No matter what event led to your becoming a step parent (divorce, death, prior birth outside of wedlock), it’s a major adjustment for everyone involved. Any time you take a group of people and blend them into a family, to call it a challenge is a big understatement. When there are teenagers in the household, the difficulty can grow exponentially.
Becoming a Step Parent of Teens
As most parents would attest, when kids reach their teenage years, they present plenty of new parenting challenges. Raging hormones, moodiness, the influence of friends, and the overall process of becoming an adult brings on a lot of pressure. And if that’s not enough, bringing on a new parent is bound to complicate things even more.
Any teen is bound to rebel on some level, pushing their parents’ buttons along the way. But if you’re a step parent, that button-pushing is often brought to new heights. Here are a few of the ways you might find your step son or step daughter pushing back against you, especially when it comes to rules.
Any teen with a new step parent is bound to harbor some feelings of resentment. They may resent the circumstances, or even their biological parent for getting re-married. And yes, they may resent you for — in their eyes — trying to replace their mom or dad. You may feel anxious to forge a connection with them, but be patient. Let them know don’t intend to replace anyone, and you hope to be there for them. Trying to assert yourself as a disciplinarian right now will only complicate matters. Until everyone has had ample time to adjust, it may be best to defer to your spouse on discipline or punishment. Just be sure to back them up.
Making it Personal
When trying to enforce the rules or make it clear what behavior you expect, you may hear the proverbial “you’re not my mom / dad” coming at you. This is obviously hurtful, but be careful how you react. Taking such statements personally may cause a knee-jerk reaction that only makes matters worse. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to the rules, and that those rules aren’t unnecessarily strict.
Breaking the Rules
Most teens don’t like their biological parents telling them what to do — let alone a step parent. In trying to assert themselves, a lot of step parents get a little overzealous to control an unruly teenager. Keep in mind that you may, in fact, be harder on them than your own kids (subconsciously, of course). It’s actually natural. After all, you’re probably a little more numb to the attitude of a teen you’ve been raising yourself for 15 years.
Ignoring Your Authority
Sometimes a teen will basically pretend that you, as a step parent, have no say in what they do. They may only ask questions or request permission of the biological parent. They might give no response to your opinions. While frustrating, in most cases this is part of the adjustment period. Just be careful that you aren’t trying to assert yourself too heavily, too soon.
Whatever your parenting style, a teen who is struggling with a step parent may simply isolate themselves, withdrawing emotionally and physically. They may legitimately ache for the loss of or separation from their parent. This is when parents should consider professional therapy to help their teen — and maybe the whole family — adjust to new circumstances. Often, family therapy can help teens see their parents with a new, more human perspective.
If your family is having a difficult adjustment to your new blended family, or your teen seems to be acting out more than is reasonable, it’s important to talk to a therapist or family counselor who can help you get back on the right track. With time, your role as a step parent — and disciplinarian — can be well-defined and healthy.