The last few decades have seen an exponential rise in divorce rates across numerous age groups. This has led to increased instances of remarriage. These new marriages are often blended, bringing children from past relationships to the new one. Stepparents often opt to formally adopt these children to make the family whole legally as well as emotionally.
While a stepparent adoption differs from a traditional agency adoption, there are numerous challenges that might come as unexpected scenarios for the new familial unit, including:
- Talking about the past: In a traditional adoption, the child might have no indication there were different biological parents. Stepparent adoption is a generally more open arrangement. The children will often become overwhelmed with questions as they continue to come to terms with their family unit. Does my old parent miss me? Why did they leave? Did I do something wrong? These questions can be heartbreaking for a stepparent but shouldn’t be avoided. It is possible to keep the lines of communication open with the child in an effort to remain positive yet honest about the situation.
- Sharing negative feelings: In a divorce, the concept is generally referred to as parental alienation. It is not uncommon for one parent to share negative feelings or emotions, intentionally or unintentionally, that could influence how the child perceives the other parent. These emotions can carry over into stepparent adoption and can raise some challenging questions. The children will generally wish to think positively about their parents and stepparents must understand this. The desire to badmouth the former parent in favor of the new parent can be overwhelming. As the child ages, however, they deserve to know the good and the bad of their entire life.
- Continued contact with the birth parent: While it is not uncommon for the birth parent to relinquish all parental rights and responsibilities during the stepparent adoption process, some might follow more legally complex paths. They might agree to the stepparent adoption with some level of visitation built in for either the parent or the biological grandparents. It can be a challenging concept, but this area of the law remains fluid based on the unique needs of the growing family.
Stepparent adoption is an increasingly common occurrence. It is wise for parents in blended families to anticipate challenging questions and difficult scenarios as children come to terms with the new living arrangement.