My friend Denise was a beautiful bride. She was in her early thirties when she married Matt and took on the challenges of stepparenting Rylee, his 10-year-old daughter. To others, it seemed like a seamless transition. Denise had been an assistant leader in Rylee’s Girl Scout troop. She had taken special care to make sure that Rylee was often included on her dates with Matt, and she had even spent many “girl days” with Rylee for some one-on-one time. Even Rylee’s biological mom had a good relationship with both Denise and Matt.
But sometime between the wedding kiss and the limousine ride to the reception, Rylee had a meltdown. Running to Denise, she buried her face in her new stepmom’s arms and burst into tears—loud, heaving sobs. Everyone was baffled and wondering, Why? What’s wrong?
A newly married couple is floating on the high of marital bliss, excited to have finally found the right person. Unfortunately, many parents assume that their biological children are as happy as they are about this new marriage. “When divorced parents remarry, they see it as a gain, but a child sees it as another loss,” Laura Petherbridge, author of The Smart Stepmom, explains. “The reason stepfamilies are so complicated is because whether death or divorce has occurred, there has been loss. With loss come grief, fear, depression, and discouragement.” Families take those emotions with them into new relationships. While Mom or Dad may think they have had time to heal, they don’t realize that children tend to be about two years behind adults in the grieving process.
Years later, as a young adult, Rylee explained the emotions behind the tears on that wedding day. Once her daddy was officially remarried, she realized there was no way that he would ever go back to her mother. Sure, she liked Denise, in fact, she really loved her. But as a child, she had long been fantasizing that one day her father and mother would marry each other again, and her home would be put back in place.
“It’s wise for a stepparent to recognize that they need to move very slowly into the life of the step child,” urges Laura. “It takes approximately seven years for a step family to bond. The mistake is when a new couple thinks that since they are happy, the children should be equally as happy.”
Rebecca Ingram Powell is a wife, mother, author, and national conference speaker. Connect online at www.momseriously.com