Book Reviews

Becoming An Adult Stepchild: Adjusting to a Parent's New Marriage

by Pearl Ketover Prilik
Review by Margorie Engel

You think you're mature. You think you're well adjusted. You think you've dealt rather successfully with the adolescent issues that plagued you during your teen years. Then you find out that a parent is going to remarry and you're knocked off your pins. You begin feeling things you haven't felt in a long time: anger, conflicting loyalties, fear that you'll lose the parent, or worry that you'll be discarded in favor of another. Does this mean that when people become adult stepchildren that they need to act out the way a child would?

That's the question Dr. Pearl Ketover Prilik deals with in her book, Becoming An Adult Stepchild: Adjusting to a Parent's New Marriage (American Psychiatric Press). Adults may have more developed coping skills, but just because they "know better" doesn't mean they can put aside their feelings and the unresolved psychological issues surrounding a parent's remarriage and automatically deal with this event - unaffected by the changes that are taking place.

But the feelings can be worked through successfully. The event of a parent's remarriage and the process of reconnecting with that parent in another manner might be the cause of pain, Dr. Prilik says. But it's also an opportunity for personal growth.

Dr. Prilik, a psychotherapist with private practices in two Long island suburbs, begins each chapter by posing a few questions on specific subjects and situations that challenge readers to examine their feelings, attitudes and behavior toward their parent's marriage. She explores the underlying conflicts brought about by these particular circumstances and provides numerous vignettes to illustrate typical adult reactions to a parent's remarriage. Fortunately, she doesn't stop there. She continues, providing suggestions on how readers can reduce the acrimony that can develop during this transition. And it is here that the adult, who has more experience at problem-solving than a child, can be most effective at decreasing the tension and developing new relationships.

The suggestions are more thoughtful than revolutionary - such as taking a parent out to lunch and explaining why certain heirlooms are so important to you and why you have a right to them, thinking carefully about what role you want your new stepfamily to have in your life and how your relations with your parent can change for the better, or using the extra time you'll be having ( a result of not checking in with your mother daily) to refocus on your own life.

The book's psychological slant does touch on some "real life" issues such as money and inheritance and senior competency (there's a chapter on each), but it doesn't provide hard answers to those especially difficult topics. Other resources are available that focus on these areas.

The power of this book is that it addresses a group that is frequently overlooked in the stepfamily literature - the adult stepchildren. And it speaks to them in a friendly, readable and accessible way. It assures them they're not alone if they have problems adjusting to this new family constellation. And it dishes out some important truths from their vantage point.

"When all is said and done, the most significant gain that we may garner from a parent's marriage is a greater tolerance of ambiguity. The disruptions, shifts, conflicts, recognized yearnings and confrontations of losses brought about by a parent's marriage teach one clear lesson: life is about change."

"In the end, no matter how young or old we are, part of us always remains our parent's child."

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