When parents get divorced, sometimes the divorce is less than amiable. Parents may carry resentment and anger. Unfortunately, sometimes those negative thoughts are communicated to our children.
I regularly hear from stepfamilies that have been told by their children that Mom (or Dad) doesn’t love them anymore or that their new step dad will be their “real” Dad now. All of these thoughts are confusing and not helpful to the child or helpful to the new step family.
Here are some examples:
“My kid’s biomom remarried and became pregnant. After the baby was born, she told her kids that they should call their step dad “Dad” and their bio dad by his first name now. My kids are so confused!”
“When my ex-husband has visitation with the kids, and we are both present at a school event, he tells the kids not to talk to me (their biological mom) during the event.”
“My Mom told me that my Dad doesn’t love me anymore now that he remarried. Is that true?”
These statements, coming from real moms, dads and kids, are very harmful to children. Here are some guidelines on how to help your kids cope with the transitions of divorce, remarriage and blended families.
Don’t engage in the battle – It’s best to take the higher ground. Do not speak negatively about their mother in front of the kids. If you have to say anything, you can say, “Although we disagree with your mother, we know that she loves you. We love you and want what’s best for you.” (That way you aren’t lying, but also not agreeing with the biological mother’s behavior.)
Train and Teach Your Children
Train and teach your stepchildren – they didn’t come with an instruction manual on how to handle divorce and remarriage. Explain to them that you can enjoy spending time with Mom and with Dad – it’s not a competition. “You can also love your stepdad and also your stepmom – and that doesn’t compete with your love for your biological parent.”
Tell them “every child only gets one real Mom and one real Dad – and that, although divorce is very sad, we are going to work through this and be positive about the future. Because your Mom and Dad have remarried, you get bonus parents, and they are called stepparents. These people aren’t your real Mom or Dad, but they are people who care about you, love you and will help raise you.”
The more you talk about it (calmly and in a non-formal way – maybe while driving in the car, or working on a project together) the easier it will become for the kids to talk about it, and know its O.K. to discuss it with you and their Dad.
It’s O.K. To Comment on the Other Parent’s Negative Behavior
You can even comment on the other parent’s negative behavior, but keep your attitude positive. (What !) Here’s an example… “I know your Mom tells you to ignore us when we are all at school together. We still love you. Just know that we are smiling and watching you. If you want to sneak a peak at us, we’ll blow you a kiss. If not, then don’t worry. You’ll be with us again soon.”
Reassure Your Kids
Explain to your kids that, “Sometimes when Mommy’s and Daddy’s remarry, the kids become jealous and wonder if they are still loved. Yes, they are still loved. There is enough love for everyone. Adults even get jealous too. Don’t worry, there’s enough love for everyone.”
You are acknowledging the negative (or even sometimes strange behavior) without condemning the source. You can be the constant, normal set of parents in their lives- I guarantee your kids will appreciate this.
- Do what’s right, be positive.
- Be the constant, normal parents in the kid’s lives.
- Keep telling them that you love them, and know all these changes are tough.
- Help them understand what’s going on by expressing your expectations and telling them about divorce and remarriage.
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, and her book, Blended Family Advice, has been touted as the ultimate must-read for couples contemplating or undergoing such change.