When Aging Parents Re-Marry

About 20 years ago my friend Laura lost her mother after a lingering illness.  Within a few months, her father’s old friends fixed him up with Maggie, an attractive divorcee.

A whirlwind courtship followed, and Joe and Maggie, both in their late 60s, were married within a year after the mother had died.  Laura and her brothers were stupefied, especially when they saw their father doing things that looked strange to them:  dressing differently, vacationing in Palm Springs, becoming less and less like the man who shared their pain of losing their mother.  They would squirm when Maggie would talk effusively about how great it was to have a “lover” in her life.  When Joe died a few years later, his children felt a mix of grief; relief that Maggie was out of their lives; and outrage when they found out how much Joe left her in his will.

I bring this up because over the past month several acquaintances have talked about their mixed feelings about their older parents “moving on” to new relationships. On one hand, they feel glad that the parent has the chance for companionship as he or she moves into their twilight years.   On the other hand they may mistrust the new partner, especially if the parents’ relationship ended in divorce or they are still grieving over the other parent’s death.  They may not like the new partner, especially if he or she is very different from the first one.

And as with any relationship, money can complicate things.  Some children mistrust the motives of the new spouse, who may or may not want to influence how their inheritance is spent and might be called upon to make decisions about the parent’s long-term care.  While Anna Nicole Smith was vilified for her share of her husband’s estate – after one year of marriage – she maintained that she gave him one of the happiest years of his life.

One of the reasons I started this blog is to serve as a place for adults to talk about how their relationships (with parents, spouses, kids) evolve as they grow older.   I’d love to hear from some of you about your experiences and candid thoughts about an older parent’s remarriage.  My plans are to publish a blog on this topic around Valentine’s Day.  And it goes without saying that names and other details would be disguised to protect your identity (as I did with Laura’s story.)

My hope is that we can all learn from one another’s perspectives.  Feel free to comment below or send your thoughts privately to my email – catherinebuday@gmail.com .  Thank you!!!!

10 thoughts on “When Aging Parents Re-Marry

  1. This is a topic I have thought a lot about and even wrote a paper about in graduate school. My parents divorced when I was in college and so my parents were probably in their early 50s. One of the things that I noticed, and that is supported in research, is that my parent’s focus began to, and did, change. Where initially they were focused inward on our nuclear family, they began to be focused outward on exploring a new, single life full of new people and activities. And of course they were! Their kids were grown and didn’t need them as much but, at the same time, we did need them and still wanted their time and resources (ie the lessons that need to be taught when you are starting out on your own are many)!

    My dad remarried right after I was done college and that added a new set of complications that sounds similar to your friend’s experiences. There was a new woman in our space and she struggled to let us into what she didn’t realize, or didn’t care, had been our space prior to that. When my parents divorced, my dad moved into our vacation house where we had spent summers and holidays since we were kids. The house had, technically, been ours – we had our own rooms, etc, until she moved in. My father did a lousy job of helping us fit into their new lives and we probably did a lousy job sticking up for ourselves. Either way, these transitions are so difficult unless you are talkign about them and addressing them – I think parents are much more apt to do this when their kids are actually kids because they understand the effects of divorce on them whereas, when your kids are adults, they may not see the profound effect it still has on adult children.

    Anyway, I am rambling, but I would be happy to contribute more if you would like more feedback. Thanks again for a great topic.

    • Your story reminded me of one involving another acquaintance. The father married a much younger woman the second time, who began taking over things. She, not the kids, ended up with the home in Florida after he died and they lost the use of it forever after that. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

  2. Well – my Mom passed away when she was only 41 years of age and I was 13.
    My Dad took her death very hard and since he was never one to be alone he remarried 4 times after that! Long, complicated story but I must say although it was difficult on me in many ways I always looked at my Dad as a good man who had a very hard life. He simply did the best he could. Would I have done things differently – who knows – until we are faced with certain decisions we never really know what we will do.
    The one thing I a grateful for is that his last wife was very good to him and took wonderful care of him in his last few years of life. Yes there were many ups and downs but I suppose that is what life is all about!

    • Aunt Marilyn, your response to your dad’s remarriage was a very unusual one. It must have been so hard for you but you tried to see things from your dad’s point of view. Very difficult to do, especially when there’s a lot of hurt involved.

  3. My dad married my mom’s best friend 14 months after my mom died. They were married for 41 years, and she and my mom walked nearly every morning of their 15-year friendship. Here’s how I view it: we all know the things we talk about when we walk, and one of them is about our spouses, and usually it’s not 100% positive (to put it mildly!). If my mom’s friend was willing to marry my dad after hearing all that, and she had to have heard a lot!–god bless her. My mom wanted them to get married–she died of cancer so she had some time to reflect, and she told me that she hoped my dad loved being married to her so much that he’d want to do it again with someone else. And she hoped that someone would be her friend, who knew all of us–our stories, our families, our kids.

    They’ve been married 8 years now and it’s worked out great, my dad isn’t lonely and we all talk about my mom often. People think it’s strange, but it’s truly lovely–my dad was miserable on his own, and now he has someone to take care of, and there is someone to take care of him.

    • Your mom was a wonderful partner to care about your dad’s future happiness as she died…and your step-mom sounds like she honors her memory while carving out her own relationship with your dad. A happy ending all around. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thankfully I have not yet had to deal with the death of a parent, but I can speak to how I felt when my parents were legally separated during my childhood. My dad started up a relationship fairly quickly with another woman, my mom took longer. I felt hurt, resentment and disgust at my father’s actions- he made it seem as if his relationship with my mother was nothing. A few months later, after she took time to heal, my mother, too began a new relationship. Despite my mom taking real time to make sure my brother and I would be okay with her dating, I felt those same feelings towards my mother.

    As children, I think we cling to the ideal image of the life that we lead. Nobody is perfect, nothing is flawless, but we all want to cling to idea that it could be, someday. I am certain that the circumstances behind parents dating or engaging in new relationships after the death of their husband or wife is quite different, but I think the internal feelings of turmoil for children remain the same. It puts a certain finality on the life as they knew it, sealing the fact that nothing will ever be the same.

    Coupled with inheritance, wills, money, and other logistical things that must be dealt with after the death of a parent, it can definitely lead to emotions that adult-children are never fully prepared to handle. I think in our heart of hearts we all want the best for our parents, just as parents want for their children. It is when the things that our parents find to be best for them are different from that picture of the ideal, engrained into us from childhood, that it is difficult to know how to proceed with the new course of things.

    • I’m on my way to see my Mother and Step-Father at the assisted living facility where they have lived for the past three years. I’ve taken great care in dressing this morning since I’m meeting with an administrator to discuss their care: past, present and future. Actually, since they will both be 89 years old this year, I think of their care needs only in three-month time periods. What will be discussed today is not to be considered long-term. It will be for…a while.

      Their home is about 60 miles away from where I live. On a good day the drive is about 1 ½ hours long. On a bad traffic day it can take three hours coming or going. Or more. I take my dog, Babe, with me on these visits. She is excited that she gets to come because, well just because she‘s a dog. She thinks that anytime she’s in the car our destination is going to open avenues of adventure and be great fun, not only for her but for me, as well. Today perhaps not so much.

      Thirty miles into the drive I notice how tight my bra has become. That’s strange because it wasn’t uncomfortable when I dressed this morning. Question to myself: what did I have for breakfast that made me assume a weight gain of 10 pounds in what…less than a day? No. Make that just hours?

      Not a clue. Thought is dismissed. Comfort level remains constricted.

      My Step-Father’s memory is slowly sinking into that abyss of darkness feared by many: Alzheimer’s Disease. His daily needs are wearing my Mother into the ground as her attempts to keep him with her physically and mentally are failing. The physical-ness of moving a large man around a small apartment, especially getting him to the toilet on time, is now more than she can manage. There are other things. Himself talking to me on the telephone but holding the phone upside down. Not being the fun and exasperating man he used to be. The fun part is gone. The exasperating part now magnified. Trying to keep him with her mentally is exhausting. She can see him but he can’t see her. He was once so vital and still is, but in an empty way. Mother perceives his slide into that place he cannot share with her, and is now fearful of her own unknown.

      Himself has forgotten that he did not want to die first leaving Mother all alone. This is her fright now.

      I’m not going to be able to alleviate most of her fears today. What is going to happen today is to try to make Mother’s life more…simple. It will get less of a life soon enough. Eventually, and all on it’s own.

      I think I’ve figured out why my bra is too tight.

      I’m trying to keep myself together.

  5. Pingback: Dad’s New Bride: Companion or Gold-Digger? | The Sandwich Lady

  6. It is 2:30 a.m. and I feel comfort in finding this blog. My 86 yr old step father has been my father for 36 years. That’s more than half my lifetime. Although he is not my biological father, he is the father I’ve loved and respected, and learned from. He was the father who loved my mother and her five kids as much as he loved his own, We became a blended family of eight kids without ever referring to one another as “step” anything.

    It will be four years next month since my mother died. And in eight short weeks, my 86 year old father will marry his 65 year old replacement. I call her the replacement, because my sister and I often refer to the adage, ” Women grieve, men replace.” Only two weeks after my mother’s death, my dad was invited to a luncheon with his water therapy group. Since the luncheon was held so shortly after my mom’s funeral, my husband offered to attend with my dad. When my husband returned, he warned us all that dad was vulnerable to the women who viewed him as a “hot new prospect”, even at the age of 82.

    Sure enough, from that point on “my friend Linda, from the Y” promenently came into his life and ours. TWO WEEKS! that’s all….just two weeks to find the person to replace my mom.

    Since my dad had always been so supportive to me, I tried to support him in his new relationship. After all,(as he said to me), “she’s not coming back”;referring to my mom. All of us tried to understand. Logically, we knew that he needed companionship. Logically, we knew that none of us, children or grandchildren, who worked, went to college, and had committments to our own families, could fill the void my mother left. Regular phone calls, invitations to dinner, and home cooked meals packaged in plasticwear, could not replace a companion, So, despite the 21 year difference in age, (“my friend, Linda” is only 2.5 years older than I am. I am the oldest of the eight kids) we all did our best to be understanding, accepting, and gracious. We did this because we all love our dad.

    I wish I were writing that it all worked out. I wish we all felt that dad’s new love, was a good choice for him. I wish I could write that we all grew to love and care about her, too.
    Instead of grieving for one parent, I now grieve for two.

    “My friend, Linda from the Y” soon became what we called “Dad’s committment” and his responsibility. As one sister said, “Dad is a very young 86 and she is a very old 65.” From the onset, Dad became her care giver. He took her to a gazillion Dr. appointments for her laundry list of health problems. Crippling arthritis is the primary disease. Never married and the only girl in a family of three siblings, this replacement woman has never been married. She is extremely self focused, needy, and immature. Instead of caring for my dad, she depends on him to care for her. At 86, he doesn’t like to drive, yet he’ll drive all over kingdom come for her. His driving was a concern for us four years ago. Another sister, even had a chat with Linda about our feelings of having Dad drive her every where,and asked her to consider doing more of the driving for safety sake. When Linda departed after that visit, in her farewell, she made sure to comment how nice it was to have a driver.

    At the two year mark in their relationship, my dad bought Linda a beautiful engagement ring, but made it very clear that they were not going to get married, but instead the ring would symbolize their committment to one another. Now, at the four year mark, Dad announced that he had asked Linda to marry him, but that they would have a prenup and that all trusts, etc would remain the same. No one in the family believes that Dad really wanted to get married. I think Linda wanted to be “a bride”. My dad is such a pleaser, that dispite his resolve to keep the relationship a committment, he is paying big bucks for a wedding just so Linda can have the experience of being a Mrs. By the way, the wedding date is on her 65th birthday. “Not because it is my birthday, but because the weather is always so nice in September”.

    I’m not sleeping much these nights. I find I wake up ruminating over the issues that are not being talked about with my dad, but ARE being talked about between siblings and grandchildren, No one wants to interfere. Everyone just wants him to be happy. If he is happy, then we should just leave it alone. But, there is a HUGE elephant in the room. I desparately want to talk with my Dad. But, he’s made up his mind and historically, once he’s made a decision, there is no changing his mind. I guess I don’t care that he is marrying for the third time. What I care about is that no one is talking about how all the adults of our once nuclear family are effected by this next phase of our dad’s life.

    I apologize for this lengthy and complicated post. I needed a place to write. I hope that readers may offer insight and ideas for the talk I feel I so desparately need to have with my dad. I feel I’ve had such a close relationship with him and that it will soon be dissolved…either because I talk with him or because I don’t.

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