In some families, new adults
and kids seem to fit in easily, as though they've been there all along. But some families brought together through
marriage can be so different that the best everyone can do is grit their teeth and
work hard to get through a weekend together.
Building a relationship with a stepparent can be quite different from building
other new relationships. After all, when you meet a new friend or love interest, you're
the one deciding if that person will have a role in your life. You get to introduce
these new people into your life gradually, taking time to decide how they fit
and how you really feel about them.
A stepparent is different; he or she is someone your mom or dad has invited into
the family. Sometimes a stepparent can feel like a stranger who is suddenly inserted
into the most personal aspects of your life. The pressure to get along can be intense.
Because everyone's situation is different, there are no easy answers to accepting
a stepparent. Some people find themselves with new stepparents after a parent has
died, others after parents have divorced. Some parents take years to meet and marry
other people; some remarry almost immediately.
When a parent remarries, you may find yourself with an instant family of stepsiblings
or, eventually, with younger half-brothers or half-sisters.
Although every family is different, there are some things that can help you deal
with a new stepparent.
Dealing With Feelings
You'll probably have plenty of feelings about your new situation, and some of these
may conflict. For example, even when someone likes a new stepparent, it's natural
to feel some pangs that this new person is "replacing" a beloved parent in some way.
Change — good or bad — is difficult. Even if you don't have negative
feelings about the new person in your family, you may have very strong feelings about
the changes a stepparent is creating.
At some point, you're probably going to feel confused, conflicted about your loyalties,
angry, and possibly sad. Here are a few things to try that may help put your feelings
Keep a journal. Write down the changes in your life and how you
feel about them.
Confide in a friend. Some of your close, trusted friends may
have their own stepparent experiences. This can help you feel you're not alone. Friends
also can share tips on what they did in situations similar to yours — everything
from sharing a room with a new stepsibling to juggling computer time. Even if your
friends' situations are different (just because your best friend doesn't get along
with his or her stepparents, that's not a hard and fast rule for anyone else), it
always helps to have a sympathetic ear.
Talk to your parent or another trusted adult about how you're feeling.
It's important to share your fears, feelings, and frustrations with an adult you trust
— no matter how crazy you may think these feelings are. Don't be afraid that
something you say will cause hurt feelings or make you seem like a problem. An adult
who loves you will want to help.
Find support. Look
for a group at school or in your community where you can vent. Or talk to a teacher
or a guidance counselor about what's going on in your life. It helps when others know and care about what we’re going through.
And sometimes they have great suggestions.
If you find that your new situation has left you feeling sad most of the time or
you just can't shake the blues, you may want to talk to a doctor or therapist. Mental
health professionals, such as social workers or therapists,
are trained to help people sort out the conflicting mix of feelings that can come
with a parent's remarriage.
Facing the Realities
So what can you do to adjust to the daily realities of living with a stepparent?
Instead of worrying about the "what ifs" and the inevitable changes, talk to your
mom or dad about what to expect before your new stepparent joins the family. That
way, you can be prepared for what lies ahead.
Figure out ahead of time what
to call your stepparent.
Ask about stepsiblings and things
like if you have to share a room now.
Ask about holiday plans and
who's giving presents to whom.
If your house is about to explode
with new people, find out how this affects you and that spare room where you listen
Don't be afraid to ask questions as they come to mind. Your parents and new stepparent
might not have thought about the things you're asking either, so there's an opportunity
to explore options together. And if there's something you absolutely don't want to
change, try to negotiate. For example, if you and your dad always go fishing over
Thanksgiving but your mom made plans for you to spend the holiday with her new husband's
family, she might not realize how important the fishing trip is to you.
What about those times when you flat out disagree with a stepparent? You'll have
a better chance of getting what you want if you disagree
Explain your feelings calmly and rationally. For example, if you have a new half-brother
or -sister and you feel like you're constantly being expected to babysit at the last
minute, talk it over with your stepparent before the situation gets to the stage where
you feel taken advantage of. Present your side — maybe you have to study for
a test or you already made plans with friends and they're relying on you. Then listen
to the other person's perspective. Include your parent in the discussion, too.
If you're particularly mad about something, it can feel hard not to lose control.
But managing your anger and taking extra care to choose respectful language will help
your stepparent see you for the mature person you are, not as a child.
Find a way to get to know the new stepparent in your life. Suggest a bike ride
or go to a movie together. It may not be easy, but you can use the same relationship
and communication skills you would use to make anyone feel welcome. It may help to
remember that your stepparent is walking into a new situation, too. He or she could
feel just as nervous and confused as you do.
Expect some rough spots. You know that establishing a good relationship takes time.
Your new life won't always be smooth, so be ready to make some compromises. The good
thing is, the ups and downs of adjusting to a new family situation can offer some
really great life lessons. Many people look back on their experiences getting to know
new family members and realize they learned some great relationship (and negotiating!)
skills in the process.
Remind yourself that every situation is different. There's no real script for a
new family that's being pulled together from all sorts of directions. Be open to lots
of possibilities. And savor the good moments. Although change is often difficult,
it can be good, too.