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Parenting Teens in Stepfamilies
By Lisa Cohn
, www.StepFamilyTalkRadio.com

When children are teens, it’s probably the hardest time to form stepfamilies, says Susan Wisdom, co-author of the book “Stepcoupling.”

That’s because the teens are trying to move away from the family, not become part of a new stepfamily, explains Dr. Margorie Engel, past president and CEO of the Stepfamily Association of America, based in Lincoln, Neb.

"In our society, teen years are the time to begin separating from family so that teens are prepared for independence after high school," says Engel. "When parents with teenagers marry and create a stepfamily, they inadvertently stall this developmental process ... by forcing combined activities, meals, and bedrooms to the detriment of privacy, one-on-one time with children, and time with peers and their appropriate activities outside the home."

Actor and writer William Seymour says that when his mother remarried, his new stepdad demanded that Seymour call him “Dad.” Seymour refused, saying he saw no reason to call this stranger his father.

Rather than “forcing family” on teens, parents in stepfamilies need to give their children the opportunity to be with friends and pursue their interests, which can be especially difficult when you want to see them more often. They also need to embrace patience and a go-slow approach.

Lisa Daniel of Bethesda, Md., says that when her stepdaughter, Mara, was a teenager, she generally spent six weeks each summer with Mrs. Daniel and her husband, Timothy. When she was 15, Mara was offered the opportunity to dance with American Ballet Theater's summer program in New York, which would cut her visit to two weeks. Mr. and Mrs. Daniel decided the teen should pursue it, even though they would miss her.

"It's a very tough balance to try to ensure enough family time to allow some kind of cohesion with a teen whom you don't see much and to be responsive to the fact that they increasingly have lives of their own," Daniel says.

In addition to giving teens the time and space to be with friends and pursue their own lives, parents of teens need to plan for stepfamily life before rushing into marriage, says Elizabeth Einstein, co-author of “Strengthening Your Stepfamily.”

“Preparing for remarriage is absolutely critical. Remarriages are harder than first marriages,” she says.

Lisa Cohn is co-host of Stepfamily Talk Radio. To listen to an audio about this topic, click on www.stepfamilytalkradio.com and listen to “Teenage Angst After Divorce.”

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