When parents begin dating
She passed her dad the spatula without batting an eye. Now, however, 18 months after her mom’s death, Walton’s dad had grown reserved, sharing little of his life with his daughter.Then one night at dinner, Michel casually mentioned to Walton that he’d recently purchased a duplex for his ex-wife, whom he’d been out of contact with for years.I was just trying to protect him.” When a parent begins dating or plans to remarry after the other parent dies, it’s natural for the adult child to go on alert, says Mark Borg Jr., a clinical psychologist in New York City and author of “Irrelationship: How We Use Dysfunctional Relationships to Hide from Intimacy.” “I’ve seen reactions ranging from relief in the children that they now will be less obligated to care for their parent to hurt that their lost parent is being replaced,” says Borg.“It’s also common for children to worry that a parent’s new love might take advantage of or hurt that parent emotionally or financially.” Adult children may also be concerned about how the new relationship could affect their inheritance, says Carolyn Miller Parr, a family mediator in Washington, D. and author of “Love’s Way: Living Peacefully With Your Family as Your Parents Age.” “Children don’t trust the new person in their parent’s life, so they ascribe all kinds of assumptions, like ‘this person is after my parent’s money,’ or, ‘she’ll come between me and my dad and I’ll never see him again,’” says Miller Parr.“The benefits of being accepted, cared for, loved and valued, are immeasurable,” says Borg.“Hold onto that insight and use it to help support the parent’s newfound love.” More than three years after Walton’s mom died, her dad, now 68-years-old, took a chance on love again, reconnecting with an old friend he’d known in his early 20s but fell out of touch with while he was married.The new relationship has sparked her dad’s joy for life again, says Walton.
She and her dad had always been close, sharing an almost telepathic connection with similar personalities and tastes and often finishing each other’s sentences.
The long-divorced couple had renewed their relationship, he told her. “I felt like my dad was sneaking behind my back,” she says.
When she expressed her concerns about the large purchase, Michel became defensive.
If your aging parent’s new love interest makes you nervous, circling the wagons with your siblings for an intervention probably won’t lead anywhere good. “It’s unfair to make assumptions without getting to know the other person,” says Miller Parr.
“For all you know, she might have more money than your father does.” Miller Parr, who became a widow herself after more than 60 years of marriage and remarried at age 79, recommends keeping an open mind and getting to know the new person over lunch or in some other neutral setting.