Remarriage: What Do The Kids Think?

There is a fascinating dialogue over at ye olde widda board right now dealing with remarriage and children. What’s fascinating is not the fact that the dissenters are invariably not remarried at present (or even interested in anything remotely heading in that direction like say, dating), but there are two camps of thought that butt heads regularly for the entertainment, more than the enlightenment, of others.

Camp Dissent believes that remarriage cannot take place without the full and unreserved blessings of one’s children – regardless of their age or agendas. This camp goes so far as to believe that any parent who doesn’t co-parent with their own kids shouldn’t have become parents at all. A child’s “happiness” is the measure of one’s parenting skills. Things like being smart, well-mannered and progressing towards full status independent adulthood are of lesser merit than a child who is pleased with life and his/her parents role in it. There is also a sub-set of this group that believe remarriage in general reeks of personal desperation and grief denial and that suffering – sometimes loudly – is the true mark of a good widowed person.

Camp Hitched is actually divided in their stance. Both believe that parents should be the ultimate decision makers in a family, but some believe that children’s discomfort with recoupling should be given full credence until they turn 18 – a magical watershed moment – while others believe that blending is a process that time, love and elbow grease can handle.

Like most charged discussions, this one quickly devolved into a dogpile on a single poster. Not that I feel much sympathy for the victim because she is someone who confines herself these days to posts on remarriage and never misses an opportunity to call out remarried widows as desperate settlers who don’t love their children, probably didn’t have good first marriages – hence their remarrying, and are just a divorce away from enlightenment, but the original topic of the thread – the tendency of extended family and friends to expect widows to stand still in time until they are ready to let go – got lost.

The one thing about marrying again I have discovered is that it highlights the disparities in the grief time-lines of all parties. Spouses and parents grieve daily. How can we not? Children are blessed with the gift of grieving in spurts – like they grow – but they are still in touch more often than extended family and friends who only have to confront loss occasionally. Family gatherings are excellent examples of occasional grief. Weddings, holidays and reunions highlight the absent sibling or auntie/uncle/grandparent who is little remembered on a daily basis because of distance and the tendency we all have to be caught up in the life we are living.

I have mentioned before that Rob’s in-laws have been wonderful. Though I hear about the difficulties they had and still sometimes have with his remarrying just short of the first year of Shelley’s death, they have been kind and welcoming to Dee and I. Shelley’s auntie, as an example, invited us to Christmas dinner that first year, and we have a standing offer of lodging whenever we are up towards Grande Prairie  or out Vancouver way from a couple of Shelley’s cousins. They have never let their grief get in the way of Rob’s journey or imposed their opinions about what he should or should not be doing in terms of the course he took.

Our kids have gone through various stages where our remarriage is concerned. The older girls expressed concern at the “haste” with which we moved from dating to engaged to married”, but they never acted out. They voiced their feelings to their Dad only and they listened respectfully to his answers and he in turn reassured them about their concerns. In the end, they were the generous and wonderful young women I have only ever known them to be. They trusted their Dad, which goes to show that laying a good foundation with your children as they are growing up is really that important.

Dee never had a father in the active sense, and she was very young when Rob came into her life. She took to him immediately but theirs is still a relationship in progress and we’ve had tense times as they’ve adjusted, as I have gotten used to co-parenting – something I never had the opportunity to do with Will.

How do I feel about needing my children’s permission to make decisions about my life? I don’t need permission. I’m an adult. An adult weighs the options, looks at possible and probable outcomes and does the deciding based on what is best long-term for all. That’s how my parents did it. That’s how, I believe, all grown-ups do things.

The kids are alright in our family because the adults are adults who think and consider and act as a unit. A family is not a democracy. It is the out-growth of a marriage.

10 thoughts on “Remarriage: What Do The Kids Think?

  1. In my case, I decided without my daughter’s input that I wouldn’t consider remarriage until she was in college. I’d been through the stepfamily experience as a teenager and had no desire ever to willingly bring that tension and conflict into our home. She and I had actually never discussed the topic at all until a couple of months ago (three years after her father died), when I started wondering what she thought about it and asked her. She said she prefers it with just the two of us, but even if she’d said “I want you to get me a new dad,” I wouldn’t have changed my mind. So I’m not sure where I fall on the continuum — it’s a decision I made for her benefit (and mine) but it wasn’t based on her personal wishes, although it happens to coincide with them.

  2. All I can say is “Wow”- what a thread. I’m torn between wanting to show my Rob excerpts to watch his over-the-top reaction, or just slinking away to contemplate my parenting. Sydney refers to me as “Bad Mum!” or “Good Mum. You’re the best Mum ever!” and I haven’t checked the tally board recently- be good to know whether I am winning or losing…

    1. It’s jmo as always and some of it is actually based on my years teaching and observing families in action.

      Quick story:

      We were having dinner with Will’s mother. I think it was a holiday and it was definitely very early on in our relationship. The conversation had turned to talk of MIL’s dating years. She was just 33 when she was widowed and started dating again when Will was nine or ten. She had one serious relationship that lasted until he was about 13ish. The gentleman had wanted to marry MIL but she eventually quashed his hopes and sent him on his way.

      “Why didn’t you marry Harvey?” Will asked. Will hadn’t known that Harvey had ever officially proposed.

      “Well, you didn’t like him really,” she said.

      The look he gave her was a mixture of incredulity and shame.

      “I was twelve, Mom.”

      Will couldn’t believe that his mother had turned down a marriage proposal from someone she still talked about and openly regretted never having married.

      “My life would be so different now,” she would say wistfully.

      He made me promise more than once that I would never do as his mother did if anything should ever happen to him although the not remarrying thing was just one of the many things he believed she did wrong.

  3. Annie, I agree with you.

    In real life I knew a widow who remarried very soon after her husband died. In that case, I felt she was acting in a desperate fashion because she fell madly in love with every man she went out with (first date even!) until she found one that would marry her.

    Later, she divorced and basically admitted, “What was I thinking?”

    However, I never said anything negative to her. She is an adult, and it was her decision. I’m not right about everything!)

    Likewise, as an adult I make my decisions taking into consideration what will be good for all involved.

    We have a saying around here: “Executive Decision.”

    That means the grownup in charge decides. It works around here, anyway.

    1. There is a widow board in the UK that I visited before the YWBB and the woman who started it had a separate section of her journal entries from her first year or so of widowhood. There she talks about dating and she said that it is pointless to try and talk a widowed person out of dating if the idea has crossed their mind and held it. And I agree with her. The most you can do is share your personal experience and wish him/her well. Preaching and name calling are not the best ways to influence.

  4. Great post, Annie, with elements that would be good for all parents to remember. I have a friend who believes strongly that children join their parents lives, not the other way around.

  5. After a certain age (18?) a child is responsible for his/her own happiness. I mean, really, how long do you want to stay tied to your parents? My father was a fool but I didn’t allow that to ruin my adulthood

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