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Nothing is more exhilarating than falling in love. It is especially sweet when love comes to you after the devastating pain of divorce or death. At one time, you may have thought -I am so done with all this love stuff- too much pain! Now you find yourself sleepless, flushed, and unable to think of anything else. Once it may have seemed unimaginable- but here you are middle-aged and head over heels in love like a teenager.

While you may be shocked that this has happened-no one is more shocked than your adult children. So thrilled with this new relationship, you cannot imagine that everyone will not feel the same excitement.  Then you call your adult children, giddy with enthusiasm, and are shocked by the somewhat cool response of your kids. “That’s great, but I am not ready to meet him/her.”

You hang up the phone and are stunned by the selfishness of your children! They know how hard it has been for me; isn’t it time I have some joy? What is wrong with them? Why can’t they be excited for me? They haven’t even given this new person a chance!

Your adult children hang up equally stunned. How could mom/dad be so totally insensitive?

Here’s the problem….you and your adult children are on a different time line with regard to your healing process. The connection with a new person helps diminish your loss and pain in a very substantial way. But your children are still devastated and adjusting to their loss. Your new love does not diminish their pain at all. It may actually increase their sadness and loss to experience someone in the “space” once occupied by their other parent.

Let’s look at the difference between how divorce and death affects adult children. While the issues can overlap in many ways- abandonment, jealousy and resentment and deep nostalgia; with divorce there are divided loyalties and in death there is bereavement and a desire to protect/honor the deceased parent’s memory.

DIVORCE

  • If the “new” partner was involved with the parent prior to divorce, adult children will have strong resistance. They may blame this person for the divorce and have strong allegiance to the parent “left behind”. In this case, adult children may never want to meet the new person as s/he is seen as the reason their family fell apart.
  • When the new person is someone who enters the picture after the marriage is ended, it is often easier for adult children to accept this relationship. Interestingly, many adult children worry more about their mom being “alone” and are often more open to her dating than their dad.
  • The longer the time between the divorce and the re-coupling, the easier it will be for adult children to accept.
  • If dad dates a much younger woman, particularly with young children, there can be issues of jealousy. Adult children may feel replaced by these new younger children. Sometimes in this scenario, dad, in a desire to “encourage” his children to feel better about the relationship compare his children’s response to the girlfriend’s children’s response. “I don’t know why YOU have such a problem, her children “love” me.” This will NOT make your children feel better. Being compared in ANY way to the new girlfriend’s children only reinforces the notion of both abandonment and replacement.
  • A new relationship is evidence that the parents are not just “on a break”. Many children, regardless of their age, hope for reunification. In truth, an intact family makes things easier for adult children-in practical, emotional and financial aspects. So, while the parent is thrilled with his new relationship status, children may find themselves grieving the divorce all over again.
  •  When the parent enters a new relationship they may be less available to act as an active grandparent.
  • They can eventually be happy for you, but in truth, they wish things were like they used to be.

 Death

  • When a parent has died, children have mixed feelings about their surviving  parent dating. On one hand, they are relieved to see the surviving parent vibrant and upbeat again. But it may feel disloyal to the deceased parent to meet the new person.
  • Dating widows and widowers need to be sensitive to their adult children’s feelings. Grieving a spouse is difficult but grieving the loss of a parent is an entirely different matter; one can have more than one spouse, but not more than one mother or father. If adult children are “forced” to meet the new person before they are ready, they may build resentment to both you and this new person so much so that even if this new relationship ends, the resentment toward you will linger on.
  • The holidays are often very difficult as they are filled with reminiscing and traditions. Including a new person into the festivities too soon can create a very awkward situation.
  • If the new person has children and grandchildren, your own adult children may feel as if they have to “share” you with this other family. This can invoke further feelings of loss.

In either situation, your children will be uncomfortable with you and your new love hanging all over each other. Keep the PDA (public displays of affection) to a minimum unless you want to evoke the “yuck factor” in your kids. Nothing makes adult children more uncomfortable then the two of you making out like hormone driven adolescents during a family dinner.

These “considerations” do not mean you should not date- or even keep it secret, it merely means that you need to be “considerate” to the adult children’s own process. Keep in mind that this relationship was only possible due to a loss-a loss for your children that is not eradicated by your new relationship. Never assume your adult children feel the same way you are about your dating. Don’t even assume all your kids will feel the same way. To force a relationship before your kids are ready is a recipe for disaster. Be patient, give it time and respect their needs may be different from your own.

Note to readersMany of you who read this blog are adults who have been through the experience of dealing with your parents dating and remarrying. Your comments here will be exceptionally helpful to both parents and adult children who are struggling with the above issue.

© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986.She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

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31 Comments

  1. CJ Golden on the 13. Jan, 2013 remarked #

    How fortunate Joe and I were that all of our children accepted, supported and honored our new relationship. I know instances of relationships that broke up as the couple deferred to the negative reactions of their children. In one extreme case the couple married and had to “divorce” their kids. So sad.

  2. abby on the 13. Jan, 2013 remarked #

    It was hard for me to see my dad with his new girlfriend. I know she didn’t break up my parent’s marriage but I still resented her. always thinking how different she was from my mom. He was happier with her and I accepted her even though it made me sad. I was 28 when they divorced.

  3. AB on the 04. Apr, 2014 remarked #

    My father started dating a family friend while still married to my mother. He blamed her for everything even though he and this women decided to be unfaithful to their spouses. Many years of pain later, my parents finally divorced. This women is trying really hard to worm herself into the family. I will never accept her. She is an opportunist who destroyed our family through her and my father’s actions. I hope he realises what us and other members of the family have been warning him about is true. It is very hurtful. Even is they marry we will never accept her and she will never be seen as our child’s step-gran.

  4. Babs on the 03. Jul, 2014 remarked #

    I’m dating a man who has two children 17 and 23. As I agree with your comments…I question how long should one wait for the children to be ready to meet me? Their mom passed 15 months ago and I am dating the father 7 months. I’m willing to wait….but I’m afraid that they will never be ready…..and I may be wasting my time.

  5. Suzan on the 06. Jul, 2014 remarked #

    I am in the process of getting divorced,my two adult zones are very negative,disrespectful to me,one said They will go see dad’s new wife,my daughter is the only one who is out of it & act the sameDad has brainwashed the boys thinking, I am very shocked and sad that I lost my children this fast& how dad who was away has a this great effect on them,I am so devistated,,my divorce is next month.

    • Donna Ferber on the 06. Jul, 2014 remarked #

      It sounds as if your children want to have a relationship with both you and their dad. Often children distance from the parent who “makes them choose sides”. Try to support your children having a relationship with their dad without making them feel guilty. Giving them the freedom to love you both is the best gift you can give them as they struggle with this difficult time. Find a support group, therapist or clergy person with whom you can share your feelings and gather support. Good luck!

  6. Jack on the 20. Aug, 2014 remarked #

    I am dating a woman who is older than me – she has 2 young adult kids and though I am well into adulthood, I am technically closer closer to their ages than to hers. Her son is a little surprised, but cool with it, but her daughter does NOT appreciate me or the relationship. I feel like this page’s explanation really fit all the pieces of the puzzle together, and helped me understand the daughter’s side, as well as making me feel like I am not alone on this road. Thank you for taking the time to add this to the internet.

  7. Emma on the 21. Sep, 2014 remarked #

    As I read this article, I found myself agreeing with just about everything that related to my situation. My mum unexpectedly passed away 3 months ago. My dad recently told me he is attracted to lady friend already. I feel all of those feelings of abandonment, betrayal, disrespect and like I would be betraying my mum if I condoned it.

    • Donna Ferber on the 21. Sep, 2014 remarked #

      Try talking with your dad about your feelings always keeping in mind that your loss is different than his. Your dad lost his spouse and people often have more than one partner in their lives. However, nothing ever replaces a mum. As long as he doesn’t expect you to think of her as your “New mom” , maybe you can support his desire to find some happiness again. Try to be gentle with both yourself and your dad. Your loss is different and so your grief will be different.

  8. Patty on the 25. Sep, 2014 remarked #

    Our Mom died in early March. I knew my step father of 38 years (the only Dad I have known n proud to call him Dad) would not wait long. Which would be a relief as he was just so lonely and sad. I was so worried for him, I actually cried for his loss more then mine. Sure enough he brought a new woman into his life barely a month after my Moms death. She is younger then me by 6 years. The issue I have is not how soon or how old she is. It’s her driving us out of our Dads affections so she can manipulate him into giving her money for her gambling addiction. Which he does because he believes they will have a “relationship”. He is so lonely and wanting the comfort of being connected, sex being the promise he thinks from her. She continues to lead him on. He is not the same man any more. I feel not only the loss of my Mother, but now the loss of my Father. At this point we children would like our Mothers photos from our childhood before she met him. Our Grandmothers old dishes. Some things that we all grew up with of no value other then sentimental to us. Which he is basically holding hostage with the advice of this new woman, being vengeful towards us for not accepting her. Not realizing that she is the one who orchestrated the whole mess before we even knew what was coming. I still am in shock how fast she took him over and pushed us out of his life. I guess I might have seen it coming had we not just had the memorial for our Mom only two weeks before he found this person in a gambling casino. It’s been very crushing. Theres so many bad things I can’t begin to relate. Anyway its a sad story with no good feelings left for a Dad I loved so much.

    • frances on the 10. Dec, 2014 remarked #

      iam going through the same thing, my mum died 2 years ago this month and my dad has been dateing this woman for over a year, she has manipulated him and he is gradually getting distant from us ,its all her doing as she is there for money and security, he will not come to see us anymore and if he sees us he is bitter and nasty, the jokey funny loeable dad has gone, its so sad I was so close to him, its all gone now she has him

  9. SarahMae on the 29. Sep, 2014 remarked #

    My parents did not have a wonderful relationship. For years I was mom’s confidant and friend as well as her oldest daughter. I moved home to help with his care. Dad passed in August. Mom announced two weeks ago that she is dating. The PDA is constant and uncomfortable for me. I feel that everything has changed and I’ve lost my best friend- she doesn’t need me anymore. So much of what I’ve been reading to help advise us adult children to “stop being selfish.” I know I am being selfish and I feel guilty that I’m having a hard time dealing with these changes. I just don’t know how to become okay with this.

    • Donna Ferber on the 15. Oct, 2014 remarked #

      I don’t think you are being “selfish”. You are experiencing change and loss. Your mom sees her relationship in very different terms;for her it is a new romantic relationship that is bringing her joy. But for you, it represents loss. If you and your mom can talk about what you feel , respecting the differences but staying focused on how you love and care for each other, that could go a long way in healing your sadness and reconciling your relationship with her. Good luck!

  10. Lynne on the 09. Oct, 2014 remarked #

    I lost my husband of 40 years 18 months ago. I have 3 children 38, 36 and 32 and 7 grandchildren. We have just celebrated the Jewish new year and Yom Kippur. I have a 4 month relationship with a Jewish man who I invited to spend the holidays with us. I invited him to stay at my appartment on the night following yomkippur whilst one of my daughters and husband and children were there this has caused a huge argument and they have accused me of being insensitive. I thought they would be happy for me but having read your article I can see why they aren’t. This has just about blown over and we are speaking again but it was a shock for me and very painful.

    • Donna Ferber on the 11. Oct, 2014 remarked #

      Thank you for your comments- This is such a good example of how the time line of grief is different for each family member and when we assume everyone is on the same page, hurt feelings can result. Best of luck to you and your children on this journey.

  11. Sunny on the 16. Oct, 2014 remarked #

    My love’s eldest has learned about me via sext messages she discovered one night while innocently using her dad’s phone as a flashlight. This comes after the recent death of her mom, her dad’s equally recent life threatening health issue and not knowing her parents were living together though separated for several years. Things are incredibly hard now. I’m afraid she’ll hate me forever because of how she learned about me. She’s expressed fears of him leaving her and her sister behind to be with me (aka that woman). She’s told him he never loved her mom, does not presently care about his children and demands to know where he is going and for how long every time he leaves home. Life is incredibly awful for her right now. She just turned 18, her mom is dead, her childhood home is gone, her parent’s relationship was not what she thought it was and now there’s some person out of nowhere being way more intimate/ indecent with her dad than she would ever care to know – but does. Her feelings are incredibly hard for him to bear on top of his own grief over her mom. His affection for me at times crops up as anger in response to her comments about me and our relationship. They have argued a couple of times. Other times with me he sheds tears because of his inability to make his feelings for me not hurt her. Though the younger daughter is attempting to accept me in her dad’s life I can imagine the difficulty of processing her own grief while watching her dad and sister be at odds with each other. He and both girls are due to start family therapy soon. I feel like I need to go see someone as well. I haven’t the slightest clue how to begin a relationship with someone who feels they have every reason in the world to hate me.

  12. Jane on the 13. Dec, 2014 remarked #

    I lost my Mum 18 months ago. I know my father desperately needs company and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before he found someone else. I even told my partner 12 months ago that it would be a relief when Dad found someone else as I couldn’t fill the missing place for him. Now he has a new girl friend and I find myself struggling with feelings of anger and resentment. I pictured my Dad dating someone for a while and then gradually introducing her once he had got to know her. The reality was totally different. Within days he was ‘head over heels’. I felt like he was forcing me to ‘love’ her too. At the same time I was overwhelmed with the feelings of loss for my mum that I had suppressed trying to support my Dad. I am not ready to see Dad showing the same ‘moves’ towards the new girlfriend as he did to my Mum. I feel like he and the new girlfriend are forcing their relationship on me. I am happy for him….but am not ready to see it. The more they try, the more I feel the need to resist. How can I communicate without hurting Dad that I just need them to leave me alone for a while??

    • Donna Ferber on the 20. Dec, 2014 remarked #

      What is it that you feel you aren’t”ready” for? For him to love someone? For you to accept this reality? Figure out what it is that you are resisting and then share that with him in a gentle non confrontational way. Remember each person’s journey through grief and loss is different. You lost a parent;he lost a spouse. It is a different journey for each of you. And while you may not agree with his process, you need to respect his needs are different than yours. Good luck!

  13. Dawn on the 18. Dec, 2014 remarked #

    Wow. This article speaks to everything my family is going through right now. My father died approximately 18 months ago from cancer. My parents had the perfect marriage and were married for 43 years. We were an extremely tight-knit, close family. However, what has happened since my father’s death would have some wondering. My mother began a grief group immediately following his death. At this time, she met a fellow widower at the group. I could tell almost immediately that something was just off. She began to have dinner and go to movies with him. She began to see him nearly daily. She was caught in lies…saying she was somewhere else when she was actually with him. This behavior in itself was quite concerning. Then, there were comments. Ï am not dating him. I have told him to go out and find someone who is interested in pursuing a relationship. However, her actions did not match her words….This past summer, we went on a family vacation. One night, when all of the adults (3 kids and their spouses) were on the patio, she laid it out…that she and her boyfriend were exclusive and we could either accept it or be quiet about it. My brother, sister, and I were in tears. Where did this come from? How could she? Our father was amazing…Needless to say, things since our vacation have continued to regress. She is resentful and does not understand how her children would not support her. My siblings are as adamant about not meeting him and cannot believe she would begin seeing a man so soon after my father died….What needs to happen? This situation has caused much anger, anxiety, and stress within our family.

    • Dawn on the 19. Dec, 2014 remarked #

      My mother did not intentionally mean for things to occur like they did and has since apologized to us stating she was trying to protect all of us as she knew this would not be well-received. Even with this, there has been no resolve. I am the oldest of 4 children and live next door to my mother. After several heated debates and arguments I decided that I had to change my stance as our relationship was being destroyed. This in itself was about ready to kill me. I have had him over to my house, spent time with him and my mother, and have had dinner with the two of them on occasion. My siblings still have no desire to meet him or accept this relationship. The more they feel pushed, the harder they fight back. Now, with the holidays approaching, my mother has voiced on several occasions that she feels sorry for him (as he really has no one except my mother in his life) and he will be spending the holidays alone. He has stated that he would like her there (at his beck and call) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When I attempt to tell my mother that there should be a compromise on all sides, she becomes extremely defensive. I fear that if she proceeds to try to include him during these family times breaches in many relationships will occur. Neither side really understands the other and neither side is open to hearing what the other feels so our family is in a state of stagnation…very sad.

      • Donna Ferber on the 20. Dec, 2014 remarked #

        It is sad, especially when we remember that the holidays are about being open, kind and giving, especially to those we love. She loves him and while you don’t have to love him ( or even like him) you do need to respect her choices. All of you being together for the holidays would be the best gift you could give your mother. I hope you all can open your hearts to look at the bigger picture -these holidays are about compassion and acceptance.

    • Donna Ferber on the 19. Dec, 2014 remarked #

      I am so sorry the loss of your dad and for what has happened subsequently.
      It is important to remember that the loss is different for you and your siblings than it is for your mom. You lost a dad, that is a chasm in your life that cannot be filled. However, you mother has lost a life partner and to bring someone into her life does not diminish nor disrespect your relationship ( or her relationship) with you dad.
      Woman who have had a terrific relationship are often the ones who miss be in relationship the most; in some ways her need to be with someone is a testimony to how great that relationship was. She is not trying to replace your dad, but she misses having a life companion. Is there a way you and your siblings can accept-not him as a substitute- but rather that he has brought her joy? You and your siblings have your spouses to reply on. Your mother feels the loss of a life partner profoundly and if she is able to find joy, is there a part of you that can be happy for her?
      As to her “lying”-many widows try to respect their children’s pain by not confiding in them about a new relationship. Perhaps your mom was trying to protect you rather than betray you. Try to think about this from her perspective. You have lost your dad- I hope your family can find it in their heart to not hold on to anger and resentment. That could result in the loss of the relationship with your surviving parent-something you may regret later. Good luck!

  14. Sparrow on the 05. Jan, 2015 remarked #

    My boyfriend of four months has been divorced from his ex-wife (she left him after 23 years of marriage) for almost two years. He has two adult children (18 and 22) and as dysfunctional as this sounds, they have never spoken of the divorce. Not once. He is in therapy, and finally worked up the courage to broach the subject with his adult children to find out what their feelings about the divorce were, but they shut him down immediately and told him they didn’t want to talk about it, but it would all be okay eventually. When he then tried to ask how they would feel about his dating, they reacted in a horrified way, told him that children should never witness a parent dating and never wanted to meet anyone. He then – immediately – broke up with me. Is there anything I can do – I really love this man – to help him be strong and courageous? Or will he have to figure this out on his own and I lose him? Why would a man give so much power away to his children and ex? I feel so sad and devastated at the thought of losing him. I have never been married before and have no kids that they would be competing with. I am just cheering for all of them, yet they seem determined to never discuss anything and remain in their own shells of private pain and hell. Help!

    • Donna Ferber on the 07. Jan, 2015 remarked #

      Sorry you are having such a difficult time. It sounds as if no one in the family is ready to move on. The fact that the divorce hasn’t been discussed with the children may mean that it is still too painful for the father to deal with. As to the children- 18 and 22 are really just kids. We know the part of the brain responsible for making good decisions is not fully formed until 24/25 years of age. Their behavior is not unusual for teenagers who haven’t been helped to deal with the loss and devastation.
      It isn’t really a question of your boyfriend being”strong”…grief, loss and transition take time. Two years is enough for some but others need more. Unfortunately, other than suggesting they work with a professional counselor, there is nothing you can do. Good Luck!

  15. Madelynne on the 23. Jan, 2015 remarked #

    …When a person wants to marry after a death(4 months after my mother-in-law died, in my case)that person needs to understand people are grieving. The introduction of a new person, well, it shows the surviving parent is actively moving on. That doesn’t mean I have to move on at that speed, nor, do I need to hasten my grieving process to accommodate their dating or marriage schedule.

    For me personally, I think the surviving partner needs to realize this is a massive decision that will forever change the dynamics of a family that has been constant (56 years in my story).

    This is something to not take on lightly. One person’s decision affects everyone.

    However, I believe as long as the surviving parent is emotionally there for the adult children and respects, honors their feelings, things will transition with much more ease.

    All the adult kids want to hear is … I love you… I will never leave you.. No one will come before my family and I will ensure my family is protected.

    Not, You need to deal with this. You need to talk to a counselor. This is your problem.

    Family is permanent and should be treated as such. Honor that bond and you will forever be honored.

  16. Jurea on the 15. Feb, 2015 remarked #

    My mother just passed away in July ( 7 months) my father acts as if he is just devasted, he’s told me he feels like he is fiend etc. he came to visit this weekend and was on my computer, left his email open and I discovered he has been talking to this lady ( who btw sounds like she is full of crap) she apparently is younger than him. They are already talking about spending their lives together, having a family. Seriously ? I am (43) an only child, my father is 65 yrs old, children? Wth is wrong with him? First of all he can’t afford a wife and surely not children!! I have been sick to death of the thought of any of this!!! I can’t even look at him and I just want him to go home!!! My father is all I have but I honestly don’t know if I can deal with this!! He gags me saying things like ” I need s younger woman to keep up with me” yuck!! Also he says to me ” when I die, you will inherit this & that” really . I’ll be lucky to be invited to the funeral because of your new family!! I want my father to be happy but this is ridiculous …. Children? Seriously?

    • Donna Ferber on the 15. Feb, 2015 remarked #

      Your dad misses your mom and is dealing with his loneliness as many do; thinking he can fill the void with another person. He will find out that this is more difficult to do than he knows. Many who have been widowed express a desire for someone much younger…having survived the death of a partner, this is a way they image that can avoid another devastating loss. Be patient with your dad, he is simply trying to fill his emptiness. Rather than judge him ( or panic that he is going to remarry), help him move in a healthier direction by suggesting he consider joining a widower’s group in his town. With an internet search, it should be easy to find something nearby. Good luck. Keep in mind, he is not trying to replace your mother, but rather he is trying to deal with his pain and the deep chasm that her passing has left in his life.

  17. Bridget on the 11. Mar, 2015 remarked #

    My husband of 8 yrs died June 30th 2014. At the time of our marriage, his eldest daughter estranged (aged 38) herself from us; his younger daughter was supportive (aged 36). Their mother re-married before either of them turned 10 yrs old, so dad was delighted to find some of the happiness that he saw everyone around him enjoyed. But with his death, everyone has turned against me – and I was was one who stuck to him like glue, through 3 strokes and other illnesses. Go figure.

  18. Nin on the 13. Mar, 2015 remarked #

    I have been divorced for over five years, and my boyfriend and I live together but my son who is 24 does not care for my boyfriend. My son is getting married and i am not allowed to bring him. I love my son and he also just starting speaking to me in the last two years during my divorce he stop talking to me. I am torn and try to keep the relationship separate but it is so hurtful to me. Any advice on this

    • Donna Ferber on the 22. Mar, 2015 remarked #

      be kind but firm with you son. This is your life and you have choices as an adult. Your children don’t get to pick who you love. However, if your is uncomfortable with your friend attending the wedding, then go without him. This day belongs to your son and his future wife. It is not the time for a “showdown.”

  19. Andrea on the 20. Mar, 2015 remarked #

    My parents were married for 50 years when my mom passed away last year. She is the only person my dad ever dated. About 5 months after she passed he met a woman 20 years younger than him (74 vs. 54). My sister and I, both in our late 40s were stunned not only from the relationship but also his new found energy. He is a completely different person now and we’re both very resentful and confused. He jumped into the relationship full force – overnight stays, they see each other nearly every day. She is from another country and was married 3x, each courtship about a month long and each marriage just a few years. She has jealousy and possession issues. They live in the same building and are keeping this a secret from the other residents. They have broken up and reconciled many times already but she wants to get married, he’s not ready (yet). I think he’ll give in to it though because he keeps saying he can’t be alone. He’s angry that my sister doesn’t want to talk about her and he’s frustrated that I have voiced my concerns about this woman. Because he has no one to talk to about it, I’m taking on that responsibility which in part is completely inappropriate. It’s also exhausting and upsetting.