by Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of Nobody’s Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship With Your Mother and Father
With the divorce rate still hovering at fifty percent, it’s very likely that your mother or father or both will have a new love interest at some point, if they don’t already. When your parent has been widowed or divorced, your bond with him or her changes – sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently and almost certainly if there is a new person in the picture.
Accepting a parent’s new partner isn’t always easy, and it’s especially hard to feel welcoming and amicable if doubt about that partner’s suitability holds you back. Here are some insights and tips to help you deal with your feelings and the changes in your relationship with your parent.
When you question a parent’s choice
As I note in Nobody’s Baby Now, the first step in warming to a parent’s new partner is to figure out why you are hesitant to accept your parent’s choice. Your reluctance may be deeply rooted:
- You may have been watchful and protective of your parent—watchfulness bordering on possessiveness—and are now faced with the possibility of someone taking over your role.
- You may think the new person is a mismatch either socially, financially, or intellectually.
- You could question a mate’s age appropriateness—too old or too young.
- Likewise, you could be dismayed that this new person is assuming the role of your much-loved deceased or absent parent.
- You may perceive a new partner as competition for your parent’s time with you.
- You may have difficulty thinking about your parent as a sexually active person.
- If you thought your parent would remain alone, the change may make you anxious.
Once you understand what is holding you back, you can begin to ask yourself important questions, questions and answers that that may help you see whether your reasons for not accepting the new partner are reasonable and worth holding onto, especially if it means isolating yourself from your mother or father. When you negate a parent’s choice of a partner, think:
- What is the point of your behavior?
- How is your behavior affecting your parent and his or her relationship?
- How is your attitude affecting your parent’s relationship with you?
- What do you hope to gain?
- Whom are you really punishing?
- Is your behavior going to change your parent’s choice?
Keep in mind, when you are not happy about the new partner, your parent will probably be very torn between wanting to please you and wanting to move on with his or her life. Parents want your acceptance and understanding in much the same way you seek their approval for your mate choices.
As you begin to accept the fact of your parent having a new partner, you can begin to reduce the friction the new situation has caused. One important way is to make an effort to see things differently, particularly if your parent is happy. You may not be able to change your parent’s choice, or the partner himself, but you can think of your new family constellation as extra dinners, more people to love you and your children, and an extended support system.
Here are other ideas to help you and the entire family adjust to the new dynamic:
- Give the new partner a chance
- Try not to view the new partner as a parent figure; he or she is not displacing your other parent.
- Look for interests to share as a way to include the parent’s new partner.
- Don’t be overly protective of your parent.
- Don’t endanger your children’s relationship with a grandparent.
- Express serious objections or concerns delicately and calmly.
- Remind yourself that a parent’s choice of companion is not yours to make.
- Stay in groups to help dissipate uncomfortable situations.
- If the partner is unacceptable to you, continue a separate relationship with your parent rather than sever the bond.
- Make a plan to talk with and be with your parent…and stick to it.
- Don’t put your parent in the position of having to choose between you and a new partner.
- Make concessions, if they will keep the bond to your parent strong.
Let go of dislikes and overlook small annoyances and shortcomings if your parent is happy. If need be, focus on the new partner’s good points and accept that cordiality may be the best you can achieve. You’re an adult, too, who can make relatively minor alterations that will reflect your maturity and desire to maintain a mutually supportive connection. Being gracious takes so much less time and physic time and energy, and you may indeed grow to like, even love, your parent’s new partner or spouse.
For more ideas, see: Nobody’s Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship With Your Mother and Father