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Piece by Piece

C.B. Gavant

It’s never easy to welcome a stepparent into one’s life. While children who are already married themselves don’t face the same issues as younger children when it comes to blending a family, they have their own unique challenges. How to bring the pieces together.

Monday, December 22, 2014

It’s not uncommon for widowed or divorced adults to remarry at a later stage in life, especially once their children are out of the house. For an older adult, remarriage wards off loneliness and offers companionship in the later years. But for the children of these new couples, the adjustment can be both painful and difficult, as they watch a new person step into the role that once belonged to a beloved parent. Even though they understand intellectually that remarriage is the best thing for their parent, many adult children experience a sense of betrayal — “Why are you replacing my father or mother? How can anyone fill his or her place?” The sense of loss can cut very deep. Yet this feeling of betrayal is a mistaken premise, says Rebbetzin Rivka Friedlander, a social worker and therapist in Yerushalayim. “A surviving parent who remarries isn’t replacing the spouse he used to have; he’s starting a new chapter. The Torah says, ‘Lo tov heyos ha’adam levado.’ People are encouraged to remarry. Yes, it will change the old dynamic, but the way it develops will depend on everyone’s contributions to the new setup.” As challenging as a remarriage is for the children who are still home, the situation can be harsher in some ways for married children, notes Rebbetzin D., the mother of a blended family. Her husband brought both adult and teenage children into the marriage. “Teenage children need their stepmother to provide them with a home, but adult stepchildren aren’t a regular presence in the house anymore. Their childhood home changes, and there’s a lot of emotional baggage that goes along with it. Especially if it happens very soon after they’ve lost their mother or father, it can be very hard.” There’s also an added element of loss of exclusivity, says Tova, who lost her father to cancer when she was in her 30s. “No matter what age you are, when your parent remarries, there may be a shift in the relationship and suddenly you’re no longer the only one there. When my father got sick, my mother turned to me for everything, but once she got remarried, her husband became her confidant instead.” 

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