A malignant brain tumor took my brother’s life. Jim was vibrant and athletic until his illness; his decline was heartbreaking. When he lost his hard-fought struggle with cancer, our family drew together in stunned disbelief. Death had come so quickly – the grief was all consuming.

Jim’s three children, teenagers at the time, spoke often of their love for their dad. They’d talk of how Jim had been not only the best father in the world, but also their personal hero. He spent time with them hiking, biking and fishing – sharing their lives. He laughed with them freely and lavished praise upon them. He also taught by example how to love the Lord deeply.

As years passed, I watched the visible signs of my family’s grief lessen, but my nephews and niece still spoke of Jim often and with great tenderness. Their dad was gone, but they were still a family unit bound by shared memories.

Then their mom met a man, recently widowed. Mutual loss and common experiences formed an immediate bond. Love grew. Within months, my sister-in-law said they’d talked of marriage. They felt as though God brought them together – that He was providing companionship. They didn’t see a reason to wait on marriage and shared their news with enthusiasm. Wasn’t God good?

Praise and gratitude defined the wedding day. But a strange thing happened to the grown children of the bride. Unexpected emotions welled up as they witnessed the union. Later they spoke of the questions that flooded their mind, such as, Who is this person replacing my parent? and How can my mother love another man? 

Over the years my nephews and niece would talk of their journey. It was a process, they said, but as they released their desires to God, trusting Him to settle their hearts, God answered their prayers and ultimately blended their families into a testimony of love and unity. But it wasn’t instantaneous, and it wasn’t always easy.

Choosing to accept

It’s understandable that grown children would feel uncomfortable when a parent remarries. Their childhood memories centre around one mom and one dad together. It might feel strange – or even wrong – to imagine a parent with someone else.

My father-in-law remarried a lady from the church he had pastored for decades. At first my husband, Dan, felt fine about their romance, but on the wedding day he struggled. Here he was in midlife, and he was still sideswiped by unexpected emotion over his dad’s union. He told me how uncomfortable he felt when his father kissed his bride at the altar. "It didn’t seem right to see my dad kissing the church organist," he said.

Eventually my husband adjusted to his father’s new marriage. He discovered that God strengthens a new family unit when given the time and space to do so.

Truths to help you adjust

If you are in midlife and have a parent that recently remarried, here are a few truths that may help as you adjust:

Step-parents do not replace parents. No one can ever take the place of that special parent. You can cherish your natural parent and still create room in your heart to care for another.

Adjusting to a new step-parent takes time. It’s normal to combat feelings of resentment or jealousy, but holding on to those feelings will undermine relationship. Prayerfully ask God’s help to create a heart of acceptance, even fondness.

A critical spirit breeds trouble. Expressing discontent or anger toward a step-parent causes pain to the natural parent. Show respect and kindness even when it’s difficult.

Keep financial concerns to yourself. Worries over inheritance can be contentious. The assets belong to the parents. Unless fraud or financial ruin is suspected, let your parents take the lead.

Honour your new extended family. Sharing special occasions with another family (often complete strangers) can bring conflict, but do your best to pave the way for peace. Be willing to share.

Biblical love is unselfish and giving, seeking another’s well-being above one’s own. This kind of love is patient and kind, honouring and respecting the feelings of the loved one – and that means allowing (even helping) a parent find fulfillment through a happy remarriage.

Related reading:

Karilee Hayden lived with her husband, Dan, in Orlando, Florida, at the time of publication.

© 2009 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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