The Effect of Children on a Parent’s Remarriage

The remarriage of a parent can be a very traumatic event for a child depending upon the child’s age, maturity and his or her relationship with a parent who is remarrying. The wedding, even if the child is included in some way, is a major event. I have found that children under the ages of five, are often unable to process what is happening. Children between ages five and seven, sometimes blame themselves for the divorce, itself. In this age bracket, a child understands what is happening, is able to articulate a reaction, but does not understand why she or he cannot control events that are swirling around.

A wedding is the culmination of many events. It signals a formal ending of the possibility that the parents will reconcile. It is the apex of a series of pre-wedding activities in which the child may participate but his secondary to the process. The wedding symbolizes a realignment of roles between the child and the parent, and signals a formal entry of a step parent into that child’s life. That step parent is given recognition and authority by virtue of the marriage.

It is advisable for the child whatever the age, to meet with a mental health professional during the planning stages of the wedding, so as to give the child a platform in which to express feelings about the events that are about to transpire, about the new step parent and about how this new arrangement affects the parent child relationship. The therapist should be made available after the wedding as well, so as to smooth out the wrinkles of misunderstanding which can develop around such a momentous event. It is understandable for a parent to be very involved with the wedding. But it is also understandable for a child to be upset by the wedding and the festivities, both prior as well as after.

Even if the parties lived together prior to the remarriage, and even if the child lived with the parties who were living together prior to the remarriage, the new marriage signals a formal realignment of all of the relationships. The recognition of this arrangement even if it does not appear to be “new” is paramount to the child’s successful adjustment going forward. All of the participants should give pause to how the wedding, the pre-wedding activities as well as the post-wedding activities affect a child.  It goes without saying, that the goal is for the child to accept the new arrangement. In order for this acceptance to be wholehearted, preparation and attention is needed.