“I’m not listening to you, you’re not my real mom”… sound familiar? It does for me, swap out 'mom' for 'dad' and I've said that line a million times. My stepfather came into my life at the ripe age of 14, which could quite possibly be one of the most difficult ages for any parent to deal with.
My mom was patient and understanding throughout this difficult transition, she and my stepdad didn’t get married until after ten years of seeing each other. They didn't even move in with one another until I had moved out to attend university.
Keeping my stepdad out of the living arrangements at the time definitely eased some of the tension of feeling like I had some new dad invading my space and telling me what to do.
However, this may not be the case for many of you out there. Putting major milestones in your relationship aside might not be possible or healthy for you and your partner. Regardless of how much contact you have with your partner's teenager, they will inevitably act out. This is where the difficult topic of disciplining your teenage stepkid comes into play. Each family dynamic is extremely different and should be treated in a way that you feel is best for you, your partner, and their teen. Based upon my own experience I'm going to offer my advice for disciplining your teenage stepkids, and I'll tell you right now off the bat: less is best.
At their worst, teenagers can be rebellious, resistant, lazy, grumpy, hormonal, and immature. The list goes on, think about yourself as a teenager-- what were some of your worst behaviors? Their mood also changes very rapidly, how your teenage stepkid behaves one day might be the complete opposite of how they behave the next day. I once dyed my hair black because a boy told me it would look good and I hated it the next day. Teenagers are experimenting physically, socially, and are continuously pushing boundaries to find out who they are. Remember, this is who you are dealing with. Don't take anything too personally and begin by understanding the place where your teenage stepkid is in their life right now. This might offer you some new perspective.
Do not tell us what to do
We know that teenagers don’t like their own parents telling them what to do, let alone someone who they might have difficulty considering a parent. If you are new in your teenage stepkid's life and their home, then likely your teenage stepkid won't respond to you trying to discipline them. In their eyes, you have not earned the right to give them orders and should let their parent do the disciplining for at least the first year.
I myself have witnessed a stepfather take disciplining their teenage stepkid too far, it tragically ended with that teen running away from home. Avoid this drama and allow their parent to be in charge in the beginning. Over time your teenage stepkid will appreciate you for not overstepping their parent which is ultimately the best way to creating a stronger relationship between the two of you.
Work together with our other parents
As a stepmom, if you come into your teenage stepkid's life and change the dynamic they no longer have aspects that feel comfortable to them and likely will retaliate against you. For the first few years, it is important to discuss discipline style with your teenage stepkid's parents-- if this is at all possible in your family dynamic.
This doesn't have to be too complicated, it may even be as simple as what they are allowed to watch on tv. My mom and dad had two opposite opinions on this, so I would watch everything I wanted at my dad’s and then get mad when my mom tried to instill her rules. Imagine this scenario in your family dynamic, two different sets of rules is sure to create unnecessary drama.
Let us get involved
Teenagers want to be the center of attention. In fact, you might agree that some teenagers are not emotionally mature enough to empathize with others, which causes them to be very selfish. If you reach out and sit down with your teenage stepkid and ask them what they want out of your relationship, it may make things easier for you. Some ideas are to ask them if they have any ideas about family dinners or drop off schedules.
Obviously, you will not be able to fulfill all of their wishes but just giving the teen a chance to voice their opinion will help them not feel left out of the decisions. This may even lead to creating shared experiences. This will be hard at first but if the three of you go to the movies or go out for dinner it will give you an opportunity to get to know each other better.
Have low expectations
As a new stepmom, you may have this fairytale idea of having a family and creating a new life for all those involved. This is not going to happen right away and if it does please write to us and tell us how you did it! Don’t expect anything to happen overnight. Know that your new teenage stepkid will likely dislike you and the best thing to do is sit back and let them come to you.
Don’t take it personally
Teenagers are very particular in what they want and feel so it is extremely important that you do not take their actions personally. Trust me, it is not about you. It is not about who you are as a person. They don’t even know who you are as a person. All they see is one thing; this woman is coming in here and changing everything they have ever known. Kids are mourning the loss of what they thought their lives with their parents would be. We will always be more loyal to our birth parents. But again, this is geared towards the ‘idea’ of you as a stepmom, not actually towards you as a person.
Also, it is good to remember teens only want to be with their friends, they don’t want to be with family. I used to come in the front door, run right past my mom and stepdad and up to my room and slam the door. Why? I have no idea, to be honest. I just always wanted to be in my room alone. It had nothing to do with my mom or my stepdad. I doubt I even said hello to them (I was a bit of a brat!)
This period of a person’s life may be one of the most stressful times. It is hard being a teenager, especially one who is now a part of a blended family. Just remember to show them that the reason you are doing things is not to replace their ‘real mom’ but because you love and care about them.
Be a positive role model. Show us a healthy couple relationship. Be interested in us even though our own identities will change many times. At the end of the day, deep down, we don’t want problems any more than you do.
XO, Social Stepmom