If you’re an adult child and your aging mom or dad introduces you to a new friend, your first reaction is likely happiness that they have found companionship. It’s often well and good while it seems like a friendship or casual relationship. But when they break the news that they’re tying the knot, suddenly, your stomach may feel like a knot, too. Maybe you didn’t realize things were quite so serious, or maybe you just never considered the idea that your mom (or dad) would once again find someone with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life.
The reality is that more people over the age of 65 are getting remarried than ever before, and longer life expectancy may contribute to that trend.
Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist and AARP’s love and relationships expert, points out that people getting married at age 65 could easily have a marriage that lasts for 30 years today. For some seniors, the idea that you can spend many more viable years with a significant other makes the prospect of marriage more attractive.
Emotions run high when mom or dad remarries
For the adult children of these seniors, however, the idea of mom or dad remarrying someone new is not quite as rosy. It’s not uncommon for adult children to experience a range of emotions ranging from feelings of abandonment to suspicion that mom or dad’s new paramour is not in the relationship for the right reasons. You may suspect that a new love interest is really only interested in your parent’s money, for instance, and does not truly appreciate your mom or dad for who they are. Of course, the strongest emotions are usually those of wondering whether your other parent would approve of the new match or would offer a blessing for the surviving spouse to find someone new with whom to share their golden years.
Curb your reactions until the shock has passed
First and foremost, you should try to curb any outward reactions until the news has digested and you’re over any surprise or shock you may be experiencing. Once you’re able to look at the relationship objectively, it’s easier to empathize with your parent and look at how the relationship could actually be beneficial to your mom or dad.
Don’t make accusations. Your parent most likely has already experienced ample guilt over entering a new relationship with someone other than the person they intended to spend their whole life with—your other parent. If mom has made the decision to remarry, it’s likely that she’s already worked through most of her guilt and has come to terms with her decision, at least on some level. Adding to lingering feelings of grief not only isn’t fair to your mom or dad, but it can create unnecessary strife between your parent and his current partner. In any case, it certainly won’t add to anyone’s happiness, including your own.
Another issue that commonly arises is dislike of a parent’s new partner. Whether there’s a genuine personality conflict or these feelings are arising out of resentment. It’s important to avoid making comparisons between your parent’s new partner and your deceased parent. Work on finding a common ground, shared interests, or other commonalities that will allow you to respect and appreciate your parent’s new spouse as an individual who brings joy and happiness to your aging parent’s life.
Finances can be tricky when an aging parent remarries
But what about finances? Often one of the biggest concerns when an aging parent remarries, the new partners combining assets can impact inheritance, estate plans, and the like. For this reason, many older adults who choose to remarry opt not to combine previously owned assets and debts to avoid creating unnecessary challenges in estate planning or impacting their children’s inheritance.
A prenuptial agreement is sometimes a good idea for aging adults who choose to remarry. Talk with your mom or dad about how they plan to share or maintain separate assets with their new partner. Talking with an estate attorney or financial planner is a good idea to steer you in the right direction and avoid hassles down the road.
The good news is a parent remarrying doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and it doesn’t have to mean a strained relationship with your mom or dad, or even their new partner. Focus on the positives while talking honestly with your parent about the legal and financial aspects of remarriage to put worries aside so you can appreciate your parent’s new partner for once again bringing joy to your mom’s or dad’s life.