Divorce is usually painful enough, but when an ex remarries, additional negative feelings can arise. It may become more difficult to accept the idea that your former partner was damaged in some way and unable to have a relationship.
If infidelity was involved and that relationship has continued, more intense anger may occur. The thought of your child spending time with this person you feel so negatively about may be intolerable. However, people are often forced to deal with this reality: how best to cope?
First, it is important to clarify your own feelings and examine who and what we are upset about. While it is tempting to blame the “new person” for your pain, the reality is that in most cases you had no prior relationship with this person (if she was a friend, that is another, even more difficult matter) and it is the ex that has betrayed your trust, not this stranger.
Another sobering reality is that it takes two people to create and maintain a relationship, so whatever problems allowed this new person in, you probably have a small bit of responsibility for yourself. To move forward, it is important to come to terms with what you might have done differently in the relationship, to be able to move on and have a better relationship in the future.
If all of your anger is directed toward the “stranger” or even your ex, this is not likely to happen. You can only change that which you take responsibility for, so this is the first order of business (after allowing yourself a reasonable period of time to grieve and vent).
How to Deal with Your Child’s Relationship with Their Stepparent
Once you have begun to come to terms with the end of your marriage (a process that can last months or, for some people, even years), we can begin to deal with our feelings about your child spending time with “their other family.” Most parents worry most about losing their child to the new stepparent. Let me assure you that the parent-child bond is very strong and will not be broken by the person who buys them the newest toy. Children know who loves and cares for them and it is positive to have more of such people in their lives.
Help Your Children Adjust
Rather than “protect” your children, you need to help them adjust to what may be a confusing situation for them. If you can, encourage their sharing what they choose to about their time in the other household. It is critical that you not be judgmental about this new family, which may have a different culture than your own or even the one you created with your ex. Try to refrain from negative comments about food, TV preferences, or the other family’s choices in friends or attire. Such criticism, while tempting, will only cause your child to shut down and either defend the other family or not share with us about them.
Of course, if you think your child’s health or safety is compromised, you must become involved. But, these situations are thankfully rare (and often generated out of anger, rather than concern). You may have to deal with even more consequential differences, such as religious exposure, that we do not agree with.
Your ex has as much right and responsibility as you do in influencing your child, and while these differences are often litigated, this can be an expensive process that takes its toll on the children in emotional ways as well. It is better for all concerned if you can find a way to embrace these differences and help your child navigate her two different families and become the best person she can be through integrating these divergent values.
Put Your Child’s Needs First
There are many challenges inherent in co-parenting, particularly when we factor in the influence of a stepparent. Your child will benefit if you can handle these in an adult manner, putting the child’s needs first. And you will benefit by being able to move on with your life and embracing the freedom that you gain from your non-parental time, unencumbered by anger and resentment.
Linda Kaiser, LCSW has worked with individuals and families for 50 years in both private practice and mental health clinic settings. Her specialties include couples counseling and working with divorced, remarried, and stepfamilies. www.GYLFamilyLawFirm.com