If the kids are expressing distress, depression, resistance, and rebellion, listen! They need to have their feelings acknowledged. Sometimes when they see that you are listening to their feelings, they feel able to listen a bit to yours. (Hey, don't count on it, but wouldn't it be lovely?) Try some active listening (discussed in Learning to Communicate With Stepchildren). It can help.
Fear of Their Other Parent's Reaction
Sometimes the child may be concerned about how the other parent will react to your happy news. His or her concerns may be valid—divorce makes people desperately upset, and kids who are veterans of the divorce wars often have seen their parents tremendously distressed. To help the child, consider these tactics:
- If you're the step-to-be, assure the child that you will not try to take his parent's place.
- Remind sweet sulky Sarah that this marriage is not her choice or decision. This may actually relieve her mind—she may be trying to take responsibility, she may be trying so hard to be loyal to her other parent that she's trying to throw off the wedding.
- The child's bioparent should reassure the child not to worry about telling his other parent—the kid might be imagining a kind of “shoot the messenger” scenario where he tells the “happy news,” the parent flips, and the kid gets the brunt of it. It is the responsibility of the bioparent to inform his or her ex. The child should not have to do it; it's unfair, and it's not the child's responsibility.
Will My Parent Still Love Me?
You're becoming the most important player in your spouse's life (and she in yours), and it's no wonder the kids are freaking out. They're afraid that they're losing a parent as they gain a stepparent. Each child needs a lot of reassurance. The child does not need, “Oh, stop being such a baby. Of course I'll still love you.”
How “Your” Kids Will React
With Mom or Dad goo-goo in love and planning a wedding, it's common for your kids to feel like they are no longer the focus of your attention. They may feel the loss of you, especially if you've been a single parent for a while. It's true though, isn't it? Aren't you a little distracted? Once again, real reassurance is in order, as is a lot of attention. How long has it been since the two of you went somewhere just to hang out and have fun?
If you have young children who are used to crawling into bed with you in the middle of the night, discuss how you're going to handle this with your spouse-to-be.
Be prepared for your kid's reaction after the wedding as you shift your focus from them to your new spouse. Here's an example: Many single parents of very small children allow the kids to sleep with them. As you're contemplating honeymoon activity, take into consideration that your new spouse will literally be displacing small Angie or Arnold from your bed. Angie or Arnold is not going to like that. Begin the “weaning” process before the wedding. Treat the little one with great tenderness, and be aware that you may have some rough nights before it works.
But She's a Jerk!
It's possible you're making a big mistake—as I've told you, love is blind, deaf, and more than a little dumb. If the kids (yours or your spouse-to-be's) have strong, serious objections (particularly if similar objections come from more than one child), try to open your eyes and ears. Take the objections seriously—they may be correct!
If Possible, Take Your Time
Give the kids as much time as possible to get used to the idea of love, marriage, and so on. Since love has blinded you to reality, the more time you take, the better, for you as well.