Adult children of divorce and new step parents

After a divorce or the death of a parent, adult children often react just like little kids when their moms or dads remarry. Everyone assumes a new step parent will cause disruption in the life of a 10-year-old boy or girl. However, it is surprising how many adult children have the same reaction.


There are approximately 500,000 couples over 65 who remarry each year, so if each senior has 2 children (the average), then 2 million adults become stepchildren. In reality this number is an extremely low estimate because many adult children have parents who are in their 40s or 50s.

While every child has his or her own reasons to bless or hate an older parent’s marriage, there are some commonalities involved.

According to Dr. Grace Gabe, co-author of the book Step Wars: Overcoming the Perils and Making Peace Within Stepfamilies (St. Martin Press, 2004), many adult children are “unwilling to become a stepchild”. And, Dr. Gabe feels that older remarried parents have a real challenge when trying to blend two families into one family “long after the members are set in their ways”.

Adult Children of Divorce – ACOD

Stepfamily problems are not just relegated to fairy tales by The Brothers Grimm. Almost every adult child reacts the same way, though some children take resentment to an extreme.

In the article, “Dad’s Remarriage” published on the Bonus Families website, Dr. Jann Blackstone-Ford explains that many senior and boomer parents do not “take the same care a parent with younger children takes when integrating a new companion into the family. They often figure ‘the kids are adults, they get it.’ And then they go about their business.”

Adult children of divorce and new step parents

But in reality, adult children can be hit just as hard, can be just as stubborn, and can try to sabotage the new relationship every bit as much as any 5-year-old.

When dad or mom wants to move on with his or her life, children become resentful. A parent who loses a partner to illness looks like he or she is trying to forget the dead spouse. Children of divorced parents lose all hope of a parental reconciliation.

Common Problems Adult Children Have About a Parent’s Remarriage

There are three major difficulties that adult children have with a parent’s engagement or remarriage:

There is grief over the death of a parent or the death of a marriage. Adult children need to understand that “life will never be exactly the same, but it can be just as good,” writes Dr. Blackstone-Ford.
A child’s parent is not just a parent, but also someone’s lover. As such Dr. Blackstone-Ford stresses that children should respect their parent for his or her wish to keep living a full life.
Children have concerns about the inheritance issue. Adult children worry that if an older man remarries, and his new wife outlives him, their dad’s money will go to their stepsiblings.

The only way to overcome these obstacles is to have open communication with one’s parent. Without that, resentment will continue to grow, grief will become all-consuming, and worries about inheritance will multiply. The other way that adult children can overcome these issues is to understand that older people have the same needs for companionship, stability, security, and sexuality as younger adults.

Blended Family Problems: Birth Order Personality & 2 Firstborns

There are many challenges involved in a marriage when both partners have children from past relationships. Usually, it’s hard enough for a husband and wife to adapt to living with each other. However, when several kids are added into the mix during a remarriage (or re-partnering), that family is infused with extra siblings for each child to have as rivals.

Blending Families

Newly married step parents usually cross their fingers and pray for the step siblings to get along.

Yet, according to Lisa Cohn in “The Good News About Stepfamilies” at The Christian Science Monitor, step siblings “generally don’t spend most of their days happily joking with their new stepbrothers and stepsisters…(instead) they long for their biological parents to remarry.” And, on top of that, new stepfamilies usually have many little wars about each child’s place in the new family hierarchy.

So, eventually one first born step sibling is going to claim top-dog status and the other first born will become more like a middle child…right? No.

Remarriage and Step Siblings

Even though every child is different, there are some consistencies in birth order traits. And, those birth order characteristics are, by definition, going to collide when forming a blended family.

In a article, “On Remarriage: Blending Families Alters Birth Orders”, author Paula Bisacre talked about her motherly concern over her first born son losing his oldest child status to his stepbrother. However, Ms. Bisacre said that her “anxiety began to melt” as she read the following sentences in The New Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman:

“The key to understanding how friction can develop in a blended family is to know that once… the personality is set after age five or six, every birth order is set as well…(so) the first born is always a first born.”
“Blended families do not create new birth order positions.”

After contemplating how her biological children were adapting within the new stepfamily, she decided that it was good for her kids to learn various roles and responsibilities. Yet, most importantly, Ms. Bisacre was happy that the step sibling situation would not have an adverse effect on her son’s first born personality.

And, over time, the step siblings would learn to get along.

First Born Personality

In The New Birth Order Book, Dr. Kevin Leman lists traits associated with first born (and only) children: Perfectionistic, driven, scholarly, logical, leader, compliant, and aggressive.

With two “oldest siblings” living in one family, there probably will be conflict between those children in several areas, such as:

Two perfectionists might compete over which of them is more “perfect.”
Compromise: Perfectionistic people have little room for flexibility.
Logical people know they are “right” even when they are not.
Two people cannot be leader at the same time.
Aggressive people tend to be selfish and disregard the feelings of others.

Birth Order and Step Siblings

There are exceptions to the traditional birth order theory if parents remarry while their children are young. A child under five or six will not have developed his or her core characteristics, yet. For example, an only child, age two, who is shuffled in with step siblings, ages three and one, will develop into a middle child.

There are many books and articles that talk about birth order theory. While all families will have a different mix of personalities, learning how to raise a first born girl or boy will certainly help the child. Unless parents are firstborns themselves, they will not understand the added stress that an oldest child holds inside his or her heart.