In our blog we’ve touched on the common phenomenon of adult children feeling they’ve swapped roles with their parents (sound familiar?). And yet nothing can switch those roles back faster than when a senior parent announces their decision to remarry. Instantly, the sons and daughters in the equation can feel intensely vulnerable, even threatened – and often revert right back to feeling like children needing to feel safe, loved, and yes – parented.
Whether the remarriage announcement follows death or divorce, it often clashes with the grief that grown children still carry, which of course can be the primary issue to tackle. A grieving child might not be ready to let go of lifelong memories of her parents together; she may not want Dad to be replaced; she may have come to rely on Mom’s support, both emotional and hands-on; she may be relishing her own role as mom’s caregiver. There also might be concerns about the decision itself – is this person marrying Dad for his money or property? Is Dad potentially rushing into a new relationship just because he’s lonely? Does his fiancée expect to be treated like a step-mom or grandparent?
When sorting through these feelings, it’s important to be honest about where they’re coming from. Needing Mom’s support is one thing – but has she become the extended family’s on-call babysitter? Is Dad’s desire for companionship starting to serve a busy younger family’s needs more than his own emotional welfare? As tough as these questions are, they’re important ones to help separate legitimate feelings of loss versus those springing from self-interest. Both are understandable, but need to be addressed differently; learning to let go of what’s been serving your own needs over your parent’s is an important first step.
Acknowledging that your loss is different than your parent’s can be step two, along with understanding that you might not be able to completely fill that void for Dad. While your activities, responsibilities, and relationships have continued, Dad might feel as if he’s waiting for life to start up again, and is apt to turn to people in his circle who share that perspective. As difficult as it can be to adjust to that reality, it’s helpful to try and face it with openness, sensitivity, and patience.
Emotional issues aside, a parent’s decision to remarry can present legitimate financial concerns around end-of-life matters such as distribution of inheritance; medical costs; Social Security disbursements, and outdated legal documents. To protect the interests of all family members, encourage Mom to draft a prenuptial agreement with an elder law specialist who can insure the wishes of all parties are followed. Want more information? Here’s a great website we found that walks you through the basics of prenuptial agreements, as well as other financial aspects of later marriages.