Cinderella might have been our society’s earliest awareness of the hardships encountered in a blended family. But, whereas the prince rescues Cinderella and carries her off into the sunset for their happily-ever-after ending, most families don’t have that happy ending.
When a divorced parent remarries, it can be hard enough on the children, especially when they keep hoping and praying that their parents will get back together. When there are children from that marriage, whether they are going to live together or just be a blended family who lives in different residences, the adjustment can be traumatic on all sides.
Children often feel that they were the cause of their parent’s breakup. If they had tried harder, been good enough, had done more chores, made less demands, complained less, etc., their parents would still be together. And no amount of reassurance that they were not to blame can dismiss that conviction or remove that guilt.
If there were a lot of fights in their house and evidence of severe unhappiness, children often wish their parents would just get a divorce and stop making everyone miserable. However, when children don’t see this kind of evidence on a daily basis, they can be blindsided by the divorce and find it difficult to move on.
In many marriages, depending on the level of communication, parents often experience severe unhappiness without the ranting and raving that accompany severely abusive marriages. It is these silent, unhappy relationships that can take children unaware and be so difficult for them to handle.
When children are caught in the middle of an abusive marriage, e.g., being powerless to stop their father from incessant beatings of their mother, or having to contend with an alcoholic parent or a parent who is a drug addict, divorce can be a welcome relief.
But it is the children who are not exposed to this kind of misery and who are oblivious to anything being wrong, who have the most difficulty letting go of their two-parent family. Their security blanket is suddenly pulled out from under them and they flounder for the longest time wondering what they did wrong and what they could have done to prevent this from happening.
Sometimes, a parent has someone else waiting in the wings and just waiting to be free to remarry. When this is revealed, the children can feel betrayed, especially on the part of the other parent.
Remarriage brings with it some unique problems if there are children involved. Depending on the ages of the children, and the type of relationship they have had with their parents, it can become a contest of wills, especially if the new spouse doesn’t like them and makes it obvious.
Children are often afraid that their parent will stop loving them so they may become the nightmare from hell. It’s not any easier for the stepparent, in that he or she can be vulnerable when it comes to disciplining the other one’s children if they haven’t set guidelines as to what their parameters are.
Widowed parents who remarry may run into similar behavioral problems from their offspring but for different reasons. Children often feel that the parent hasn’t waited long enough to date, let alone, to remarry, no matter how much time has elapsed. A child can feel that a year isn’t long enough or even five years isn’t long enough.
They may even feel guilty that they are starting to forget what their parent looked like or sounded like and, when the surviving parent starts to date, they may take it as a betrayal of themselves and of their deceased parent. When that parent remarries, they may try to do everything in their power to bring about a divorce.
Widowed parents who try to merge their families, often encounter a different type of resistance than divorced parents in that the children know there is no hope of their parents reconciling because their parent has passed away.
If they were a close-knit family, the children may not be able to forgive their deceased parent for bailing out on them. If they were not close, there may be that sense of dread that history will be repeating itself and they will still be left out in the cold.
Stepchildren and stepparents can either be a blessing or an ordeal to live with. There are some happy stories mixed in with all the horror stories. Children have the ultimate weapon: they can play the guilt card like no one else. Parents often cave in to their demands without thinking about the consequences and may end up giving their children too many material goods to make up for the supposed neglect a second marriage may have caused.
No one likes to be the bad guy but someone has to raise the children in a responsible way so that they grow into the kind of adults who become the moral compass of their families and their community. And that won’t be possible unless one of them has the courage to be accountable for their children’s development.