I am a part of a blended family. My husband is the father of two great kids and we all mesh together pretty well. Don’t get me wrong, we have our ups and downs every now and then, but all families do, especially families with tweens and teens! Step-parenting in a blended family can be tricky and it seems to become even more so when a tween or teen is involved.
Tweens and teens have a long relationship with their birth parents and may be hesitant to embrace a new (step) parent. They are also going through major social, emotional and physical changes as they move from childhood to adulthood, which is already challenging without adding an additional parent figure to the mix. Tweens or Teens whose parents divorce or remarry during their adolescence, when they are focused on themselves, can be especially hard hit.
My step-daughter, “J” is 11 and she has been pretty candid with me about what works, what doesn’t, and what she would like her Dad, Mom, and me (her step-mom) to know. Not too long ago, J and I sat down for an interview. She talked about many things: her mom and dad each dating new people; how it was when she knew “something was up” between her dad and me; being involved with our wedding planning; her own views on marriage (she is going to be very picky!); and her experience of realizing that her parents were not going to get back together. Based on her experience, she also gave me some rules for blended families. Not surprisingly, good co-parenting education programs that are proven to work (such as Children in the Middle or Parents Forever) reinforce what J had to say.
Here are J’s Rules for Blended Families:
- Do not talk negatively about the other parent. EVER. No matter how mad you are.
- Find a way to make the custody/visitation schedule easy to understand, especially for younger kids. We use a dot or color coded calendar system in our house.
- It is HARD for kids when each parent has different rules, values, and expectations. It is even harder when each parent cannot come to some sort of middle ground.
- Be respectful of the other parent… even if you don’t like them.
- If you are a step-parent, ask your step-kids how they want to be introduced. J is okay with me introducing her as my daughter to people who her mom does NOT know, but would be very uncomfortable doing so with people who know her mom. (We live in a small town). She says it is really important for parents not to force a certain title.
- It is important for your step-children to know they are loved by, you, their step-parent. But remember, relationships take time and your step-children might not tell you they love you back for a long time. Don’t force the issue.
- Ask about the kid’s time at the other parent’s house. Show interest in what they are doing in both places, not just your house.
- Do not make kids choose between parents. This makes things tough on everyone.
When all parents and step-parents are sensitive and put the needs of the children first, being part of a blended family, even through the teen years, can be a wonderful experience. I know that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on the chance to be “J”’s step-mom.
Article written by Rachael
Rachael Loucks is a Family Living Agent with the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. Her philosophy is that parents are their child’s first, and most important, teachers. She enjoys spending time with her family riding horses, reading, watching movies, and attending tractor pulls. She belongs to a blended family and enjoys the challenges and joys step-parenting can bring. There are three children in Rachael’s family, ages 8, 11, and 1 ½.