Psychiatrist George S. Glass knows how hard it is to combine families after a second marriage. When the kids involved are teenagers, things can become even more challenging. Here are his 4 tips for making this transition a smooth one.
By George S. Glass, MD
Raising teenagers can feel akin to riding a roller coaster. At one point, you’re climbing slowly, safely with wonderful experiences and then—BAM—you’re swooping down at interminable speeds with each crisis. Those fluctuations of feelings and events often seem to occur within moments of each other, even in nuclear families where both parents are actively involved.
As a psychiatrist and father of a blended family myself, I know just how difficult—and rewarding—parenting a modern
day family can be. My book, Successfully Blending Families (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014), combines my family’s experiences (the good and the bad) with lessons I’ve learned over 40 years of work. My goal: to help others learn from the mistakes my wife and I have made, and to prove that parenting a combined family can work well, as long as you put in the leg work. Here’s how.
BE INCLUSIVE. You want all of the children (yours, theirs, and those you’ve had with your new spouse) to have a good, loving relationship with each other. To do that, you need to make an effort to involve them all in everything you do. That means celebrate activities (like games, graduations, birthdays and even sad events) with everyone in the same way. If one (or several) of the kids is negative about an event, include them anyway. Being inclusive also means inviting your exes (and their families) to join events when possible. While you may not want to spend time with an ex (yours or your spouse’s), your kids love these people and it’s important to maintain that family bond.
TREAT EVERYONE THE SAME. Whether you’re buying presents for a birthday, planning a party or booking a vacation, make sure each child is treated equally. Spend the same amount of money on each child, even if you don’t see them as often. Kids are very sensitive to who is the “favourite” and will notice if someone receives a more expensive (or meaningful) gift. Not treating them equally can create an ongoing sibling rivalry, which could continue for years.
DISCIPLINE YOUR OWN CHILD. When you criticize or punish your own child, they will hear it and at least pay attention, even if they don’t always respond in a way you would like. If a step-parent is negative, however, the
child may likely shut down or say something like, “You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my Dad (or Mom).” When you don’t like your stepchild’s behaviour, tell your new spouse and have them speak to their child. This may
take longer, but is much more effective in the long run. Plus, it keeps you in the role of friend and mentor rather than warden or enforcer. However, in a crisis situation, such as if you were to walk in on your step-child doing drugs or hitting a sibling, your course of action would be to intervene immediately. “But only to stop the behaviour,” says
Glass. “Then you really need to sit down with your spouse and work out a plan of action about what to do.”
“Take their opinions into consideration before deciding how to deal with things in the future.”
LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES. Everyone parents differently. Some are strict, while others are more lenient, for
example. Now that you’re adding another person (this time a step-parent with his or her own parenting style) into the mix, things may become more complicated. Disagreements over discipline methods can lead to conflict between the adults, which teens can see as an opening to wedge themselves in the middle of. Once the conflict has passed and tempers have cooled, discuss what happened and try to come up with a plan to deal with things differently next time—because there will be a next time. The more rigid parent may have to adapt or come up with an alternate
plan (such as closing the door to a stepchild’s room because it is messier than their own child’s). Alternately, the more lenient parent will have to agree to support the other parent’s stricter rules. As the kids become teenagers, involve
them in these discussions to hear how they view the situation. Take their opinions into consideration before deciding
how to deal with things in the future. A reasonable approach is to involve all of the children in this discussion, because sometimes your own biological children will point out areas in which you are being unfair or unreasonable.
These guidelines are a mere beginning on how to approach some of the issues of blending families with teenagers. New problems are par for the course. You can never plan for all of them, but if you approach them with these tips, you will have a leg up on what to do when they inevitably crop up again. ■
George S. Glass is a medical doctor, Yale-trained, Board Certified Psychiatrist and Addiction Specialist who has
been in practice for over 40 years. He is also the author of Blending Families Successfully: Helping Parents and Kids
Navigate the Challenges So That Everyone Ends Up Happy (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014).