Remarriage has become popular, meaning many children are living with one natural parent and one step-parent.
This is in spite of the fact that the chances of a second marriage succeeding are less than the chances of a first marriage succeeding.
Studies show that of those couples who reconcile their differences and remarry the same partner, more than 50 per cent separate within two years.
Of those who marry a new partner, 50 per cent separate within three years.
Couples in a second marriage report that the greatest area of conflict is the management of their children.
Parents shouldn’t expect their child to welcome a remarriage with open arms; previous experience has taught her that mums and dads don’t stay together forever. He or she has to learn to trust the stability of their new family, and this takes time.
A child’s adjustment to a remarriage depends on factors relating to:
Acceptance of the previous loss: She may unconsciously deny that her parents have separated-this is a natural defence, but the remarriage wouldn’t work until she accepts that the precious marriage is over.
Gap between remarriages: A short gap leaves a child too little time to get over the trauma of divorce before facing the impact of the new family. But a long gap between marriages is not the best solution either, because she may become used to having the parent all to herself and may be reluctant to share him/her with a stepparent.
Divided loyalties: Where a family break-up arises from divorce, a child really has three parents — her two natural parents and her stepparent, which may make her feel her loyalties are stretched. In many happy remarried families, a child still sees both her natural parents.
Parental jealousy: Ex-spouses may be jealous when their former partner remarries. This may influence a child’s perception of her new stepparent. However, every child is capable of having a good relationship with a stepparent and a natural parent at the same time. Each relationship contributes to her development.
Parental responsibilities: The stepfather often assumes full responsibility too soon, before his stepchild is ready to accept him. It is usually best for a stepparent to take parental responsibilities gradually.
Many second marriages involve a merger of two sets of children from two previous marriages, which may lead to jealousy between them. When the children are of the same age, each child feels threatened by the others, afraid her parent’s love for her will diminish. However, most parents are able to form good relationships with their stepchildren when they have their natural children living with them as well.
When a new baby is born, the existing children may feel insecure. They need reassurance. Every child adds a new and unique dimension to a family. In deed, studies have demonstrated that relationships between parents and children in stepfamilies, and between the children themselves, are better when the couple have children of their own. A natural child in a stepfamily seems to act as a binding force.
Studies on the effects of remarriage on children (involving thousands of step-families with at least one stepchild) have found that:
• Six out of ten families think family relationships are excellent; two out of ten think family relationships are good and only two out of ten think they are poor.
• The age of the stepmother at the time of remarriage is important. More stepmothers over the age of 40 report excellent relationships with their stepchildren compared to younger stepmothers. The age of the stepfather does not appear to matter so much.