The Other Mother: Being a Better Stepparent Stepping in to the role of a stepparent of a teen can be difficult. Follow these 4 tips to make the transition easier when dealing with your spouse, teen and the ex. BY RONAE JULL
Narrow the understanding gap with your new teen with four simple steps.
“ If your stomach churns listening to an argument between your teen and their dad, grab the Tums or go for a walk, but stay out of it.”
Nearly 30% of children in the United States live in blended families. If you are an other mother of teenagers, also known as a stepmother, your job as a parent can feel exhausting and hopeless. Your teenager may compare you to their biological mother, create conflict between you and their father, and say, "You’re not my real mom, 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, and your teen is a nightmare or an embarrassment, there is hope!
Here are four important principles that will go a long way towards 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. 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 with your teen and ex. 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 may 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. They are trying to find a way to adjust to having an other mother, making comparisons, wondering where they fit now in the affection of their father. They may have a hard time going back and forth between two families with different rules and expectations. If you’ve agreed with your spouse 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 allow them the time to adjust.
Learn to keep your mouth shut! Having a negative opinion about your spouse’s ex is expected. Expressing it is a big no-no. If your stomach churns listening to an argument between your teen and their 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 may 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.
Ronae Jull knows that parenting is tough. Visit www.ronaejull.com today and sign up for the free HOPE Notes newsletter, preorder "My Teenager IS the Problem," and check out HOPE Coaching for personal coaching from a "been there-done that" perspective. No matter how discouraged you’re feeling about your teenager, there is always HOPE!