were in a remarriage. Remarriages were more likely to be less integrated with family and friends. Women were more likely than men to feel that they could comfortably leave a remarriage. Men in remarriages are more likely to have lower SES. Partners are more willing to leave a remarriage with less dissatisfaction than those in a first marriage.

Coleman, M., Ganong, L., Goodwin, C. (1994). the presentation of Step families in Marriage and Family Textbooks. Family Relations, 43, 289-297.

MacDonald, W. & DeMaris, A. (1995). Remarriage, stepchildren, and marital conflict: Challenges to the incomplete institutionalization hypothesis. JMF, 57, 387-398. The impact of stepchildren depends on the length of marriage. Couples with both step and biological children do not experience more conflict than those with only biological children.

Montgomery, M., Anderson, E., Hetherington, E., & Clingempeel, W. (1992). Patterns of courtship for remarriage: Implications for child adjustment and parent-child relationships, JMF, 54, 686-698. Children of cohabiting couples were more socially competent throughout the two year period following remarriage. The longer the amount of time spent in a single-parent household, the more difficult the relationship between stepfather and stepchildren.

Zeppa, A., & Norem, R. (1993) Stressors, manifestations of stress, and first-family/stepfamily group membership. J. Divorce & Remarriage, 19(3), 3-23. 

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