Transitioning into a new family dynamic can present many challenges for everyone involved, especially if remarriage plays a role in your family's circumstances. Your teenager may experience a vast and confusing swarm of emotions in reaction to your decision to remarry and introduce a stepparent and potential stepsiblings into your family life. Be prepared to effectively handle your teen's response by offering support, remaining open to discussion and assuming a diplomatic disposition.
1. The Teenage Years
Your teenager is in the midst of a profound phase of self-discovery, creating her own unique identity. The adolescent years represent a journey into adulthood, during which teenagers assert their independence, challenge limits and explore willfulness. The teenage developmental years present the potential for strife, angst, and difficulty communicating needs and respecting boundaries. This can make an adjustment to remarriage particularly challenging. Adjusting behaviors, expectations, and relationship roles to the new family dynamic may be a cause for perilous navigation through opposing viewpoints and disharmonious feelings of resentment. Every family is different, and you will not know how readjustment might unfold for your own teen until you are in the midst of the shift. Do your best to remain open to negotiation and compromise so that your teen experiences this change as pleasantly as possible.
2. Preparing Your Teen for the Change
Prior to making any definite changes involving remarriage or household shifts, prepare your teen by engaging in a meaningful conversation about the impending development. Emphasize that you want your teen to feel secure and included in this process. Take her feelings into consideration. Remember that the choice to remarry is yours. The familial relationship addition of a stepparent is a change your teen will have to learn to accept. It is not her choice, but it is an idea she will need time to digest. Do not expect your teen to immediately accept and feel positively about this change. If possible, arrange for your new spouse and potential new siblings to spend extended periods of time with you and your teen prior to making any marriage or moving plans.
3. The Stepparent-Teen Relationship
Psychologist Carl Pickhardt asserts the importance of your teen being able to spend quality one-on-one time with her new stepparent. Pickhardt explains the delicate balance that must be created by a stepparent to offer togetherness, understanding and the potential for bonding without going overboard, causing your teen to feel pressured into developing a relationship with her stepparent. Make consistent and frequent efforts to include your teen in family activities and discussions. Mindfully plan for special alone time that you can share with your teen as well. Genuine and compassionate attempts to maintain openness and connectedness between you and your child, as well as stepparent and teen, will support a more graceful transition into accepting your remarriage.
4. Supporting the Adjustment
In a review of studies conducted on remarriage and its effect on a child's psychological and academic development, the Thomas Coram Research Unit demonstrates the differences between children who grow up in intact versus stepfamilies. This review discusses research from Psychologist Paul Amato, suggesting that behavioral characteristics can be negatively affected by remarriage due to a child's inability to adjust. Amato's research, however, reveals that differences are not always significant, as 13 to 17 percent of children in stepfamilies demonstrate social and emotional issues, and 10 percent of children from intact families demonstrate these same problems. Nonetheless, there are precautionary measures you can take to ensure the smoothest transition to your remarriage for your teen. Suggest that your teen keep a journal to record her experiences and feelings. Allow your teen to spend ample alone time with her friends so she feels supported by her peers. Seek counseling or therapy for your teen or even your whole family if problems persist and adjustment proves too difficult.