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Becoming Friends and Family

If you are marrying for a second time in later life, you may assume that you know what to expect. Although there is some truth to this, the new family…

If you are marrying for a second time in later life, you may assume that you know what to expect. Although there is some truth to this, the new family that you and your new spouse are creating will not feel or act exactly like your previous family.

While going through premarital counseling, it’s important to consider future stepfamily dynamics.  Be proactive and anticipate how the transition will ripple through the new family.  Also, deal with legal matters such as changes to wills, family inheritance matters, and how previous debts will be paid off after the wedding. 

If possible, spend time with your adult children to explore their feelings about the new marriage.  Ask what names they will use for the stepparent and how they anticipate this impacting their family time and any grandchildren. 

Of course, stepparents in the second-half of life certainly aren’t trying to become authority figures for their adult stepchildren.  Work first toward a warm, supportive friendship with stepchildren and then inclusion as an “extended family member.” 

Here are some additional suggestions for making contact.

  • Realize that adult stepchild openness to you will vary.  Be okay with a wide range of responses including children who only want to see you at holidays (closed) to those who welcome your influence in their lives (mentoring relationship).  Meet their level of openness and trust that time will strengthen your bond. 
  • Let your spouse teach you about their child. Listen to the story of their life and find natural connecting points (e.g., shared interests, emotional experiences you can identify with, etc.).
  • If the relationship between your spouse and their children is strained, don’t try to fix it.  Getting hooked into their issues is a good way to alienate everyone.  Strive to be a fair, neutral person who encourages them to resolve their issues responsibly. 
  • Trust the passage of time and new phases of life to facilitate connection.  Sometimes, for example, the birth of grandchildren—who don’t know you as a step—can assist your growing relationship with adult stepchildren. 
  • Step out of the way on occasion.  Giving your spouse time with their adult children and grandchildren can be a gift to everyone.  Be present most of the time, but occasionally let them have exclusive time for one another. 
  • If adult children boomerang back into the household, manage your unfulfilled expectations.  Be careful how you approach boundary matters (e.g., financial support to the child, lost freedoms, etc.) so you won’t create undue conflict.  Speak understandingly to your spouse about the adult child and develop a unified plan for relating to him/her.