If you’re just joining us, we are reading the book Boundaries With Teens: When to Say Yes, How to Say No by Dr. John Townsend. We are covering chapters 7 and 8 this week. If you would like to join us, you can download the book for Kindle through my affiliate link: Boundaries With Teens and get started right away. Come back every Wednesday from now through the end of June, as we cover 2 chapters per week and discuss them in the comments of each week’s post.
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This week’s chapters cover special parenting situations.
Any single parent will tell you that doing this alone is a whole different ballgame. Being a single parent, even with an amicable relationship with the other parent, brings a new level of responsibility and half as much down time. You go from being part of a whole to being IT most of the time. And it’s a challenge.
As a stepparent, I can tell you that this is an even bigger game-changer. You are now part of a whole, but you’re also a third wheel. Sometimes you feel unnecessary and at other times you feel voiceless.
Whether you are a single parent, or a stepparent, there are different accommodations that need to be made to fit your family situation.
There are things to take into account, such as:
- The ages of the children when the marriage ended
- The relationship you have with the other parent
- How the children are handling this new reality
- How the children relate to you (as the step parent)
- Your own parenting convictions and experience
Single parents are automatically inadequate, not because they aren’t good parents, but because they have a dual role in their child’s life with no time off when the situation becomes stressful. You need to be prepared to take those breaks when you need them. It may be as simple as explaining to your teen that you need a few minutes (or an hour, or a night) to get your thoughts together, and that you will talk about this again later. It may also involved a phone call or coffee time with a friend.
The answer isn’t trying harder, or using your will power. Instead, realize that you don’t have what you don’t have. You will need to get from the outside what you don’t possess on the inside.
This means draw on the experience and support of your friends and family. Call the person who is going to reinforce you and build you up, spiritually and emotionally. This person will help to re-arm you for your role as your teen’s parent. There is also a place for another person to step into the gap and be that missing person temporarily, be it a teacher, coach, youth pastor, or other significant person in your teen’s life whom she will listen to when she’s done listening to you. It comes back to our being connected with others.
Stepparents have the same difficulties, with added variables.
You see problems and opportunities, yet you don’t have the authority to control any of them. As a result, stepparents often feel helpless.
Helpless in the most frustrating way. Although new stepparents feel this way, I think it is even harder for those of us who have been involved with the children since they were very small. We see the patterns, we recognize when one parent or the other are overcompensating, and yet we still don’t have the position to speak up about it. Your stepkids have two parents already, and their biological mother/father may not want your input.
Guarding your relationship with your spouse is extremely important. Don’t ever tie an argument to a child’s behavior. Marriage issues and parenting issues need to be separated. When a parent is put in a tight position between his child and his spouse, his child will almost always come out ahead. Don’t do this to your spouse. All parents involved must keep the best interests of their children in mind at all times. This often means putting aside differences in parenting style, and even differences in family rules (as long as they aren’t harmful to the child).
Let the biological parent handle the discipline while your relationship is new. Take your concerns about behavior, discipline, and respect to your spouse privately, but let him or her deal with the child.
Remember, the child is in a very hard position too! He has unmet expectations and may react to them. He may have been hoping his parents would reunite, and now you stand in the way of that happening, however unlikely it may be. His whole world has been torn down the middle, and now one of his parents is moving on. A child’s slower development, even during the teen years, prevents her from understanding that parents need to move on. Teens are particularly self-centered, and often see their family situations as caused by them or as reacting to them, when the adults are just growing and moving on. Keep in mind that these teens aren’t mature enough to understand parents’ motives.
Connect with your stepchild in any way that you can. Baby steps are sometimes the only steps that we can take. When my stepkids were young (6 & 3) we would do crafts together, go to the park, or read books. As they grew older, I made a point to find the things that they enjoyed and tried to get involved. I went to the band concerts, volleyball games, and the skate park. I took my stepdaughter to “Scrap-Offs”– scrapbooking nights at a local craft store.
Things weren’t always good. Sometimes things were downright abrasive with my stepdaughter. She is 25 now though, and we have a great relationship. I assisted her (along with her mom) in the birth of two of her babies. My stepson is 21 and we have a love of reading and writing and can “geek out” together at any time. We attended a Christian writer’s conference together recently. I love my stepkids as if they were my own. I always did love them, but working through that relationship was never easy. It was always work. Let your spouse see your efforts to be involved and connect with your stepkids. He needs to know that what he loves, you love.
Whether you are a stepparent or a single parent, you have a challenging position. Seek out others who will help encourage you, give you new ideas and strategies to try, and a place to vent. Sometimes, it’s the venting that you need. At other times, it may be suggestions for ways to connect with your teen. Churches also often have support groups for single parents and stepparents. There is a group called Parents Without Partners that gives single parents a place to connect and support one another. “No man is an island”, and neither are parents.