Hope for Other Mothers: Step-Parenting Teens
Nearly thirty percent of children in the United States live in blended families. If you are an “other mother” of teenagers, your job as a parent can feel exhausting and hopeless. Your teenager might compare you to their biological mother, create conflict between you and their father, and say, “You’re not my real mom, and you can’t tell me what to do!” Step-parenting a teenager is like asking you to swim laps without arms or put out a fire with just a spoonful of water. Whether your teenager’s biological mother is gracious or completely awful, your spouse is supportive or distant, or your teen is a nightmare or an embarrassment, there is hope!
Here are four important principles that will go a long way toward making your task as an “other mother” less painful and more effective.
Reduce the adult confusion
Blended families struggle with an overdose of confusion in the parenting department, and the first order of business is to get on the same page as your spouse. Talk about the roles you each want to play as parents and the complications you each face based on your ex and your teen. If your spouse supports your parenting ideas and backs you up when there’s conflict, you’ve got a bonus! But that kind of support might not happen in many families. Perhaps the best place to start is to ask, “What situations would you prefer I simply stay out of?”
If your spouse is not willing to sit down and have a serious discussion about parenting issues, it might be time to pull in some outside help. Often men who can’t hear you can hear the exact same message delivered by a coach or counselor.
Reduce your teen’s confusion
Your teenager is in an uncomfortable position. He or she is trying to find a way to adjust to having an “other mother” and making comparisons or wondering where they fit now in the affection of their father. They might have a hard time going back and forth between two families with different rules and expectations. If you’ve agreed with your partner on what the expectations are with your teen, be proactive in communicating those expectations clearly. Anticipate some acting out, anger or depression. But don’t expect your teen to be able to read your mind or already know how you want to be treated. You can help your teen let go of their confusion by steadily communicating your role and expectations clearly, then allowing them the grace to take time to adjust.
Learn to keep your mouth shut
Having a negative opinion about your spouse’s ex is expected, but expressing it is a big no-no. If your stomach churns listening to an argument between your teen and his or her dad, grab the Tums or go for a walk, but stay out of it. When you’re tempted to jump in and dish out your words of wisdom, try this: “That sounds like a tough situation. Are you hoping for ideas from me, or do you simply need to share it?” Say it even when you’re absolutely sure your teen would benefit from your input or when their perspective is flat-out wrong, and one day they might ask for your advice.
Hold your own heart gently
You have been handed a nearly impossible task of stepping into a ready-made family as an “other mother” to a teenager. You will feel exhausted, unloved, and ignored. You’ll wonder if you did the right thing, if you have what it takes, if maybe you should just take an extended vacation. Develop a network of friends you can lean on when you’re sure you’re not cut out for this job.
On the good days, you’ll remember why you chose this path. On the bad days, you’ll question your sanity and wonder if any “other mothers” have it as tough as you do (they do!). Keep growing, and you will find moments that fill your heart as you build a relationship with the teen you have chosen to love.