Blended families are common these days since the divorce rate in the U.S. is 50%. Many couples who get divorced already have children and then remarry. This creates a situation where teens are moving between two households, often with new siblings, where the rules in each home are different. This causes anxiety and confusion for teens and their parents, so here are some helpful guidelines to keep things easy during and after a divorce.
1. Be Clear and Consistent. If things are similar between households and they know what to expect, it can reduce your child’s anxiety tremendously. Change causes stress, so try to keep routines the same. Consistency creates predictability which allows them to feel more secure so they can focus on school and other priorities. Pick your battles and come to an agreement with your former spouse about what’s most important for your child’s well being since you won’t agree on everything.
2. Keep Your Teen Out of the Middle. Be mindful when you mention the other parent – criticism is like poison and causes internal conflict for kids. They love both of you and have a natural loyalty to each parent. Don’t make them take sides. Unless there’s a safety issue, let your child have their own relationship with the other parent. Seek counseling for your child if they’re having difficulty with your separation. There’s a lot they may not be telling you which makes it hard to help them.
3. Have Family Meetings. It takes a lot to harmoniously blend 2 families. Everyone will have complaints and adjustments. Find out what those are for your teen and work them out with the new family. Communication is essential, but it will take time. It’s normal for your teen to resist a new stepparent. If this causes undue stress, family counseling can work wonders.
4. Get Support. Find a place where you can speak freely about the divorce and your former spouse – uncensored! This ensures that your teen will not end up being your therapist. Support groups are a good option since others are going through the same experience and it makes it easier not to feel alone.
5. Be Open-Minded. If you come from a divorced family yourself, make sure you’re not projecting your own experience onto your teen. Learn from your own experience but don’t assume your child’s experience is the same. Be open and curious about how they feel. Be there for them and listen. If you’re available and non-judgmental, they will trust you and open up.
Divorce has an impact on children even if the process between you and your former spouse is amicable. Children tend to take the separation personally and believe it’s their fault. Be clear that they are not the problem and that your main objective is to support them through this difficult time. This will go a long way and your teen will see that, no matter what happens, you are there for them.
Lorraine Platt is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Marin County, Mill Valley, CA. She co-founded Teen Solutions Therapy with her husband Richard Platt, LMFT. She specializes in mentoring teen girls and coaching parents.