“You’re not my real mother, so why should I listen to you?”
“I hate you! I wish my father NEVER EVEN MET YOU!”
“If it wasn’t for you, my parents would still be together.”
If you’re a step parent of teens, it’s likely you’ve heard statements like these at times. How can a (newly remarried) couple navigate the intense feelings of their teens while keeping their marriage healthy and strong? Working together as a team is always the first order of business, especially with teenagers whose job it is to test parental boundaries. But there are also helpful ways for the step parent to make the road smoother. If you are the step parent of a teenager, here are three tips to keep in mind:
Don’t take it personally
Teenagers, experiencing a multitude of changes in their bodies and raging hormones, are emotional creatures under any circumstances. They are likely experiencing many feelings around this time of change in their family, especially if they are still holding on to hope of their parents getting back together. While divorce is hard on children of all ages, if a divorce occurred when the child is older, they often have a harder time. It’s harder for them to accept that their parents won’t be together anymore and they may feel their family has been torn apart. It’s normal for children to have a deep-seated desire for their parents to ultimately get back together. This, then, makes it seems as if the step parent is the person getting in the way of their fantasy. As a step parent, you may end up being the target of their anger, betrayal, and other painful emotions. It can help to know that the painful emotions your step child is feeling likely has little to nothing to do with you personally.
Don’t attempt to compete with the biological parent
With younger children, there tends to be more of an acceptance of a step parent as long as you are loving and attentive. But with teenagers, this acceptance of a new parental figure in their lives doesn’t usually come easily and you can inadvertently end up ‘competing’ with the bio parent. If there is a good relationship with their other biological parent, chances are loyalty will be fierce. It is important to never say anything bad about your step child’s biological parent, as much as it may be tempting at times. If the relationship with your new partner and their ex isn’t so amicable, be sure to keep those conversations away from children at all times! They need to know and believe that their loyalty to their biological parent is absolutely okay. As the newcomer, try to remind children that you are never looking to replace their biological parent. To avoid seeming to compete with your partner’s ex, always respect the role the bio parent plays in the teen’s life. Another important way to stay away from a competing stance is by sharing big decisions and important information with the biological parent. For example, if your teenager gets in trouble in school, be sure to work with your partner AND THEIR EX to decide on how discipline will be handled. If your teenager sees that parenting is being done in conjunction with both of their biological parents, they will have a clearer understanding that you as the step parent are not trying to be a replacement parent.
Talk openly and honestly with your ‘new’ teenager
While getting teenagers to talk is generally challenging, they tend to appreciate when adults are able to be honest with them. While they are by no means your peer and the parent/child roles need to be reinforced, talking honestly with them about issues in the family will help. For example, if you as the step parent are struggling to relate to them or finding it hard to find a common interest, don’t be afraid to confide this struggle to them. Doing so will not only open avenues of communication, but will have the added bonus of letting them see that you are human and doing your best.
While being the step parent of an adolescent can bring its own unique set of challenges, some simple actions can go a long way in keeping peace in your blended family. These attitudes and actions can even help to get you on your way to a strong healthy relationship with your new stepchild. At Couples Therapy Center of NJ, we help remarried couples with parenting issues to develop healthy communication AND grow a strong, stable family. And if you can’t get your spouse to come in with you, that’s okay. We also see individual clients because good work on the marriage (and family) can take place even if we never meet your partner.