The divorce rate stands at 50% of all marriages, effecting more than 1 million children in the United States each year. This article looks at remarriage and the effect on the children involved in the divorce process.
A situation that children of divorce can face is the remarriage of a family and the formation of a stepfamily or blended family. In the early years of the divorce boom it was assumed that children would be better off when parents remarried and a family was formed (Edwards, 2002). Studies are now finding that a stepfamily cannot pick up where the two-biological parent family left off. Children’s sense of loss is ongoing and may increase, especially at holidays, birthdays, and special school events when trying to integrate new family relationships (Cohen, 2002). There are no set guidelines that determine how a stepfamily is supposed to function, most stepparents and stepchildren are unsure about their new roles, boundaries, and responsibilities. It is noted by Deal (2003) that Elizabeth Einstein in a seminar in 1997 “stunned a group of ministers when she told them to make remarriage difficult”. Her reasoning was not based on moral grounds but that remarriage that involved children was very difficult and that couples should be very aware of the difficulties.
When trying to figure out how a stepfamily should adjust and function, it is difficult to define the stepfamily and the subsystems as it relates to the child involved. Is it just the members living the household? What about the children who visit and see the stepparent only on occasion? All individuals within a stepfamily have different views on the topic of family. When asked the question, “who is in your family? ” Some may only list blood relatives, while others will include the members of the stepfamily along with the biological members. The varied answers to this question seem to result from whether or not stepfamilies function well enough to feel like families. Deal (2003) states, “most stepfamilies don’t blend and if they do something usually gets creamed in the process”. He points to the difficulties of the unrealistic expectation that the blended family will blend as a biological family would.
The functioning of a stepfamily has a lot to do with the relationships within this complex situation; stepparent relationships can be complicated (Perrier, 2000). Quite often stepparents and stepchildren become a type of “in-laws”, brought together only by the circumstance of marriage. Unlike blood relatives, stepfamilies experience less of the loving rewards that usually accompany being a part of a family and view their relationships as more problematic (Edwards, 2002).
It is uncertain if children of divorce are better off if their parents stay single after they divorce, or if they remarry. In remarriage, lives can be improved financially as a second income is brought into the household. This can bring back the standard of that to children were accustomed to before their parent’s divorce. Also when a parent remarries, there is another adult around to help out with the responsibilities that go along with running a home. This allows biological parent to have more time to be available to the children. These reasons would have one think that the children would be better off when parents remarry.
In contrast, remarriage can also have negative effects for children. After the initial divorce, kids must re-adjust to a new way of life, and once a parent enters a new marriage the family routines are upset once again. New adjustments must be made, which is made even more complicated by the fact that the family member are not sure of what their roles are and what is to be expected of them. Also, children may feel some jealousy when they have to share their parent’s affection with someone new. This may make the children view the stepparent as competition. Another problem that can surface in the event of remarriage is the reaction of the non-custodial parent. The other parent can sometimes feel replaced and resent the idea of another parental figure in their children’s lives (Borrine, Handal, Brown, & Searight, 1991).
Of course, every stepfamily situation is different. Many stepparents and stepchildren can develop a satisfying relationship with minor conflicts. A couple determining factors that can affect the outcome of a stepfamily include the age of the children at the time of remarriage, and the ability of all the adults’ involved to handle difficult situations.
No matter what the end result of the divorce arrangement is, single-parent home, joint custody, or remarriage into a stepfamily, most people will agree that the children will suffer with emotions such as anger, sadness, and confusion when their parents split. Still, short-term reactions to divorce vary among children; including those children that come from the same family. Part of this variation has to do with each child’s individual temperament and their ability to cope with stressful situations.
Parents should be aware of their children’s emotions and reactions. Help with dealing with their children’s reactions may be necessary. Parents should not hesitate in seeking professional help.
Borrine, M., Handal, P., Brown, N., & Searight, H. (1991). Family conflict and adolescent adjustment in intact, divorced and blended families. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 59(5), 753-755.
Cohen, G. (2002, November). Helping children and families deal with divorce and separation. Pediatrics, 110(6), 1019-1023.
Deal, R. (2003). Getting remarriaged with children effective pre-stepfamiy counseling. Marriage & Family, A Christian Journal, 6(4), 483-494.
Edwards, R. (2002). Creating 'stability' for children in step-families: Time and substance in parenting. Children & Society, 16, 154-167.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Cheryl and Dennis Gowin