Living With a Stepparent

It's a reality today that about half of all marriages end in divorce and three out of every four people who get divorced will marry again. This means millions of new stepfamilies are formed each year. Sometimes the transition is pretty easy. But many times, families have trouble adjusting to the new living arrangements, rules, and relationships.

Dealing with stepparents and the changes that come with them can be complex, and sometimes frustrating. But taking time to build a good relationship with your stepparent can help you and your family.

What Is a Stepfamily?

A stepfamily is a family in which one parent has children that are not related to the other parent. Sometimes, both parents have their own children from a previous marriage or relationship. Other times, only one parent already has children.

Stepfamilies can be complex because the children may live with one biological parent and visit their other biological parent, or live with each biological parent part of the time.

Adjusting to a New Stepparent

Building any relationship takes time and effort. Don't expect to be best friends with your new stepparent overnight. If you and your stepparent have similar interests, and personalities that work well together, it may take less time to adjust. But relationships with stepparents can be complicated because they may be "part friend" and "part parent."

Getting used to the balance between the friend and parent parts can take awhile. Don't be disappointed if it the adjustment takes longer than you thought. Over time, you and your stepparent will both adjust to the new situation.

Does a Stepparent Replace My Biological Parent?

Your stepparent and biological parent are different people. And, the relationship with your stepparent will develop at a different point in your life than your relationship with your biological parent.

Because of these differences, your relationship with your stepparent will not be the same as that with your biological parent, even though their parenting roles may be similar.

What if My New Stepparent Has Different Rules?

Adjusting to new rules is a common problem for stepfamilies. Because your stepparent brings different experiences to the family than your biological parent, he or she may have different opinions and expectations. Your stepparent may expect you to be more responsible, have good table manners, be louder, be quieter, or many other things.

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While you may think some of these new rules are worse than the ones you're used to, most likely they are just new to you. Your stepparent may even have some rules that you like better.

If you don't like a particular rule, it probably won't help to tell your stepparent that it is a bad rule. It may be helpful to tell your stepparent that the rule is different, and you are having trouble adjusting to it. Try to work out rules on which both you and your stepparent can agree.

Remember, throughout your life, you will have to adjust to new rules from time to time. This will happen when you live in a college or military dormitory, with roommates or a spouse. Learning to adjust to others and their expectations and to negotiate with them is an important part of becoming an adult.

What if I Don't Like My Stepparent?

It is normal to initially feel some dislike or resentment of a stepparent, especially when you are first adjusting to the new situation. As with anybody you meet, you will naturally like some people more and some less than others.

Although you may feel you dislike everything about your stepparent, there will probably be some things you do like. Chances are, you have a few interests in common. Try focusing on the things you do like about your stepparent. This can be a starting point for building a better relationship.

It can also help to talk about your feelings with an adult friend who has an objective perspective.

If you talk to your parent, (the one married to the stepparent you don't like), don't say that your stepparent is all bad. Instead, tell your parent specific things you don't like about your stepparent. This way, you can avoid hurting anyone's feelings. It may also prevent fights between your parent and stepparent.

Coping With Stepfamily Transitions

A new stepparent means change. Feeling a bit unstable because of a new stepparent is normal.

It may help to focus on other, stable areas of your life during this transition, such as school, sports, or hobbies. This may make things seem a little more normal.

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Be aware that your parent and stepparent may want you to spend time with the family to help everyone bond. This is good, but if you feel overwhelmed by all the new things in your family, let your parents know. You may want to tell them that focusing on the stable parts of your life helps you cope with the family transitions.

Another way to cope with stepfamily changes is to talk with a school counselor or professional therapist about your feelings. This way you can get support and maybe learn some ways to adjust.

Make sure to discuss more than just the bad things. Talk about the good, funny, different, and interesting things about having a new stepparent. Over time, most teens learn to accept stepparents and enjoy spending time with them alone and with their biological parents.

If you have persistent, severe anxiety, or feel angry or depressed as result of your relationships with your stepfamily, ask for help from a therapist or your primary health care provider.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on March 20, 2016

Sources

SOURCES: 

King, V. Journal of Marriage and Family, 2006. 

DeAngelis, T., Monitor on Psychology, 2005.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 

National Stepfamily Resource Center: "Stepfamily Fact Sheet."

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