Stepmoms And Teenagers Can Get Along If You Play Your Cards Right

Teenaged stepdaughters... a force to reckon with!

We were invited to our friends' house for Thanksgiving dinner. When we were getting ready to leave the house, my stepdaughter came out of her room wearing the WORST OUTFIT. It was edgy, ugly and provocative...everything I hated. I asked her to change her clothes into something more appropriate. She refused, saying, "I like this outfit, what's the matter with it?" Angry words back and forth followed. It ended with her refusal to change her clothes; her final shot at me was, "You can't control me!"

We ignored each other at the party, although I noticed that she was having fun with our friends and their kids. She was polite, talkative and quite charming. The next day my friend called to tell me how delightful my stepdaughter was. She couldn't understand how I struggled with her the way I did. I told her, "YOU don't have to raise her!"

My stepdaughter and I were struggling with three issues: 1) power and control, 2) loyalty issues between her mom, her dad and me, and 3) just normal adolescent behavior.

Power and control

I felt helpless and powerless over my stepdaughter. She was at the age where she didn't want to be controlled by anyone...least of all by me, her stepmother. The FORCE of her peer group was casting its spell, dictating to her how to look, what to think, how to behave and feel. When we'd argue, she'd insist, "I know what's right for me. It's MY life, and you can't tell me what to do!"


That said, paradoxically, teenagers are incredibly loyal to their biological parents as they grasp for their own identity and independence. When push comes to shove, it's Mom and Dad they run to for reassurance, sympathy, and scolding. They need their parents to push away from as well as to attach to. Teenagers are working overtime to figure out WHO AM I AND WHERE DO I FIT IN? That's what adolescence is all about.

I finally learned that I was not part of this biological, emotional bonding, and I got out of the way. I learned that I could be more beneficial to my stepdaughter if I was just an adult friend, a mentor, and a listening ear when she wanted to talk. That worked.

Adolescent developmental issues

When adults remarry during the time their kids are adolescents, they shouldn't expect a lot of bonding and attaching between generations because children this age just don't have it in them. They're breaking away from parental control. They're preparing to separate and establish their independence, after all. Once again, it's best for stepparents to befriend and mentor teenagers and leave the heavy-duty disciplining and parenting to the biological parents.

On a positive note, studies suggest that adolescents can often confide more in stepparents than they can with their biological parents during their vulnerable teen years. Kids can be more open and honest with stepparents if they can be heard with curiosity, neutrality...and wisdom.

How are you playing your cards with your teenaged stepchildren? Is it working... or do you need to step back and "draw again" for new feelings and behaviors?

Susan Wisdom, LPC

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