When Your Widowed Parent Re-Marries

An Adult Child's Perspective
By Gloria Lintermans Ph.D., L.M.F.T. & Marilyn Stolzman, 

Chances are that you grew up in a two-parent family, a mom and a dad. Went to a local school, away to college, married, had children of your own. And then, tragedy struck and your mother passed away, leaving your father a widower. He has mourned his loss and, in time, while still embracing the memories of your mother, met someone new and fallen in love, ready once again to enjoy a full life, perhaps to even re-marry, and you find yourself exchanging parenting roles as you concerns are not unlike that of your parents when you dated, fell in love and eventually married. While their expectation is that you will be thrilled when your older parent finds happiness in remarriage or has someone special in his life, it is seldom that simple.

It could be that you have been protective of your parent, especially caring since he became a widower and are uncomfortable with someone else taking over your role. Or perhaps this new person is assuming the role of your much-loved deceased parent. You may perceive the new partner as competition for your parent's time or may have difficulty thinking of your parent as a sexually active person, especially if your parent's involvement is with a younger woman.

Although the choice of mates is solely that of your parent, he will, naturally, be influenced by your opinion, suggestions, feeling and certainly your actions. As such, be aware that the more accepting you are, the easier it will be to deal with the problems intrinsic in blending and re-blending families. You can lessen the pain of assimilating new people into family gatherings, for example, by being welcoming and flexible, with a willingness to establish new family traditions.

Often there are financial or inheritance issues that can be sticky. In this case, try seeing things differently. Try to think of your new family members as more people to love you and your family as an extended support system.

With a life of your own and different priorities than when you were younger, consider what's really important and allow the small things to fall by the wayside. Establish weekend visits, holiday meals, occasional celebrations, perhaps vacations together in a new way. So what if your parent's choice is not ideal. Be appreciative that someone cares for your father. Consider these suggestions:

  • Do try to put yourself in your parent's shoes and consider how difficult it might be for them to be caught in an emotional tug-of-war between their new love and adult child.
  • Do keep reminding yourself that your parent is an adult and has the right, and smarts, to choose their new mate.
  • Don't put your parent in the position of having to choose between your love and that of their new mate when both are important to their sense of well-being.
  • Don't discuss issues such as family inheritance, your late parent's possessions, and your feelings of being pushed aside by their new love when angry. Try to understand where your angry feelings are coming from so that you can calmly discuss your concerns with sensitivity and caring.

Keeping the channels of communication open for discussion, dialogue and sharing of experiences requires listening, and not necessarily agreeing. Each party needs to be heard and wants to be understood. Joy is to be treasured; the challenge lies in working it out in a way that is respectful to family members. The reality is that being gracious takes less psychic time and energy, and you may indeed grow to like, even love, your parent's new spouse or partner. Family harmony often means only relatively minor-changes in long held perceptions or entirely new perspectives that genuinely reflect your own maturity.