It’s Tough being a Stepparent

               It’s Tough being a Stepparent

A woman recently confessed she didn’t like her 10-year-old stepdaughter.

“When I first met Jennifer,” Samantha said, “we seemed to hit it off and I thought we would become good friends. She and I seemed to have a lot in common —  including love for her father.”

However, once Samantha was married, she and Jennifer no longer seemed to have so much in common. Jennifer seemed to change. She acted resentful of Samantha, was demanding, ungrateful, and jealous of her father’s attention.

“Her behavior was so obnoxious,” Samantha said, “that I began resenting having her around. And she acted like I was in the way, too.”

Mark, a stepparent to 13-year-old Thomas, also saw problems once Mark married Thomas’ mother.

Thomas became disrespectful towards both Mark and his mother. He seemed angry most of the time and didn’t want to be around either Mark or his own mother.

“We got along great in the beginning,” Mark said recently. “He seemed to need a man in his life and I thought we would have this relationship where he and I could hang out together.”

Mark went on to say that he and Thomas’ mother have a exceptional relationship and they are still deeply in love. However, Thomas’ behavior has put a damper on the marriage and family togetherness.

“I wonder sometimes if I should leave,” Mark said. “Thomas doesn’t like me and I don’t see how we can have the kind of marriage I want when Thomas seems to hate me so much.”

A great many remarried couples have problems related to a stepchild’s behavior. Contrary to what many stepparents and biological parents think, it is older children —  particularly teenagers — who have the most difficulty adjusting to a stepparent entering the family.

There are various reasons for this, but often the older child or teen has great difficulty accepting that their parent has remarried and that there is a stepparent in their life. Younger children may be grateful for the love and kindness of a stepparent, but an older child’s adjustment is frequently complicated by feelings of being disloyal to the other parent of they like, or even love, the new stepparent.

Furthermore, adolescents who are dealing with their own sexuality are often forced to deal with the sexuality of their parent who has remarried. When their parent is dating, they may be able to deny their mother or father is having a sexual relationship. When their mother or father gets married, though, and they see more of the love and affection between them, they can no longer deny the sexuality and the feelings they’re struggling with inside themselves.

Furthermore, frequently both biological parents and stepparents have expectations that once they get married, the children will love the stepparent as much as the biological parent loves that person. And both may expect that they will all just become a happy, blended family.

But, it may take years for an older stepchild to come to accept a stepparent. All of the typical feelings stepchildren have need to be resolved at the very same time these kids are trying to cope with all of the aspects of adolescence.

Stepparents usually need very tough skin in order to deal with some of the adjustment problems teens have. If a stepparent holds on to the romantic notion that the stepchild is going to respect and love them  right away, that makes it more difficult for that stepparent to detach and not take things personally.

And that relates to one of the first recommendations for stepparents: Don’t take your stepchild’s adjustment problems personally. It’s not your fault they can’t accept you. Frequently they will act like they hate you and that has to be kept in perspective. It’s not you; it would be the same no matter who their stepparent was.

Sometimes it helps for the family to be involved in counseling. Of course, it may be the stepchild who might need this most in order to learn to adjust to the new family arrangement. But, both biological parents and stepparents often need to be talking to someone who knows and understands the child in order to learn how to better cope with the child’s feelings and behavior.