When a Widowed Parent Remarries
Over the past several years, several good friends and extended family have had their widowed parents remarry. As I have shared the experience with them and watched their reactions, the change in their lives has been significant.
I did not have a parent or a grandparent remarry, but I did have a great-grandparent remarry and was old enough to sense the interesting situations, shall we say, that came because of that union. These same emotions have repeated themselves as my friends’ parents have chosen to unite again.
There is cauldron of emotions that are unique to having a widowed parent marry again. As one friend unloaded, “I’m upset. I feel Mom is thinking only of herself and her loneliness. She is watering down her time by adding on another family instead of taking care of and appreciating the one she already has. I guess it just goes to show just how strong of an emotion loneliness is.”
Rage is another emotion that can surface. It might come from seeing your beloved parent in the arms of and being touched by someone else. It might come when your new “parent” rearranges the furniture or sells off precious treasures from your own youth. It might come because your parent seems happier than he or she was before.
Strong emotions might simply come because the union is a surprise. You are still mourning the loss of your beloved parent. How can your widowed parent be so far past that place? How can they date, become engaged, and start life over again so quickly?
For the most part, it appears siblings have a variety of responses to this change, but their gut reactions are generally the same and often negative.
My same friend explained, “It seems that all us children are all on the same page and concur the same feelings. Essentially we DO want our mother to be happy and would like to see her find and feel happiness. If this is what will make her happy, than we truly wish for her much success and the best life can bring.”
There is a good chance that your new “parent” will move into the home you occupied as a child. They will bring in their own clothes, furniture, and treasures. They will likely change the home to meet their decorative tastes.
This can cause additional challenges as relatives’ ire is raised by each noticed modification. As one friend lamented, “Some of us aren’t ready to see Dad’s tools and equipment being pushed out of the house so quickly because that means it’s for real, that he’s gone and another man is moving into taking his place.”
One wiser woman, when marrying into a family and moving into the established home of her husband, wrote all the husband’s children and kindly indicated that she was planning on a five-year transition period.
As they gathered to the home from time to time for reunions and holidays, she would bring out all the unneeded treasures that were in the home when she arrived and had been moved to a safe location. These items, she indicated, were being carefully boxed and stored during the remodeling that was being done to update the home. She was sensitive to the treasures of her husband’s family and wanted them to be divided amongst the children as they desired.
However, she also clarified that after the five-year transition, she would be discarding any items remaining in the home that were not useful to her and her husband’s current needs.
She rewrote a similar letter each year and sent it to his children, updating the deadline to make sure everyone was informed and invited to be involved in the transition.
For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are many questions that remain outstanding when remarriage occurs. Some doctrines have been clarified; some are clear but more uncomfortable.
As my friend shared, “Do I like that my mother is getting remarried? No, but it doesn’t matter if I approve of it or not. That’s the part that I have to let go of and be okay with.
“It’s my mother’s choice and she gets to deal with the positive or negative consequences. Everyone reaps what they sow, and Mom will have plenty of spiritual experiences that will keep her in line with what she needs to learn.
“Good thing I like the man she is remarrying. That helps a lot. He seems to be a nice guy and I feel he will treat her nice.”
It is difficult to completely come to grips with a new parent. It is traumatic, at best, for most children. Losing a treasured parent and gaining a new one is not easy. It hurts, it stretches, and it can offend.
On the flip side, there is a widowed parent who has personal needs and desires and knows how best to fulfill them while remaining moral and withstanding the temptations of the world.
One good friend told her husband, because she was going to leave him and her son when they were all at a younger age, that her greatest desire was for him to remarry so he would have comfort and companionship and her son would have a mother.
As in this situation, sometimes couples have discussed and decided in detail how the surviving parent should proceed when one of them dies. The widowed parent, therefore, feels free to move ahead with the permission and confidence of the deceased spouse. Frequently, this decision is made privately between the couple before one of them passes away, often without the knowledge or approval of the children. Thus the seeming, and often confusing, speed at which the surviving spouse moves on with life.
As my friend confessed, “It’s only been two years since Dad died, and it feels like the timing to get remarried is too fast and that my father is being forgotten about–especially if you take into account that my mom’s courtship has lasted such a short time before she is to get remarried.”
During one discussion, a further dimension was shared. “Good thing I have had friends in this same boat before me. Every single one of them disliked their parent remarrying.
“They prepared me to expect and count on your parent being someone different than you’ve ever seen them act before. They also taught me to roll with the punches. You have no control what your parent does and can only control yourself.
“The less negativity you put into and give to the situation, the better. Every marriage should start out on the right foot, and children need to give their parent their blessing by giving their parent the unconditional love they deserve — even if they don’t approve of their choice.”
Having parents remarry is a delicate time in life. More than anything else, those going through this transition appreciate a non-judgmental ear that will let them explore their evolving feelings in safety. As much as the new parent needs love, the children associated with the new union need support and care.
Endnote: Out of courtesy to those whom I have spoken to and about, I have chosen to keep my sources anonymous. mcr
Photos used with permission of sxc.hu and huliaf.