Ask the Expert – Parenting, Part 2
It is not unusual for young children, or even teens to feel anger and frustration in a family situation involving a new stepparent. I have personal experience in this, having lost a parent when I was 17 years old. I felt feelings of anger, frustration, sadness and jealousy when my father remarried.
It took quite a while to accept the reality, and the idea of a stepparent. Depending on the situation, whether it be losing a parent to a divorce, or from death, the feelings of grief are the same. Grieving is a very individual process, and can last a few weeks to years. A teenage boy, as in your case, may feel mixed emotion, either from being moved from his position as a ‘pseudo man-of-the-house’ to being the kid again. He may miss his relationship with his own father, and may sense he is being abandoned by his Mom, who is now in a relationship with the stepfather. It is not an easy time for any member of the family who is trying to adapt to the new situation.
My best advice is to spend special time alone with the child/teen who is acting out. He may only need to be ‘validated’ and listened to about how he is feeling right now. It is not unusual for kids to challenge the authority of a new stepparent, but it is important for the parent to be consistent with house rules and consequences. Parents must stay on the ‘same page’ as far as their parenting styles are concerned. It may work out better for a while for the Mom to do the disciplining until the boy gets more comfortable with the new dad. Trust and character need to be built in most cases to establish closeness.
Resentments are not uncommon when it comes to step parents and discipline/punishment. Kids are already feeling a bit anxious about the new situation, but they would feel it more if the rules were ‘wishy-washy.’ Rules also establish a kind of security much needed in a new family situation. Kids will test the new parent and may intentionally cause problems to try to pull the new parent away from their biological Mom or Dad. They are actually testing the strength of the new relationship between the parents. Security is important for kids in a stepfamily, and parents may be able to help their kids feel safe and validated by being good role models.
Good role modeling would show up in communicating in positive ways and keeping commitments to each other and to the family. Be consistent in what you say and do. It is very healthy for your child to express himself/herself and be allowed to share with you any feelings or thoughts he has about the parent who is no longer in the picture. Resentments show up when kids are told to ‘stuff’ their feelings. Be strong, talk together at dinner, and make special time alone with the ‘acting out kid’ during this time. Let your child know he/she is loved and that you want to create a loving place for them.
Parents have common concerns about how they raise their children. Some of the questions are answered in a simple and efficient manner, with logic and rational thought. However, some are not as easily answered due to mixed messages from family and friends, emotions, and of course, the “belief systems” we carry from childhood.
Parents today seem to question those beliefs because times are changing and so are ideas. Parents want the best for their kids, and yet find themselves caught between the old parenting skills and the new ones. The old patterns do not work for many of us, based on results. It is wise to evaluate and administer new techniques when appropriate.
Don’t give up on a new idea just because it feels a little uncomfortable. You will soon know what is your best strategy! Some psychologists suggest that changing an old “program,” or behavior, takes repetition of a new behavior. Thirty repetitions of a new style or behavior seem to be the “magic” number.