Widower Wednesday: Guilt, Boundaries, Consequences, and Parenting, Part II

After last week’s column on parenting, several of you commented or emailed that the advice was too simplistic for behavioral problems with teens or adult children who aren't accepting of the new spouse and wanted some additional ideas to help with what can be a difficult transition.  So today I’m going to over some additional suggestions specifically about dealing with teenagers (read: minor children still living at home) and adult children who aren't thrilled that their widowed father decided to remarry.

Before I dive into more detail there are two things that need to be understood:

  1.  No matter the age of your kids or your step-kids, all the best parenting in the world by you or a widower doesn't guarantee their love or acceptance. You can’t cry, manipulate and try to force anyone to like you. Love and acceptance only achieved when both parties want it to happen and then work hard to make a relationship work. If you or the other party doesn't want things to work out, it will never happen. The only way to overcome this with a lot of love and patience. Seeing the fruits of your labors may take years or decades. In some cases it may never come at all.|
  2. Successfully blending families is extremely difficult. Statically most marriages where one or more of the people bring a minor children living at home end in divorce. The stress and problems that comes with trying to get different parenting styles and values to mesh is hard for everyone. Too often parents in blending families find themselves giving too much time and attention to the new spouse or to the kids—leaving the other party feeling uncared for or neglected. The suggestions below are ideas that can help you beat the odds.

So with that in mind, let’s start with teenage (minor) children who live at home first:

  • Show a united front.  This applies when it comes to all parenting issues, discipline, limits, boundaries, house rules, etc. You and the widower can disagree in private but you've got to show that you’re united when it comes to parenting and all the things that go into that when you’re facing the kids. Kids aren’t stupid. They will exploit any perceived division they can find—especially if they’re already upset with their widowed father for dating or remarrying.
  • Have regular family meetings. Have a set place and time where the kids and vent, complain, or talk about family issues or anything else. Let this be a safe place where they can say what they want. It’s a good way to get their concerns and feelings out there. It may not solve any problems but, if done right, it should give you a good idea of issues and problems they’re struggling with.
  • Try to keep open lines of communication with them. They may hate you or resent you but they should know that you’re willing to talk and listen to them whenever they want to vent. It’s up to them to take advantage of this, but they should always know that you’re willing to be there for them when necessary.
  • Strike the right balance between your marriage and his/your kids. Make sure the kids still have enough time with widowed dad that the still feel valued by him. It’s when they feel pushed aside, problems generally arise. As every family is different, it’s hard to say what this involves. It’s a tricky balance as too much time attention on the new spouse or the kids and blow up any marriage. You and the widower need to figure out what works best for your marriage.
  • Don’t ever talk bad about their mom. It doesn't matter if their mom was a drunk who could care less about their kids or the perfect parent. Don’t talk bad about her, the way she ran the house, or say anything else negative about her. Constant comparisons from his kids may drive you up the wall, but resist the urge to disparage the late wife. You don’t have to hold her up as a saint, but you shouldn't make her seem like the devil.

Adult kids

It’s sad when adults insist on acting like a baby who throws a fit when he or she doesn’t get their way. Sadly, age is no guarantee of maturity and many adults can act worse than children when one or the other person makes decisions that upset the other person. For example, my dad and one of my brothers haven’t talked to each other in in years over some stupid matter. It breaks my heart to see them at odds with each other but in the end it’s up to both of them to grow up and overcome their differences. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t but they’re old enough to work it out on their own.

If one of your adult children or the adult child or a widower is upset that their mom or dad is remarrying, there’s not much you can do about that. However, you should insist that they treat your new partner with respect. If they can’t do that than one possible consequence of their actions is that they don’t get to see their mom or dad as much. Maybe you don’t attend certain events, parties, or functions. It’s not an ideal situation but if you teach them that they can manipulate your and control your life by whining, complaining, and talking bad about your partner, then it’s only going to get worse instead of better.

Some things you can do to get over their resistance include:

  • Set a good example. Show them that you can be happy again and that you've taken responsibility for your own happiness. This doesn't mean you rub the relationship in their face but it does mean that you say nice things about your new spouse and how happy he or she makes you.
  • Let them know you love them. Let them know that you’re always willing to reengage or have them over to your place if they’re willing to treat your new partner with respect. (Remember, respect doesn't mean acceptance.)
  • Be patient. Most adult kids eventually come around to accepting the new spouse. Sometimes just letting them come to terms with your choices in their own time is the best way for them to accept it.

In the end, none of the above advice matters unless you and the widower both willing to set boundaries and enforce consequences no matter the age of the child. Remember, if you permit it, you promote it. If one or both of you aren't willing to do this basic parenting, then it’s only a matter of time before the marriage comes to an end.