With the divorce rate in the U.S. around 40-50% (depending on how you slice the statistics), many adults are remarrying or re-committing into families where there are already children. Sometimes a remarriage involves taking on the role of parenting teenage stepchildren. Adolescent stepchildren are different from younger stepchildren; they are dealing with the normal adolescent urge to break away from family and create their own identity, even as you come in and change the makeup of their family.

Ideally, you’re starting to work on this long before you become an “official” stepparent. If you’re going to marry a parent and live with their kids, even part of the time, those kids deserve to get to know you well before you actually join the family. This includes not just fun family outings and trips, but spending time with them during their everyday life doing homework, spending a lazy day in, getting into family arguments, or cleaning out the garage.

Even if you feel you get along well with your teenage stepchildren before you marry, or move in with their parent, there can still be problems. It’s different for mom or dad to have a partner who sometimes visits, versus a new spouse actually living in the house. You may get resistance, rudeness, avoidance, or otherwise unpleasant reactions.

  • Have a game plan. You need to sit down with your future spouse/ partner and their children and discuss what “house rules” are. Include things like consequences for disrespect, yelling, and disobedience. Make sure your future spouse is going to back you up if you discipline one of your stepkids according to this plan.
  • Make things fair. If you’re bringing your own kids into the relationship, you’re not only blending families, you’re blending parenting styles. You and your future partner need to sit down and discuss parenting and discipline in detail, because every kid in the household needs to have the same privileges and consequences.
  • You’re not their mom/dad. If a teen says “You’re not my mom/dad!” they are right (although it may not pertain to what’s being discussed in the moment.) You’re a family member and a stepparent, but don’t expect them to look at you as mother or father stand-ins.
  • They still like their mom/dad. Many teens have a relationship with both parents after a divorce. Be calm, deal fairly with everyone, and never badmouth your stepkids’ other parent in front of them.
  • Be patient. Your teen stepkids have had to deal with a divorce (or death or loss of a loved one), their parent’s new relationship, their new relationship with you, and they’re still going through adolescence! It’s no excuse to be rude or disrespectful, but try to be patient with them as they navigate their place in the family and in the world.
  • Be positive. Everybody (usually) likes being thanked and praised. There’s no harm in thanking teens for doing chores, helping you out with something, or giving them positive reinforcement for achievements. Be genuine, but look for opportunities to give positive praise.
  • Don’t take it personally. If your stepkid seems to hate you one day and love you the next, shuts themselves up in their room to text their friends, or rolls their eyes at your choice of movie… don’t take it personally. It means they’re a teenager, and they’re trying to create their own individuality, and it most likely has very little to do with who you are as a person
  • Don’t be their best friend. It’s tempting to be the new “awesome” stepmom/dad who totally gets it and is on their level. Then, when you try to enforce discipline, it can feel like an utter betrayal to a teen who thought that you really were on their level. If you truly like their music, video games, etc., enjoy activities with them- but never cover up for them, lie for them, or condone behavior you’re unsure about or you know their other parent wouldn’t like.

Remember that by taking on a new partner, you’re taking on a new family, and make a good-faith effort to make it easy on everybody; it’s the best way to make it easy on yourself.

Any comments from people who have been in this situation, and have stories or tips on how to handle it?