If you’ve ever been through a divorce, you know it’s not just a one time event, especially when children are involved. Divorce can set off a chain of events that have lasting effects for years, and play themselves out in unexpected ways. When parents divorce, they often try to view things with the best of intentions and believe that with time their children will adjust and “get over” the pain of their parents’ breakup. The truth is that most of the time kids do eventually get to a place of acceptance, but when a stepparent is brought into the picture, it can make the process of healing take longer.
When I was eight years old, my parents divorced. They went to great lengths to make sure my brother and I were nurtured and well taken care of, but they of course, desired to move on from the divorce, which meant inviting new people into their lives. Both of my parents eventually remarried, which brought out anger in me that I never knew existed. Many people didn’t understand why I was upset by their remarriages. I even had a close family friend tell me (I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time) that if I loved my parents, I would accept their significant others, because I wanted them to be happy. Inside, I was screaming, what about my happiness?
The truth is that divorce is rarely an experience children invite into their lives. When pressed, many children disclose that even if their parents are unhappy, they would prefer they stay together. For me, divorce meant changes in where I lived, changes at school and with friends, and having to spend time with new adults I didn’t particularly want to spend time with. No one asked me if I wanted any of these things to happen, but they did, without my consent, and sometimes, without warning.
If your child is dealing with the challenge of navigating a post-divorce world, especially with the introduction of a stepparent, it’s important to keep in mind that you cannot have adult expectations of your child. I was always a very quiet, well behaved child, but dealing with my stepparents sometimes brought out unexpected emotions in me that I didn’t know how to handle. If I was rude or unwelcoming to my stepparent, I was made to feel like it was my fault. It’s important for there to be some understanding for children when they experience emotions they aren’t equipped to handle.
If you are a prospective or current stepparent, it is crucial to never lose site of the fact when you marry someone with children, it is a package deal. The children are never going away and they will always make up an important part of your partner’s life. Even if you don’t say it directly, children are able to pick up on your hidden emotions. Do you secretly wish your partner never met his or her ex-spouse? Deep down, would you have preferred it if your partner didn’t have kids and was free to start his or her life with you and you alone? If you feel this way, children can sense that innately, and they will resent you.
As an adult, it is easier to look back on my experience as a stepchild with greater acceptance. Every person is allowed to invite love into their lives. My parents weren’t required to seek my approval of their significant others, just as I haven’t felt compelled to seek their approval of my boyfriend. One thing my mom taught me is that in life, people do the best they can. Sometimes the best they know how to do isn’t enough to prevent suffering, because human beings are fragile, limited, and flawed. When it comes to divorce, pain comes with the territory, which isn’t always the best consolation, especially for children. But what I do know is one day that stepchild will grow into an adult stepchild, and their perspective will undoubtedly be different. Finding acceptance in a stepfamily is long journey, but is worth the time and effort.
I’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order our new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”