Readers, unfortunately, the reality is that adolescence is one of the most stressful times in the life of a teen. While our teenagers can be sweet, charming, daunting and joyful, trudging through the adolescent years with your stepchild can prove to be like a grudge match between David and Goliath. Although teens have many postitive attributes, they experience a myriad of mood swings due to hormone changes which causes them to turn on you at a moments notice, times of lethargy due to their ambivalent view of the world and the mere fact alone that they think they know everything is an understatement! With all that being said, it isn’t a surprise that statistics prove that many remarriages fail due to the stress factors that teenagers bring, and spouses allow, into the marital relationship.
All of the above can cause any bio parent to feel as if they are at the end of their rope when dealing with adolscents. Factor in the stepparent dynamic and you have all the makings of a full blown war on your hands. As stepparents, we need to recognize that rebellion is a part of every teenand ever teen, whether they are in a stepfamily environment or not, will experience same. Stepparents need also be aware that just because the “step” is equated with their family, it doesn’t mean that their stepchildren are unlike any other teen. Stepparents, at times, tend to spend more time focusing on what is “wrong” with their stepchild instead of accepting that some of their issues may just be the mere fact that they are “teens.” Step-teens do not want adversarial relationships with their stepparents anymore than the stepparents do.
When I married my husband, my older two boys were 15 and 16. One was very rebellious and reactive to every situation. My husband had a hard time adjusting as did as my son. I tried to explain to my husband that some of the issues were just due to “teen drama” but inevitably there was strain. Teens need to feel that they can be free to think and to be individuals. The teen years is where our children become self-reliant and when they are trying to establish their own identities. Unfortunately, because of their immaturity, this is projected as reeling against your authority. Granted, sometimes they are just being unruly and at times disrespectful (which should obviously be handled appropriately) but it is good to keep in mind that our kids nowadays have a lot going on. Peer pressure is irrevocable. They feel as if they have to keep up with the ”Kardashian’s,” let alone being raised in the social network generation, their communication skills have gone awry.
Another important factor to weigh in on regarding parenting stepchildren who are teens is the fact that they would just plain rather forget about the custody issues and parental battles and issues between the grown-ups and spend time with their friends. With that being said, having a relationship wth their stepparent is definitiely not the first thing on their minds. Actually, distance between you and your stepteen may grow during this period more than any other time. Don’t hold it against them. Most likey, you do matter to them…they just don’t want to show you right now. Showing feelings is not a high priority on a teen’s list of things to accomplish. Parental love is crucial during this period in their lives and that parental love needs to come from all sides of the coin which includes stepparents. Keep in mind that the stepfamily life is hard for a teen. They are insecure about love (why shouldn’t they be…their parents divorced),their position in the family, loss of their first family and at the same time, they have to compete with you for their parents attention as well.
A few tips that may help you trudge through this time are as follows:
- Expectations. Set clear, concise and age-appropriate expectations. Teens are not mind-readers. Being in the blended environment is confusing itself, shifting from home to home is also hard. Let them know what you expect ahead of time. Be aware that rules and expectations should always be open to change. As children and teens grow, adjustments should be made accordingly. Teens need positive and caring discipline. Albeit there will be challenges with your expressing and their accepting your authority but is crucial that the stepparent and their respective spouse set these boundaries. Remember, it’s easier for the stepteen to lash out at the stepparent as opposed to their bio parent. In my opinion, a lot of the time, that is their way of coping with their feelings.
- Problem Solving. Focus on the solutions and not always so much on the problems. Teens have short attention spans. Working together to solve problems with them will help them navigate and allow them to feel comfortable talking and communicating with you. Talk about differences and how you can use your differences in positive ways.
- Your Role. All stepparents need to define their roles, especially with teens. The wife/husband role is an obvious one. However, with a sensitive teen, it will help if you and your spouse explain to your stepteen that you are not a stumbling block for them but rather a direct extension of their absent parent and that you care about them in all aspects of their life. It’s a tough balance but in my opinion worth the extra effort.
- Acceptance: Stepfamilies are inherently different from nuclear/bio families. There will be clashes from time to time due to different personalities, different value systems, etc. It’s OK! Once families comprehend and accept that it’s okay to be different, they can move on to a more cohesive unit.
- Attention. Stepparents, I cannot reinforce the matter of “attention” enough. Even if we feel shut out at times because we are not the bio parent, it is very important for you, as the adult, to take the lead and reach out to your stepchild(ren)/teen. Taking your time to develop a relationship is important but so is making progress. Once in a while, offer to spend some alone time with your stepteen (a movie, shopping or a sporting event). Remember, even if you are rejected, children remember effort.
- Family Meetings. Setting up a monthly family meeting will do wonders for your struggling situation. Take the opportunity at these meetings to have regular communication. Listen to your stepteen and your children and allow their opinions to matter. Ultimately, all people, but especially teens, want to know that their voices are being heard. Let them get their frustrations and gripes out. Then, find ways to effectively deal with them.
TMF Readers, remember, stepparents can play a very special role in the lives of their stepchildren/teens. How you define your relationship will take careful consideration of feelings, love, love and more love, and most importantly…. time! Do not have unrealistic expectations and remember, as time moves on, your role will become more evident. Do your best to spend quality one on one time and let them get to know you as a person. Take it slow and remember TMF Readers, you are only the wicked stepparent if you allow yourself to be.
Peace & Blessings,