Mom wants to re-marry

By Dr. Batya L. Ludman, Psy.D., FT · Published April 27, 2007

Dear Dr. Batya,

I am in my early 40s and my mom recently told me that she has plans to remarry in the near future. I was quite surprised as my dad just died a few years ago and I must admit, I am having a hard time dealing with it all. - S.A., Haifa

It sounds to me like there are several issues that you are dealing with. I am wondering, first of all, how you are dealing with the death of your dad. There is no real time line for how long it takes someone to "come to terms" with the loss of a parent. It depends on many factors, such as whether you were close, had unresolved issues, whether he died suddenly and you had no time for good-byes, whether he had gone through a prolonged illness, whether he was elderly, whether your parents had a good relationship, etc. These issues and more will not only influence you but may have an impact on your mother as well.

The next issue of concern for you seems to be the question of your mother ever remarrying and, more specifically, your mom remarrying after "just a few years." I ask you to think about some tough questions and only you can answer them honestly, as many of them may be deeply personal. That said, it may be helpful to discuss them with a professional who, being detached from the subject, can perhaps help you deal with your issues in depth.

So let's start by examining the issue around timing. Is there an ideal time when it would be acceptable for a parent, in this case your mom, to remarry? Do two or three years seem too short? If, for example, she were to wait for, let's say, five, eight or 10 years, would the thought of her getting married be more acceptable? If your mom met someone within a short period of time after your dad died, would this be even less acceptable or is the issue that in your mind there may never be an acceptable time to remarry? What should you take into account when coming up with a time line?

Remarriage is often a very touchy subject. People tend to feel strongly about it one way or another, and whether one is remarrying because of the death of a spouse or after a divorce, both present their own potential set of traumas. Hence, while you may want your mother to be happy, you may be dealing with a host of your own feelings that may be difficult to reconcile. Do you know what they are?

As children, regardless of age, we like to think our parents will be together forever. Even children whose parents fought constantly may fantasize and hope for a reunification, with everything ending happily ever after. The ideal family for many consists of mom and dad moving happily into old age together. The thought of seeing our parent with anyone other than our other parent may indeed feel quite uncomfortable, regardless of whether the previous marriage was a happy one.

That said, if one parent should predecease the other, how do you want your remaining parent to go into old age - alone or with someone else? Does it perhaps feel to you that by meeting and marrying someone else, your mom is being untrue to your dad? Does it mean that she is forgetting about your dad or her children? Does it reflect at all on her first marriage? Are you afraid, and if so, can you elucidate just what you are afraid of? Do you think that your mom is entitled to experience the opportunity to be happy again?

If the recent past for your mom was difficult with your dad, if she looked after him during a lengthy or difficult illness, if she had been miserable for the past few years, or even if she hasn't been, if she has the opportunity to be with someone, do you have a right to, or should you, stand in her way? Perhaps your mom now feels that having met someone, she is happier, less of a burden on her children, less dependent and stronger knowing that she is not alone. You have to decide for yourself if you think she has a right to this in spite of your feeling uncomfortable.

None of this means that she loves you or your dad any less. Many children worry that their parents may rush into a second marriage because they don't want to be alone. Children feel that their parents will make decisions that will ultimately have financial repercussions for themselves and their own children. This is a very real concern and perhaps, if this is an issue for you, you need to discuss this with your mom. Has she, for example, considered signing a prenuptial agreement to safeguard her financial assets and protect her children and grandchildren? How will this new relationship affect your relationship with your mom?

My answer to your question has not been a simple one. A second marriage can give your mother happiness, take away some of her loneliness, free you up to enjoy your own family without the additional worry that all is okay with her. If your mother remarries for all of the wrong reasons, this new relationship can cause tremendous heartache for everyone involved. At the end of the day, it will be your mother's decision. Hopefully you can all work it out so that it is done with your blessing.