Change, even good change, is always hard. For children facing a parent’s marriage, there can be mixed feelings. Feelings of grief and loss at their biological parents’ failed relationship, fears over contact with biological parents, or challenges fitting in with new or blended second families are all normal but should be taken seriously. If your child is facing a parent getting married, whether you’re the parent doing the marrying, a stepparent coming into the family, or a co-parent, read on for ways to help them through this next chapter.
Family Therapy and Activities
One of the best ways to help a child of any age through the challenges that come with one parent getting married is to work with a family therapist. Therapists like those at WithTherapy are trained to help families navigate the feelings, logistics, and even legal challenges that come with family change. While they can’t offer legal advice or do anything about custodial rights or child support, they can help families through the steps that make transitions easier.
The parent-child relationship is the most important informative years. For this reason, considering professional help is a great place to start when it comes to helping your child manage upcoming changes. Because families are systemic and include many members, you’ll want to think about getting help for any stepsiblings, co-parents, or other impacted family members, too.
After family therapy meetings, consider family events where everyone is included. Inviting co-parents and spending time with your new family will help show a child that they’re getting an addition, rather than losing something. Future step-siblings and half brothers and sisters should be included too. The general rule is that the more people you include, the better. Anyone who will be part of your child’s life going forward should be made to feel welcome to give your child the best shot at feeling good about changes. Think of activities your expanding blended family can do together.
Simultaneously, make sure to make some quality alone time with your child where you can answer questions and reassure them. While it’s important to be honest with your child, make sure those conversations are age-appropriate, something a therapist can help you with.
Changes in family dynamics generally come hand in hand with legal matters. From a child support attorney to a guardian ad litem for your child, it’s not unusual for families to spend a period of time in court working out details like child support payments, modifications to custodial agreements, the amount of child support, who will pay health insurance premiums and more. But this doesn’t have to impact your child. In fact, if you’re smart, you’ll do all you can to leave the legal matters to adults and let your child focus on school and being a kid. It’s in the child’s best interest if you can work together to keep them entirely out of the legal process.
No matter how hard you try to shield your child and even if you have a great relationship with your co parent, there could be times when a child is called into court or needs to be consulted. For example, maybe your family is considering a second parent adoption. To do this, the biological parent would have to surrender rights. The best way to handle this is to hire a family therapist and to be transparent with older children about what this might mean to them. The therapist will work with you to help your child understand what’s happening and encourage them to be involved where they can, including making decisions about things like name changes, while tackling grief.
Individual Therapy for Children
The best intentioned biological parents, stepparents, adoptive parents, and even other family members aren’t always the best set of ears for a kid struggling to make sense of what’s happening with their parents. For this reason, it’s important to get your child a therapist just for them in conjunction with your regular family therapy appointments.
If you aren’t interested in seeing professionals to support this transition for your child, consider a neutral mentor, family friend, or someone who will listen to them about their concerns. It’s hard for a child to open up to one parent or another in a situation like this so the best option is to give them a safe place to turn when it comes to talking about their feelings. Make sure this person is someone you trust to reassure them and help them to advocate for themselves. If you don’t know anyone like this, consider the Big Brother or Big Sister programs or hiring a guardian ad litem.
It often helps parents if they’re seeing an individual therapist too. Even if you’re happy, watching your child struggle could bring up feelings that you’ll want to work through with an unbiased person. Even if it’s just for you, a therapist is never a bad idea in a situation where things are new, no matter how well you think the transition will go.
Maintaining Connections and Co Parenting Decisions
Whether your child is a toddler or a young adult, it’s in your child’s best interest to stay as connected as possible to all parents involved. Regardless of your own relationship with your former partner or spouse, if that person is a healthy one to be in your child’s life, it’s in their best interest that you encourage it and do your best to get along. Save the fighting about custody of the child for the mediation rooms or court but do what you can in front of your child to get along. Something as simple as encouraging your child’s role in your partner’s wedding can make a massive difference in how they perceive the situation.
In the end, change can be really hard. It’s harder when it involves feelings or there’s confusion around the future. To help your child cope with a parent’s marriage, the best thing you can do is enlist professional help, reassure them, be honest, and do what you can to make room for every parental relationship that matters to them. With teamwork, you can build a happy and healthy environment for your kid and move forward knowing you did the best you could to support them and their siblings.