Kids Corner for Blended Families
Articles to Help Parents Talk About Divorce and Remarriage
Why Did My Dad (or Mom) Remarry and Get a Step Family? It’s tough for kids to understand why parents get divorced, and even harder to understand why they remarry and have a blended or step family. Here are some talking points for you to discuss this difficult topic with your kids. You may need to revise some of the answers, based on your child’s age, but this article will give you a starting point for the discussion.
You (the kids) are not responsible for the divorce: Mom and Dad getting a divorce has nothing to do with you. There is nothing you can do to change the divorce. You did nothing to cause it-nothing. It’s not your fault. Mom and Dad love you the same and this will never change. You will always be our child and we will always love you.
Parents need adult companionship: Children are wonderful to have, but do not replace adult companionship. You enjoy being with someone your own age, and doing things with them. Adults are the same. Dad doesn’t want you to stay home with him, and keep him company, when you can be out with your friends. It’s just not the same kind of relationship- and that’s why Dad wants to remarry.
Spending time with this new mate does not take away time from you, there is time enough for both of you. There is also an additional person in your life to love you. You may not like this, and you may even resent the new stepparent, at first- but when they decided to marry your Dad (or Mom), they agreed to marry an adult with children, and to love those children (you!) These new step parents have agreed to be part of your blended family, to love you and help raise you.
Believe it or not, it’s tough for them too. They aren’t used to living with you, and really don’t know you. Try to tell your new stepparent about yourself, your likes/dislikes, favorite things to do, activities, etc.- so that you can get to know each other better.
If I like my new stepmom, then I’m not being faithful to my mom: Your new stepmom is not in competition with your biological mom. You will always have only one biological mom and dad. Stepmoms and stepdads are extra-but not in a bad way. They have married your mom and dad, and this helps your mom and dad be a better parent, and a happier adult.
Your mom or dad should want you to be taken care of when you are visiting the other parent. Your stepparents will be part of this. So, it’s O.K. to have fun with your new stepmom or stepdad, and even like them- it doesn’t hurt your relationship with your biological mom and dad, or mean that you love them any less.
Who does my Dad love more- my new stepmom or me? You are not in competition with your new stepmom. The love your Dad has for you is different from the love he has for his new wife. He can love you both without choosing between the two.
A parent’s love is different from the kind of love he has for your new stepparent. You will grow into an adult, one day, and have a family of your own. Do you want your Dad moving in, and living with you for companionship? Do you want your Dad to move off to college with you, and hang out with you on the weekends? No- that’s silly. Adults want to be with people their own age, and most adults really like have a special someone to be with.
Will I ever feel better? That’s a hard question. Divorce causes a hole in your heart. It will take a while for that hole to heal. It’s embarrassing, at first, to let your friends know that your parents got divorced. You’re not the “odd” one, though, half of your friends’ parents are already divorced. It may help to talk to them about their experiences.
It’s hard to understand why Mom and Dad don’t want to live together anymore, but it is their decision. You may never know all the details, and that’s O.K.- you just need to trust your Mom and Dad to take care of you and your needs, while they continue to make the adult decisions. It will take a while to get to know your new step family too, but one day you’ll feel comfortable in this blended family.
Conclusion Communication is very important, especially when kids are going through so many changes. Keep the adult decisions and the adult conversations among the adults- but also remember to keep the kids informed about the new “realities” of their life, changes coming, and your expectations.
Good luck- be yourself. Love your kids!
Shirley Cress Dudley is a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, and a master’s degree in Education. She is also a stepparent with two biological kids and three stepkids, ages 15-21. She has a passion for helping blended families grow strong and be successful. Visit her website for more help with your blended family issues.
(You are welcome to reprint this article, in it’s entirely, without edit, and the bio and the end. Thank you.)
More information about Shirley Cress Dudley, blended family coach
Divorce from a Child’s Perspective
Divorce from a child’s perspective is often confusing and very stressful and they usually do not understand why their parents are divorcing. As a therapist, what I hear the most often from children is that they feel that their parent’s divorcing is their fault and they must have done something to cause it.
Children will often express that they want their parents to get back together, because they do not want to go “back and forth” between their parent’s homes. After parent’s divorce, children require a lot of reassurance that everything is going to be all right. There are a number of things that children express that they wish they could change about their parents and their situation after their parent’s have divorced.
Commonly, children express that they feel like their parents are “fighting” over them and they feel like they are caught in the middle. Recently, a child told me that, “I just want everyone to get along”. She expressed that when she goes to her parent’s respective homes, her parents talk badly about each other. Please, Please, do not do this. Children either are then put in a position to pick sides or are afraid to say anything, because they do not want to anger anyone.
Also, very common is that children feel that one or both of their parents no longer spend the time with them that they used to. This is especially true when one of their parent’s starts a new relationship with someone else after the divorce.
Children will also often express that they hear their divorced parents arguing over the phone or right in front of them and they feel confused, hurt, and very angry at their parent’s behavior and their situation. Many children will transition easily when their parent’s divorce, however others will have a much more difficult time moving forward after their parent’s divorce. Parents can play a crucial role in helping their children with the transition by letting them vent their feelings, not blaming anyone for what has happened, let them talk about their feelings and how the divorce will affect them, and simply listening to what your child is saying.
I hear children in treatment express that their parents use them as a “messenger” and that they have to relay messages to the other parent as a result of his/her parents refusing to speak to each other. This is very awkward for children and messages or information should be sent in a letter that can be given to a child or over the internet.
Everyone parents their children differently, and this is especially holds true when children of divorced parents go back and forth between their parent’s homes. Rules and discipline in one parent’s house are not usually the same in the other’s parent’s house and this can be quite confusing for children. The way to help a child with this is to establish a regular routine and communicate that routine to the other parent. In relationships that are not amicable, I understand this is difficult to do, however try to remain as consistent as possible in at least one house. Children need a routine and need to know what to expect, chaos brings about uncertainty and anxiety in children. This is why children often have “meltdowns” after they have come back from a “visit” from the other parent’s home.
Above all, children express that they want to be able to talk to their parents about their feelings. Children of divorced parents, especially in younger children, simply want to know what is going on and want to be reassured that everything is all right and that they are still loved.
Kara T. Tamanini, M.S., LMHC, Author and Therapist
Founder of Kids Awareness Series
Discipline in the Blended Family
Frequently, people ask me if their disciplinary methods should be different in a blended family. Your kids have been through the separation of their parents…then a divorce…and now a new marriage that comes with a blended family. You wonder, shouldn’t I just give my kids a break and loosen up on my discipline?
Top reasons for your discipline to remain the same:
- Your values haven’t changed and you should continue to teach your children the difference between right and wrong
- Boundaries and guidelines show your children that you love them
- Providing discipline actually gives the consistency and security your kids need in a time when a lot of things are changing around them
How do we handle our kids?
You have remarried and you need to agree with your new spouse on what discipline is fair to both adults. It’s important to respect the biological parent’s history of parenting, but still come to a mutual understanding of how all children will be treated and disciplined in your home. It’s time for the two of you to discuss boundaries and guidelines for your kids and for your home.
All kids treated equally
All kids should be treated fairly and equally. After you and your spouse create house rules such as:
- No eating in the living room
- No T.V. after 9pm on a school night
- Everyone helps clean up the kitchen after meals
These rules will apply to every child in your family. Consequences can be different, based on age differences and developmental stage, but consequences still need to be equal and fair. Note: it also helps if the adults follow the same rules. It’s hard to explain why Dad is eating in the living room, and no one else can!
Biological parent takes the lead
The biological parent should always take the lead, in front of the kids. The new stepparent should not be perceived as the “heavy”- the one who enforces the rules or creates the rules. If your child disobeys a house rule, deal with the issue, with your spouse at your side. The children should always see you two as a united front- even if you don’t agree on everything- appear united to them, and work out the differences in private, later.
If you make a rule, keep it, everyday. Don’t change the rules on the days you are tired, or the days your spouse is out of the house or out of town.
No secret alliances with your biological kids
If you change the rules when your spouse is not there, this causes your children to not respect their stepparent, and believe that the bond between you and them is stronger than the bond between the parents. Your relationship with your spouse should take priority. Keeping your relationship strong with your spouse provides a stable and consistent environment for your children. This stability and consistency will create feelings of security for your children and move your blended family to a strong, successful united family.
Shirley Cress Dudley is a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, and a master’s degree in Education. She has a passion for helping blended families grow strong and be successful. Visit our website for more help with your blended family issues.
(You are welcome to reprint this article, as long as it is reprinted, unedited, in it’s entirety, along with the bio at the end. Thank you.)
Helping Kids through Divorce
Divorce is hard on everyone, especially the kids involved. Here are some tips on helping your kids recover from their parent’s divorce.
Is it really over?
Make sure the marriage is really over. If there is any chance to save the marriage- see a marriage counselor, and figure out how to keep the marriage alive. The kids don’t need to be a part of these conversations. If the marriage is really over, then it’s time to make some visible changes.
Kids are confused when separated parents are still eating together, keeping family photos (including wedding photos) on the wall, and Dad is still coming over to mow the lawn. Make sure there is a clear separation of Mom and Dad. Move out all of the non-custodial parent’s stuff into their new residence. Take down family photos with both parents pictured. (You can store these photos, but keeping them on the wall is very confusing for kids.)
Communicate clearly to your kids
Explain that Mom and Dad are getting separated and will no longer be married, or living together. More details about the reasons for the divorce are not necessary. (Again- these are adult conversations and the kids don’t need to be a part of the discussions on why the marriage didn’t work.)
Talk about your relationship with your children
Discuss with your kids that you love them, and this will never change. Tell them that they had no part in the divorce, and nothing they can do caused the divorce, or can change the divorce.
Remind them that you will always be their parent, and will always love them. Things are going to be changing- but the relationship between a child and his/her parent will not change.
Seek Outside Help
Find someone your kids can talk to outside of your family. It may be a counselor, religious leader from your church or synagogue, or a family friend. It helps if your children can talk openly, and without judgment, to another adult about their situation. There are also local support groups that help kids cope with divorce, and expose them to other kids experiencing divorce.
If your kids have friends that are also divorced, encourage them to talk to their friends. Tell your kids that they have done nothing wrong, and being part of a divorced family is nothing to be ashamed of.
You should also seek outside help. Now is time to figure out what happened in your marriage, and how to prevent this from happening again. Focus on yourself and how you can personally improve. Forgive yourself and move forward as someone who is worthy of love.
Divorce is a dramatic life change for your kids. Keep your family as “normal” as possible during this times. Maintain house rules, keep schedules the same-this isn’t time to take the kids to Disney World or call all house rules “cancelled” for the time being. Children appreciate structure and consistency- so try to keep everything that you can (accept the separation of Mom and Dad) the same.
Make some time, each week, to spend individually with each child. It may be running errands, picking up groceries, or a trip to get ice cream. During this time, let your child talk… and you just listen. You may not know all the answers, but you can reassure your child that you love him/her and will always love them and be their parent.
You’ll all make it through this. Life is always changing- sometimes for good and sometimes for worse-and we can’t control everything that happens in our life. Encourage your kids and let them know you are available to talk, whenever they want to share their feelings.
Shirley Cress Dudley is a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, and a master’s degree in Education. She has a passion for helping blended families grow strong and be successful. Sign up for our Free newsletter and receive a Free Report– Top Ten Worst Mistakes You Can Make in Your Blended Family,
(You are welcome to reprint this article, as long as it is reprinted, unedited, in its entirety, along with the bio at the end. Thank you.)