Blending a family is never an easy task, but when it involves teens or older children, it gets real—fast. Moody, hormone-riddled teens offer a unique set of challenges when it comes to introducing them to a new stepfamily. Guiding your teen through this new and sometimes overwhelming adventure takes patience, compassion, and a whole lot of honest communication.
Roughly 40% of married couples with children in the United States are step couples, meaning they are cohabiting with children from a previous marriage. This is a fairly large percentage and may help your teen feel less alone in the challenges they face. Teens will likely have many different emotions when they become part of a blended family, and not all of them will be as simple as happy or sad. In fact, handling well the entering of a blended family may teach your teen resilience and provide them with more emotional intelligence to face future challenges as they grow and change.
Why is it harder for teens?
Teens are generally in a more heightened emotional state due to hormones and brain development. During a time when they feel their bodies are out of control, they may seek to control outside situations. This can make them more likely to be reactive to big changes in their lives. When you add in a whole other family or a new parent they are meant to suddenly accept, it can result in a not-so-soft landing. Anger or blame toward the new family, jealousy between kids, adjusting to new routines and boundaries, confusion and frustration are some common snafus in a blended family environment. So, what are co-parents to do when things become difficult for teens in this type of situation?
When teens struggle with this adjustment, co-parents should not expect relationships to spring to life quickly. Depending on your teen and what they’ve experienced throughout your divorce or the loss of a parent, learning to trust their new family can take time. Relationships between the members of a blended family should be allowed to grow in whatever way they need, provided all the people involved feel emotionally safe and supported. Teens may resist at first, but if they’re allowed to take their time and talk it out, they will most likely begin to accept and appreciate their family as time passes.
Discover ways to help the bonding process
In any blended family, looking for common ground is a great way to help foster a bond. If you have a teen, find out where interests intersect and capitalize on the shared joy of common enthusiasm. This may also help the bond between children to form into a strong connection. Interests can be anything from movies and TV shows to sports or extracurricular hobbies.
You and your new co-parent should present a united front to all the children in your blended family. While there may be differences in how you parent or what rules you’ve had in the past, it’s now your job to come to common ground so that expectations are the same all around. Teens will probably sense when something is unfair, and they may be looking to you to ensure that there is a structure for everyone involved in your blended family. Throughout the process, reassure all the children that you and your partner are here to support your family in growing together.
Blending a family is an emotional process for both children and parents. Therefore, you should expect a full range of emotions. Everything from elation to anger to grief could surface as you go through this transition. Teens who have gone through a divorce may feel devastated. Give them plenty of space to feel and process these emotions. They may even benefit from the help of a licensed therapist who can provide them with a safe, neutral space as well as tools to cope.
Teens add a unique dynamic to a blended family. Although they may take extra time to open up when compared to their younger siblings or stepsiblings, they still have a lot to offer their new family. Help them understand that they are a valuable piece of the puzzle, allow them space to process emotions and be sure to hold boundaries when necessary so that you and your new family can grow and thrive together.