Blended Families With Teenage… | Counseling | Therapy

Blended Families with Teenage Children: Family Therapy in Philadelphia, OC

Janette Dill , MFT — Associate therapist

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Blended Families With Teenage Children: Therapy in Philadelphia, Ocean City, Mechanicsville, Santa Fe

Over the course of history the concept of family has greatly reconfigured itself. A large percentage of people have children from previous relationships who will be integrated into the next relationship that their parents pursue. While you and your partner may have committed to pursuing a relationship, what does that mean for the children involved? How will the family system structure itself to be healthy for all involved, including biological parents or primary caregivers who reside outside of the home setting? In an ideal world the bonus parent(s) and biological parent(s) and/or primary caregivers would have a healthy communicative rapport and cooperative co-parenting style that benefit the children. But for those families who maybe haven’t reached that ideal level of cohesive parenting there are ways to still attempt to blend families with teenage children successfully. This tip will explore some of the concepts that may arise when blending families with teenage children.

Communication is fundamental in blending families with teenage children. It is strongly encouraged for the biological parent to have a conversation of blending families with their child or children first as there is an existing relationship already established. That parent-child subsystem is a relationship that has been developed over years and is worth continued cultivation. This initial conversation with your children is a way to buy in some points, as well as a chance for them to express their genuine opinion about what will be happening prior to it happening. Start the conversation in an environment/space where everyone can have the opportunity to feel heard and valued as a member of the family who will be a part of the change.That may look like having individual conversation with each child if you have more than one before using a collective family setting.

Starting the conversation with your teenage children about blending families.

Starting this conversation with teenage children may sound like this:

  • It’s been you and I for so long and now that’s changing, what's that like for you……

  • I have been making a lot of decisions lately that will impact you, what are some of your thoughts…

  • Did you ever think your life would be changing in this matter……

  • What are you most worried about and most excited about…..

Each person’s concerns are valid and important. This is an opportunity to assess thoughts, emotional fears, concerns, or expectations of what is to come. If this blending of families requires a move there may be some feelings about losing friends, childhood home/neighborhood, having to change schools, or even their personal space being shared-such as a bedroom.This transition may also include adding your spouse and their child or children, even pets to an already existing household and now they need to feel welcomed and included.These are big changes to navigate and the earlier you start communicating about this the earlier you can start to work through some of these emotions and obstacles as they arise. It is also an opportunity to set a healthy pattern of expressing oneself and conflict resolution skills in a family setting.

Just like the primary parent checked in with their children about the family transitioning into being a blended family, the primary parent should check in with the bonus parent. Ask leading questions that allow them to freely express themselves. Checking in may sound like:

  • How do you understand what is happening…

  • How are you adapting to things out of your control…

  • What still feels safe, stable, or in your control….

  • Is there anything you need support with…

Summarize what you heard them say and validate their expressions. Remember, the conversation’s agenda is about your partner. Extend an offer of help if they feel they may need it at any point, and check back in periodically as a way to symbolize your continued support in wanting to make this successful. Offering emotional support is a gesture that welcomes vulnerability and increases safety in sharing.

Clarifying parental roles of blended families

Amongst the biological parents and the bonus parents what exactly does co-parenting look like when blending families of teenage children? The ideal style would be cooperative coparenting. Cooperative coparenting is where both households put the values of the children first, share the same rules, and coordinate about child related issues and goals. Some areas for parents to have shared rules may be around medical issues, academics, safety to name a few.

Starting this conversation may include questions such as:

  • Who will pay for medical insurance or expenses? How will we make emergent medical decisions? Is it based upon whose care the child is under?

  • What are your plans for school tuition, shall you split the school year?

Share your vision and expectations with one another and narrow these narratives to specifics with some room for flexibility so that each of your ideas reflect a more realistic living arrangement.

Connected to co-parenting expectations, it may be prudent to explore bonus parent roles and the privileges they will have. Just as the primary parents clarified rules it could be beneficial to establish roles within the bonus parent realm as well, including informing them of the coparenting structure that is in place already. Before having this conversation reflectively process what already exists with the other primary parent, as well as, what may be lacking. Reflect upon:

  • What would I need support with?

  • What would I feel comfortable with or open too?

  • What will my children be comfortable with?

  • How do I balance my structural agenda and also be inclusive to theirs?

Reviewing plans in place about medical care, school tuition, daycare expenses, discipline, traveling, curfews, and perhaps starting a part time job to name a few. While the lines of communication around rules, boundaries, and privilege are being amended due to families blending, start with what works well now and onboard all participants involved to keep the stability in the areas that are running strong. As children develop and household functions change, parents can readdress the needs of the children. It's prudent to include the outside of the home parents of those boundaries and rules so that they are aware and can adjust their home setting accordingly.

Post Family Blending

Now it seems your blended family is under one roof and daily life is happening. The primary parent may be wondering how the teen(s) and bonus parent are doing. While the bonus parent is the adult, they may want to let the teen lead and follow suit. The relationship between the children and the bonus parent is one that will develop in a way that feels safe for the child. It may start out with small quick comments, to common interest, to avoidance with respect, to healthy, cool, relationship. Teenage children may have their own insight or expectations of how they would like to navigate associating with them, especially if the biological parent outside of the home is still very active. Children have an underlying loyalty to their birth parents and rushing emotional connection with the bonus parent may be a dream and real possibility, but one that will take time and patience to evolve. That may look like letting them know you are not replacing their biological parents and want to cultivate your own unique relationship in addition to the people they value.

As a blended family, parents of teens might have to learn to let some things go. Letting go in the sense of maybe not having certainty or clarity on the subject at hand from your level of understanding. Teenage children may not use language to articulate emotions and experiences in a way that may make sense to a fully developed adult who has gained insight from life. During this time teens are also trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be, and that may mean failing, exploring with different groups of peers, self expression, hobbies, and sexuality just to name a few. A way to emphasize is to reflect on what you were perhaps doing at that age and some of the battles you faced? Put yourself in your child's shoes and utilize empathy. This blended idea was not theirs is another thing they have to manage and adapt to.

While loyalty and relationship attachment provide opportunities for children to go to parents, maybe some of the areas the bonus parent may be an ally for talking informally about with the child. Perhaps discussing it with a non biological parent changes the messenger, but delivers the same measure of reason. While the bonus parent may not have the same power as the biological parents, listening to teens and just being there is half the battle.

While deciding to blend families and space has good merit, be open to resistance. While you and your partner may be ready to move into a blended family setting, others involved may not initially share the same sentiments. Resistance may come in many forms as the couple seem to be getting what they want, while your children on both sides may only see what they had to give up. As parents it's important to understand that loss from a child’s perspective. This may present an opportunity for the bonus parent to account for some of the emotional distress caused by them joining the family that the child may be holding on to.

Blending Families especially with teenage children, is complex, there are tons of factors to consider given each person's unique situation. There are a lot of layers and people to take into consideration. Open communication is going to be your biggest tool available. If you would like help navigating blended families please reach out to 215-922-5683 x 100 or schedule directly online. For your convenience, we have five physical therapy offices and can also provide counseling and therapy virtually.

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