Parenting teens is tough. And when stepparents are involved, the challenges are magnified. Step-parenting is one of the toughest roles an adult will ever step into. Currently, one out of three people in America are either a stepparent, a stepchild, or part of a blended family. And while every child and situation is different, healthy family relationships are still possible. In this article, I’ll identify the unique challenges stepparents face and offer ideas for building strong relationships with your teenaged stepchildren.
There Are Unique Challenges that Stepparents Face
In a perfect world, there would never be divorce or a need for a blended family. But we don’t live in perfect world. Teens especially feel the loss of the family they hoped for, or expected to have. Filling that void with a stepparent doesn’t make that loss go away. In fact, it can bring it to the surface and show through your teen’s behavior. Deep down, every kid wishes their birth parents were still together. So, even if a stepparent is a wonderful addition to the family, he or she might remind a teen of who’s missing. In fact, the better that stepparent is, the more painfully a teen might feel the loss!
Another unique challenge of blended families is that the kids often believe that having a good relationship with a stepparent, means they can’t have a relationship with their original parent. Accepting a stepparent feels like a rejection of their “real” parent. So, by rejecting you, your stepchild feels “loyal” to his original parent. You need to realize that you can’t fix this problem for your teen. It’s something he is going to have to work through.
Sadly some ex-spouses make it their aim to get back at their former partner. The added tension of a strained relationship with an ex-spouse makes conflict inevitable––especially if your teen splits his time between you and another parent. Values, rules, boundaries, and expectations may be different for the teen in a different house. And teens quickly learn how to take advantage and manipulate the situation to try and get what they want.
Ideas for Building a Strong Relationship with a Stepchild
If you believed stepping into a blended family would be easy, you’re simply not dealing in reality. No matter how wonderful the new marriage is, conflict is inevitable as these two families come together. You need to understand that conflict is part of your reality. And when it comes, don’t overreact! Typically your teen’s anger will flare up quickly and die down just as quickly. Overreacting to a teen’s bad attitude can push a teen into rebellion. Instead, enter into each conflict with a great amount of understanding and strength. Your calm, steady reaction will create much-needed stabilization. And part of getting to a better relationship, is walking through the storms together.
It’s important to spend time figuring out how this new family will work. What will your role be? Parents and stepparents can and should control the behavior of a child when he’s unable to control his own behavior. No amount of loss ever justifies a teen being disrespectful, disobedient, dishonest, hateful, evil, apathetic, or nasty to a stepparent. But you might need to be prepared for it anyway.As you create a new family, create an environment where disagreements and struggles are okay. You need to understand that there are going to be some problems you cannot fix, some problems that are not yours to solve, and some things that will never be resolved. So don’t expect or demand perfect behavior from your teen. Just like you, they won’t react perfectly all the time.
Encouragement for Stepparents
No one likes conflict, but you can choose to embrace the conflicts that arise and use these moments as opportunities to strengthen your bond. If you approach it correctly, the conflict can be the opportunity you need to draw closer. Remember in those moments when your teen is directing his anger and frustration at you, that it doesn’t mean that you are the problem. Your teen is going through a painful loss. Do not to take your teen’s behavior personally. If stepparents allow their teens to work through their loss, while requiring teens to accept responsibility for their feelings and behavior, a relationship will eventually develop. But it’s going to take a lot of time and patience.
Hey moms, dads, and those of you who are stepmoms and stepdads … the position that you find yourself in, in a blended family can be a tough spot. The challenges you’ll face are unique to the new family that you’ve put together. So let me encourage you with a couple of thoughts that might help. First, if you believe that all that comes to you has first passed through the hands of God, then the challenges before you are going to be a wonderful (but not always fun) opportunity to learn how to accept that which is before you—and lean on Him for your strength and guidance. Secondly, the challenges of being stepparent will soon pass as you and your spouse grow closer. The challenges presented by blending your family will soon be in the rearview mirror. So hold on to each other. Trust that God is present and take advantage of the opportunity before you.