How Can I Deal With My Parent’s Remarriage?
“The day Dad married Rita was the worst day of my life,” recalled Shane. “I was mad. Mad at Dad for being a traitor to my Mom. Mad at Mom for going off to law school and leaving us alone. Mad at the two brats, Rita’s kids, who were going to come live in our house . . . But most of all, I was mad at Rita . . . I hated her. And because I believed it’s not right to hate, I was mad at myself, too.”—Stepfamilies—New Patterns in Harmony, by Linda Craven.
THE remarriage of a parent destroys the hope that your parents will ever get back together. It can make you feel insecure, betrayed, and jealous.
The remarriage can be particularly hurtful if it comes on the heels of the death of a beloved parent. “The death of my mother made me turn very bitter,” admitted 16-year-old Missy. “I thought my father’s fiancée was taking my mother’s place so I was very mean to her.” Loyal to your natural parent, you may even feel guilty if you begin to feel love toward a stepparent.
Little wonder, then, that many youths vent their emotional pain in destructive ways. Some even scheme to break up their parent’s new marriage. But remember, your natural parent and stepparent have exchanged vows before God. “Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man [or child] put apart.” (Matthew 19:6) And even if you could break them up, this would not reunite your natural parents.
Nor does it make any sense to be in constant conflict with a stepparent. Proverbs 11:29 warns: “He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind,” that is, end up with nothing. (New International Version) Fifteen-year-old Gerri’s resentment of her stepmother finally culminated in a bitter fight. The result? Her stepmother demanded that Gerri’s father choose between her and his daughter. Gerri ended up moving back in with her natural mother—who had also remarried.
Love Helps You Cope
What is the secret to coping successfully with a parent’s remarriage? Exercising principled love as described at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love “does not look for its own interests.” This means ‘seeking not our own advantage, but that of the other person.’ (1 Corinthians 10:24) If a parent has decided that he or she again needs the companionship of a marriage partner, should you resent this?
“Love is not jealous.” Often youths do not want to share their natural parent’s love with anyone else. But you need not fear that your parent will run out of love, as love can expand. (Compare 2 Corinthians 6:11-13.) Your natural parent can expand his or her love to include a new mate without losing any affection for you! Will you open your heart to include a stepparent? Doing so in no way means that you are disloyal to your departed parent.
Love “does not behave indecently.” Living with new brothers or sisters of the opposite sex can create moral pressures. Reportedly, illicit sexual relations take place among family members in 25 percent of stepfamilies.
Says David, whose mother’s remarriage brought four teenage stepsisters into the house, “It was necessary to put up a mental block concerning sexual feelings.” You will also want to be careful to avoid undue familiarity, making sure that neither your dress nor your behavior is sexually provocative.—Colossians 3:5.
Love “bears up under anything . . . It gives us power to endure in anything.” (Charles B. Williams’ translation) At times nothing seems to make your painful feelings go away! Marla admitted: “I felt that I had no place in the home. I even told my mom that I wished I had never been born.” Marla rebelled and even ran away! However, she now says: “The best thing is to endure.” If you likewise endure, in time the bitterness, bewilderment, and pain you initially felt will subside.
‘You’re Not My Real Mother/Father!’
Coming under the discipline of a new parent is not easy, and when asked to do something by a stepparent, it may be tempting to blurt out, ‘You’re not my real mother/father!’ But recall the principle stated at 1 Corinthians 14:20: “Grow up in your thinking.”—The Holy Bible in the Language of Today, by William Beck.
Accepting the authority of your stepparent to discipline you is one way to show that you have ‘grown up in your thinking.’ He or she performs the duties of a natural parent and deserves your respect. (Proverbs 1:8; Ephesians 6:1-4) In Bible times Esther was reared by an adoptive father, or “caretaker,” when her parents died. Though he was not her natural parent, Mordecai ‘laid commandments on her,’ which she obeyed even as an adult! (Esther 2:7, 15, 17, 20) Really, a stepparent’s discipline is usually an expression of his or her love and concern for you.—Proverbs 13:24.
Still, legitimate complaints are bound to occur. If so, prove yourself to be ‘grown up’ by doing as Colossians 3:13 urges: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another.”
Learn to Share, Learn to Compromise
When 15-year-old Jamie lived alone with her mother, she had her own room and wore expensive clothes. When her mother remarried and Jamie found herself in a family with four children, things changed. “Now I don’t even have my own room anymore,” she lamented. “I have to share everything.”
You may also have to relinquish your position as the oldest or the only child. If you are a son, for a long time you may have served as the man of the house—a position now occupied by your stepfather. Or if you are a daughter, it may be that you and your mother were like sisters, even sleeping in the same room, but now you have been moved out by your stepdad.
“Let your reasonableness become known to all men,” recommends the Bible. (Philippians 4:5) The original word used meant “yielding” and conveyed the spirit of one who did not insist on all his lawful rights. So, try to be yielding, compromising. Make the most of your new situation, and avoid dwelling on the past. (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Be willing to share with stepbrothers and stepsisters, not treating them as outsiders. (1 Timothy 6:18) The sooner you begin treating one another as real brothers and sisters, the sooner your feelings for one another will grow. And as for the new man of the house, don’t resent him. Be glad that he is there to help carry the load of household responsibilities.
Coping With Unequal Treatment
After admitting that her stepfather shows love, one young girl added: “But there is a difference. He expects more, disciplines more, has less understanding towards us . . . than he does of his own children at the same age. This is a sore spot with us.”
Realize that a stepparent usually will not feel the same way toward a stepchild as he does toward his natural one. This is due, not so much to the blood tie with his natural child, but to their shared experience in living. After all, even a blood-related parent may love one child more than another. (Genesis 37:3) There is, however, an important distinction between equal and fair. People have individual personalities and differing needs. So instead of being overly concerned about whether you are treated equally, try to see if your stepparent is striving to meet your needs. If you feel that these are not being met, then you have reason to discuss the matter with your stepparent.
Your stepbrothers or stepsisters can also be a source of contention. Never forget that they too may be having a hard time adjusting to the stepfamily situation. Perhaps they even resent you as an intrusion into their family. So do your best to be kind. If they snub you, try ‘conquering evil with good.’ (Romans 12:21) Besides, it is nothing strange even for biological brothers and sisters to clash from time to time.—See Chapter 6.
Patience Pays Off!
“Better is the end afterward of a matter than its beginning. Better is one who is patient than one who is haughty in spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8) Normally, several years are needed before trust develops to the point where members of a stepfamily feel at ease with one another. Only then may diverse habits and values blend into a workable routine. So be patient! Do not expect to experience “instant love” or that an “instant family” will result.
When Thomas’ mother remarried, he was uneasy, to say the least. His mother had four children, and the man she married had three. “We had fights, arguments, disruptions, terrible emotional strains,” wrote Thomas. What brought eventual success? “By applying Bible principles, things were resolved; not always immediately, but with time and the application of the fruits of God’s spirit, situations were eventually smoothed over.”—Galatians 5:22, 23.
That a commitment to Bible principles really brings about success in a stepfamily is illustrated by the experiences of the following youths whom we interviewed:
Youths in Successful Stepfamilies
Interviewer: How did you avoid resenting your stepparent’s discipline?
Lynch: My mother and stepfather always stood together on discipline. When something happened, they both came to a decision to do it, so when I got a spanking, I knew it was from both.
Linda: It was very hard at first because I would say, “What right do you have to tell me this?” But then I thought of how the Bible says to ‘Honor your mother and father.’ Even though he was not my natural father, in God’s sight he was still my father.
Robin: I knew that it would deeply hurt my mother for me to resent the person she loved.
Interviewer: What promoted good communication?
Lynch: You have to get interested in what your stepparent does. I helped him at his secular work. And as we worked we would talk and talk. This helped me to see how he thought. Other times I would just sit with him, and we would talk about ‘nothing.’
Valerie: My stepmother and I spent a lot of time together, and I really got to understand her. We became the closest of friends.
Robin: My father died just a year before Mom’s remarriage. I refused to get close to my stepfather because I didn’t want him to replace my father. I prayed that God would help me get over my father’s death and get closer to my stepdad. I prayed and prayed and prayed. Jehovah really answered these prayers.
Interviewer: What did you do to get closer?
Valerie: Sometimes I would ask my stepmom to go to a show with me—just the two of us. Or when I was out, I would buy her some flowers or a vase, something to show her that I was thinking about her. She really appreciated this.
Eric: You have to search for something you both enjoy. The only thing that I had in common with my stepfather was that he was married to my mother and we lived in the same house. The biggest help came when I began to take the same interest in the Bible that he had. As I drew closer to Jehovah God, I got much closer to my stepfather. Now we really had something in common!
Interviewer: How have you personally benefited?
Robin: When I lived just with my mother, I was rebellious and spoiled. I always wanted things my way. Now I’ve learned to consider others and be more unselfish.
Lynch: My stepfather helped me think like a man. He’s helped me gain skills and know how to use my hands. When times were rough and I needed someone, he was there. Yes, he’s the best father that anyone could ever have had.
Questions for Discussion
◻ How do many youths feel when their parents remarry? Why?
◻ How does showing Christian love help a youth cope?
◻ Do you have to submit to the discipline of a stepparent?
◻ Why is it important to know how to compromise and share?
◻ Should you expect equal treatment with stepbrothers and stepsisters? What if you feel you are being treated unfairly?
◻ What are some things you can do that will help you get along better with a stepparent?
[Blurb on page 45]
“I thought my father’s fiancée was taking my mother’s place so I was very mean to her”
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A parent’s remarriage often ignites feelings of anger, insecurity, and jealousy
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Discipline from a stepparent is often resented