Welcoming a Step Daughter

Dear Sharon,

My husband was married before and he has a teen daughter who visits with us on the weekends twice a month.

I’ve never been able to have a comfortable relationship with her although our two children (6 and 9) seem to. Do you have any advice for me? I would like to feel better having her come into our home.

Dear step mom,

Step parenting is often a wonderful but complicated job. Step parenting a teenager can be even more challenging.

Here are some perspectives that might help you feel better about your stepdaughter’s visits.

1.The complexities of divorce and blended families can be difficult for teens to work through calmly or verbally. It is not easy when a teenager sees her Dad sporadically at an age when his love and guidance is often sorely needed. Teens in such situations frequently “blame” their step mom and her new family for keeping Dad away from her. It also can be difficult to juggle the parenting styles of two mother figures, both of whom may have different personalities and expectations. As many teenage girls keep their seemingly endless supply of emotions on the surface, stepmothers can easily see the effects of these pressures as their stepdaughters may become cranky, distant or overly sensitive in their presence.

2.To lessen these pressures and reduce tension I often recommend that parents of visiting teens try and spend regular one on one time with them. Whether a Dad or step Mom ends up listening to teen music, surfing the web, shopping, or watching a movie they would never ordinarily choose, this kind of time together can give adult and teen an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, get a break from the tension that surrounds their relationship and maybe even talk about some issues in their teen’s life that are making things difficult.

3. Whenever possible stepparents should try and strengthen their friendship with their stepchildren and lessen the parental role of disciplinarian. Children of divorce who have part time relationships with their parents to sort through usually don’t appreciate more authority figures. If a stepparent leaves as much discipline as possible to the birth parent then the traditional complexities of parent/teen power battles are gone and they can ease into the position of listener, confident or friend. Many stepparents I know who have accomplished this are turned to for practical help, conversation, fun and love. This kind of relationship can make a huge difference to a teen and is a wonderful addition to a stepparent’s life.

4. It might be helpful to try and remember that being a teen-age girl is not easy. It is highly unlikely that a teenage girl feels comfortable and confident about her appearance. Children this age get pressured about their looks from their peers, adults and the media. The time and attention devoted to this topic is confusing, erodes self-esteem and can undermine many girls’ hopes and dreams. Peer relationships can also be very challenging at this age. It is not unusual for girls to form cliques that are mean to other teens. There are also ongoing judgments and comparisons about popularity, friendships, boys, and a host of other topics. Academics are also often a lot to juggle. Homework infringes on much needed free time to develop personal interests and spend time with friends. Physical needs are also important as bodies grow, hormones rage and much needed sleep and healthy food can be hard to come by with demanding personal and academic schedules. All of this stress can put any teenager in a very bad mood and an understanding ear from a stepparent can really help.

5. Also remember that it is invaluable for a teenage girl to have successful relationships with adults. Outside perspectives, guidance and approval from parents and stepparents is crucial to self-esteem building, goal setting and tension relief. This is not always easy to achieve as many teens show the strains in their lives by acting cranky and disrespectful to“grown-ups” they know love them and will not stop caring about them. This kind of behavior can easily strain important relationships but is extremely common for children this age. Even if a teen never says thanks (a very uncommon expression for most adolescents) every effort a caring adult makes in their direction makes a big difference!

I have a stepson who lived with me full time for many years. There were plenty of tumultuous times in our blended family. He now has a family of his own. I love him and he me. Our relationship is one of the most cherished parts of my life. I am glad we got to work things out over time. Good luck as you do the same.