EXPERT COLUMN: WOMEN OVER 50

How to Navigate a New Step Family After 50

Cheryl Slomkowski, PhD @cherylslomphd
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May 02, 2018  | Last Updated: May 02, 2018

 

What if you have to deal with a blended family after 50?

Remarrying after divorce or the death of a spouse is fairly common for both men and women after the age of 50. In fact, the rates of both divorce and remarrying after age 50 are on the rise. Navigating newly blended family status in mid-life presents a unique set of challenges. One study astutely points out a few key issues. Stepchildren in these families are likely adults with expectations regarding estate planning and future elder care of their parents. Also, being adults, stepchildren have a longer history of established dynamics within the earlier family, making it more complicated to form relationships in the new step family.

 

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A common challenge shared by step families of all ages is dealing with the feelings of biological parents as well as stepparents. The aforementioned study cleverly coins the terms “stuck insiders,” for step parents, and “stuck outsiders,” for biological parents. What this means is that the biological parent (now divorced) responds first and foremost to the needs of their biological child, which can leave the stepparent feeling marginalized (stuck outside); a biological parent can feel torn between their biological children’s needs and those of their stepchild (stuck inside).

How to navigate a new step family

It may be somewhat surprising to learn that the challenges faced by children of parents recoupled later in life are quite similar to those in younger step families. Just because a stepchild is an adult does not mean that they don’t experience feelings of loss or betrayal because their biological parents have divorced. It can be especially tough for an over 50 step mom when her step daughter is resentful of her biological father for remarrying, for example. Or children themselves may feel that they are betraying their biological parent by accepting or getting along with their step parent. Change can be as difficult or greater for people over 18 with remarried parents. Particularly difficult for adult children in blended families may be the shifting of family traditions, as for example, holidays have been spent a certain way for years, then suddenly change. These are all scenarios that quite commonly arise when recoupling over 50.

How can step family members take on these challenges to ease the potential tensions, and maximize enjoyment of the newly formed family? The short but not simple answer is therapy. Families should be open to participating in various permutations of step family therapy. If a relationship between a biological parent and adult child is already strained, it is advisable to confront the issues in therapy sessions between these two members, perhaps followed by session between step family members, before expecting smooth sailing in step family relationships. Yet every minute shouldn’t be a psychologically laden situation. Moms are typically the family members who take on the role of emotional supporters, but equal part should be granted to lightening up and participating in fun diversions and activities. So without minimizing said challenges, women over 50 who remarry and form new step families, approach life as part Parent Trap and part Brady Bunch!

 

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