No stepparent wants a medal, but it’s fair to say they certainly deserve one when it comes to stepparenting teens!
Parenting teenagers is full of challenges at the best of times—stepparenting teens is invariably a minefield.
It doesn’t matter what your stepparenting relationship is with your stepchildren. Puberty, hormones, and highly strung emotions combined can create chaos.
In my case, my stepson was 14 and my stepdaughter was 13 at the time when our “ours” babies were then 1 year old and 3 months old! I had my hands well and truly full, but I want to share some really good tips that helped me during their teenage years.
Surviving the Minefield of Stepparenting Teens
You must be on the same page as your partner.
Stepparents often get all of the criticism yet none of the credit when it comes to raising their stepchildren.
The best way to achieve success in stepparenting your teenage stepchildren is to have created a set of rules and consequences with your partner together. It might be tempting to want to make the rules yourself, but you are simply setting yourself up for failure.
If your stepfamily doesn’t already have a good set of rules in place and being followed, it’s imperative that you get all that sorted out as soon as you can. They don’t need to be overcomplicated, but they must be workable and respected because otherwise, once the teenage years are underway you won’t stand a chance.
It’s important to remember that deep down your teenage stepchildren will always be far more willing to accept those rules and consequences from their parents rather than their stepparents. It doesn’t matter how well they get on with you as their stepparent, they are now teenagers and may try every trick in the book to test your patience and resolve.
Realize that all you really need to do is show your stepchildren that you are always there for them to be able to talk to or to help them out, but when it comes to the actual discipline or enforcing side of rules and consequences, leave it to your partner.
Ideally, when co-parenting is possible, there will be consistency across both homes so that neither person gets “played off” against each other (e.g., the weekend curfew should be the same at both homes as well as who and where the stepchild can hang out with or use a car—if at all).
No parent or stepparent should ever be there to be the teenager’s “best friend.”
Be realistic and get ready for the surliness.
“You’re not my real mom!” is more than likely to be uttered (more than once) during your tenure as a stepmom.
The key is understanding why they are saying it to you. They are not actually saying it to you; in fact, they are saying it because they want to take some power away from you, and they know the emotional buttons they are pushing will get to you.
Instead, simply reply after a deep breath and say, “You are right, I’m not your mom, but I am your stepparent who does love and care about you, no matter what you might think.”
As a stepparent, you are always walking that tightrope, but when you are dealing with teens you need to be firm but fair.
You do not and you should not be putting up with being disrespected, especially in your own home.
But this is where you and your partner need to be on the same page, in a united front, and to be able to say to their children, “This is not acceptable behavior, and it needs to stop. You are disrespecting your stepmom, which in turn is disrespecting me as your parent.”
Remain calm when handling difficult behavior.
As a stepparent, it is so important to try and not take the surliness and irritability of your stepchildren personally.
Your stepchild might be frustrating you beyond belief, but you need to be able to stay calm and in control and not answer back in anger.
Teenagers often lack the skills to be able to express their emotions properly and, instead, lash out at those nearest and dearest. Sometimes it is a cry for attention but more often than not, it is the fact they are teenagers and grappling with many different issues and situations. They are developing their identities and working out their place in the world and their future.
As a stepparent, don’t forget that instead of always pointing out all of the negative things they do, highlight and reinforce some of the good behaviors, too. For example, “I really appreciate the fact you made your bed and put your clothes in the wash hamper basket this weekend. Thank you. I know life can be tough but this family is a team, and each person always has to play their part to make it work properly.”
Be mindful of the problems of puberty.
We have all been through puberty with its various trials and tribulations, but most of us don’t remember it—nor do we want to! Your stepchildren will inevitably face the same hormonal changes you went through.
Menstruation is an important issue. In my mind, this is an area where both parents and stepparents really should be responsibly thinking ahead and have some kind of strategy in place.
Ideally, a mom should be the one telling her daughter about menstruation. In our family, my stepdaughter’s mom never told my husband or me that she had begun. Six months went by and after several plumber visits, the culprit pads were found in a mass halfway down a pipe.
My heart sunk thinking how my stepdaughter must have been so confused. On that three day visit I suggested that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law talk with her, as we had to do something. My stepdaughter’s mom went ballistic when she found out, and I am so glad my husband had the courage to respond, “You didn’t think a text or email or phone call to me was the right thing to do so that we could always have some pads/tampons here in case our daughter forgot? What were we meant to do?”
Remember when it comes to stepparenting your teenager stepchildren, they will be the same as any other teenager in any other family.
You will be challenged by them and by yourself, but you now have a reference point to put it all in perspective and know you will get through it and everything will be okay.
P.S. Find yourself completely overwhelmed stepparenting teens? We get it! Maybe stepping back would help you find peace in your family again.